Last year there was a reality TV show titled, “The Undercover Boss”. If you had the opportunity to watch the show you would have seen CEOs of major companies dress up as prospective employees auditioning for a job within their organization. The CEOs wanted to see how their companies were operating from an employee perspective. It was interesting to see how ill prepared the CEOs were to perform the requirements of the jobs they had chosen to take on. In almost every case the CEOs found the tasks extremely challenge and quite exhausting. It was more interesting to see the attitudes of the company’s current employees towards their work and their employer. Most took pride in their jobs, no matter how mundane. They also were very loyal to their company.
There are times that I would like to be a “fly on the wall” similar to the undercover boss and see how my employees perform. However, as a CEO of a small Denver commercial real estate firm providing Property Management, Brokerage, Development, Construction Oversight, Maintenance and Consulting Services, there isn’t anyone within my company that doesn’t know me. To pull on a pair of jeans and wear a wig would not allow me to look like someone else. While I can’t be an undercover boss I can be an employee for a day. I have provided porter services at retail shopping centers, cleaned restrooms in office buildings, performed routine and make ready maintenance at apartment communities and sat in the leasing office fielding phone calls and showing available apartments. Even though I have knowledge in all these areas I’ll be the first to admit that I’m slow in performing the requirements of the various positions.
This last week our maintenance person was on vacation and as with all small firms, Katchen Company isn’t large enough to have additional employees to fill in during such absence. However, someone needed to perform the maintenance person’s weekly assignments. It is instances like this that allow me to be an undercover boss. While I can’t work alongside my maintenance person and see how he performs his job or what his attitude is towards my company I can perform his job and see the properties as he sees them. During the week I was surprised at some of my observations. The biggest thing I learned was how poorly people treat my employees. I give each of my employees the deepest respect and consideration but found that the property’s tenants and their customers aren’t as generous.
Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt I arrived at one of the shopping centers we manage and provide porter services for. I went about the task of picking up trash from the parking lot and landscaped areas and removed the full trash receptacle liners replacing them with fresh ones. During this process I was almost hit by a car whose drivers was too impatient to allow me to walk out of the way as I was picking up trash littered in one of the parking spaces. Latter, as I was removing a trash liner next to one of the store entrances, a customer exiting the store walked past me giving me a look of disgust as they proceeded on to their car. I thought little of this first occurrence but it was repeated several times over the next hour by both store employees and customers. In some instances there were even snide remarks that went along with the look. It suddenly struck me that this was a case of perception vs. reality. I was being perceived as someone who lacked the skills or education to obtain any job other than pick up trash while the reality is that I’m highly educated, very articulate and the CEO of a company.
There is a very major lesson to be learned from this experience. As owners and managers of companies we must remain aware of how our company and employees are perceived. If our firm and employees aren’t “dressed for success” we may be perceived as failures. The casual nature of business dress in recent years may be adversely impacting ours firms reputation without us being aware of it. The experience I had while filling in for one of the company’s maintenance people is a perfect example. While Katchen Company’s maintenance staff is provided uniforms to give them a more professional appearance I did not have such attire for my temporary substitution. The results were very negative. Now is the time to look at our firm’s appearance and to determine if the perception matches up to the reality.
CEO, Employing Broker
Katchen Company, founded in 1962, is an integrated real estate company with its corporate headquarters in Lakewood, Colorado. The company offers real estate development, redevelopment, property management, brokerage, consulting services, construction oversight and maintenance services to individual and institutional real estate investors throughout the greater Denver metropolitan area with satellite offices in Chicago, Las Vegas and Miami market areas.
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