Undercover Boss: Pittsburgh Mayor — Lessons learned

Undercover Boss Offers Insights for Organizations

biking the gap 020Last night’s new episode of Undercover Boss featured the City of Pittsburgh.  We just visited Pittsburgh a couple of years ago and we were shocked at what a nice city it has become!!  We were biking the Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.  We ended up in Pittsburgh for an extra day due to weather and got to do a bit of exploring.  The bike trails are incredible.  The city has two rivers that converge right downtown and the new park is beautiful.

Anyway, it was fun to watch Undercover Boss and remember our time in Pittsburgh.

The City has made huge strides in being a great destination.

Like every other large organization there are challenges and there were lessons to be learned by the Mayor.

Running a municipality is very much a business and many have large workforces.

The Mayor — undercover discovered several things!


Many organizations have operational inefficiencies.  Staff on the front line see the inefficiency and find them frustrating, but often feel dis-empowered to make any changes.  There is no method for getting this information to the decision makers.  Employees are not authorized to make the change and that makes sense.  You cannot have people making changes to procedures without a process of review.  We had this at the Outdoor Education Center that I was the Director of.  Staff would come in and say they had changed HOW we were setting up a high ropes course element.  We developed strict policies on how these changes could be made.  We welcomed the input and the feedback.  New ideas to improve safety, or efficiency or ease of use are great.  But they cannot be shared via word of mouth.  They need to be delineated in policy.  We set up a policy for how to submit ideas for review and how we would review and implement.  Changes needed to reflected in policy before they were implemented so that communication throughout the staff was consistent.

In Undercover Boss, the Mayor discovered that waste management trucks were backing up streets to collect garbage from a couple of houses and then the rest of the street was covered by another municipality and another waste management company was doing the same thing on a different day for the rest of the houses.  The Mayor implemented a program to work cooperatively with other municipalities to reduce costs for each and improve efficiency for each.

Dreams and Visions

One staff member revealed his BIG dream of working with youth and ministry.  The Mayor was able to take his passion and energy and implement a new youth training or mentorship program to improve employ-ability of youth in the city and help them develop work skills.

Imagine what would happen to your organization if you knew the dreams and visions of employees. The creativity that employees have, the ideas, innovations and improvements would be incredible.  New programs or products could emerge.  Employees would be happier because their ideas were valued and their dreams supported.

It sounds so ideal.  But is it realistic? In the employee performance system that I use with organizations it is part of what we do. Each staff member creates their one year plan and reviews it with their supervisor or manager.  In that review process they are sharing their bigger dream. It becomes a valuable experience for the manager and the employee. The employee is creating a one year plan to move their goals forward and the organizations goals forward.  It becomes a win – win, and in the process the manager is learning what is working and what is not working and how it can be improved.  They can then take that information forward within the organization to make system wide improvements.

There are several things that impact whether an organization is really going to use this valuable information.

Leaders must be committed to the ongoing learning of the organization.

Leaders must empower staff to share ideas and be willing to action on ideas that make sense.

Leaders must be open minded.

Undercover Boss gives each a glimpse of what we as the boss could be missing within our organizations.

You can uncover this information in your company when you begin engaging with staff and allowing them to share their ideas.

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