Ever since the premiere of Undercover Boss, it's become fashionable for some CEOs to don a disguise and experience their business from the employee's standpoint. I guess that's cool. But I've been doing the real thing for years: Job swapping with my Manhattan receptionist, an account executive in our London office, and a San Francisco-based account supervisor, to name just a few.
In each instance, I've come away with a greater appreciation of the demands of entry-level positions. I've also made fundamental changes in our work processes as a direct result: installing better soundproof baffling in the ceiling, outsourcing news monitoring, and insisting every one take a lunch break, for example.
Recently, after being told by some of our newer employees that Peppercom's orientation was a sink-or-swim proposition, I decided to try it for myself.
To make the experience as authentic as possible, I "became" a hypothetical senior account executive named Johnny Smythe (our HR manager thought the name John Smith was too bland). I asked our HR team to ensure that Johnny experience exactly what a brand new employee would. So, Johnny:
- Was briefed by the human resources director on policies, procedures, and culture.
- Met with Johnny's senior manager, and told what his roles would be on the three accounts to which he'd been assigned.
- Taken around to meet the rest of the employees by Johnny's assigned buddy, Tim.
After just two hours, Johnny's head was spinning with information overload. He received mixed messages to some of his questions, completely different answers to some of the same, basic questions, and no answer at all to one of his more direct questions about a particular service offering.
As a direct result of my new employee orientation, I've made several sweeping changes, including:
- Placing more signage in our reception area. Johnny wasn't sure if Peppercom was a public relations firm or a branch office of H&R Block.
- Changing the cable channel on the TV in reception from NY1 to CNN (since Peppercom is a global communications firm).
- Re-naming the conference rooms (Johnny was told Peppercom's conference rooms were named: fourth floor small, fourth floor large, fifth floor small, fifth floor large and the living room, respectively). I thought a creative firm should have conference rooms with creative names.
- Ensuring that each and every Peppercom employee memorizes an elevator speech they can deliver when asked who we are, and what sets us apart (Johnny must have received 25 different answers to those questions).
- Ensuring that each and every employee understands the myriad career paths to success (When Johnny asked the one thing he needed to know in order to succeed, every junior person responded by saying, "Be sure to bring a pad and pen to every meeting." There must be more to success than that!
- Expanding the orientation program from one day to three. There's simply too much to process in one eight-hour day.
I highly recommend every entrepreneur and executive experience what I just did. See what a new employee sees and hears in her first day of work at your firm. Ask why things are done the way they are. And, look for visual clues to see if your office environment accurately reflects the business in which you work.
I can tell you one thing: if Johnny Smythe had been an actual new employee at Peppercom, I'm sure if he would have returned for his second day of work, he would have returned with his head spinning.