It’s a great premise–the CEO leaves the swank office and corporate jet behind to go out into the trenches and see how the real work of the company gets done. Sometimes it means sweeping floors, getting hands dirty and hearing stories of hard work and hard lives, good managers and bad.   It’s Undercover Boss, a CBS reality show that actually makes for good television.  The show has featured CEO’s from well known companies including Waste Management, GSI Commerce, Hooters, and  7 Eleven. I suspect that it’s also good public relations for the participating CEO’s corporate brands–high visibility and greater transparency.  It’s honest, raw and not always a pretty picture.

Many of these CEO’s are inept at doing some of the simplest jobs.  Particularly striking is how little these CEO’s know their companies and their people.  They are out of touch.  As Daniel Pink noted in his excellent book, “Drive” in which he discusses the science of motivation, it isn’t money that people value the most in their jobs–its recognition and the freedom to be able to contribute and be creative.

When the undercover CEOs do their “reveal” and tell people who they really are, people are at first stunned.  When the execs praise the work of their employees and offer to involve them in decision making or provide them some recognition–financial or otherwise–for a job well done,  it is heartening to see how genuinely moved these employees are, sometimes to tears.  Over and over again, they remark on how much it meant to know that management really cares.

I haven’t seen the stats but it would be interesting to know how and if the show improves overall perception of the company internally and externally.  I bet it does.  More CEO’s should consider going undercover–not just for the PR value. More CEO’s should get out and experience life at their company outside the executive suite.  It’s probably some of the best marketing research they could ever do.

What do you think?  Do reality shows such as Undercover Boss good for the company?