Giving up the comfort and familiarity of their corporate offices, these CEOs were on a mission to learn more about their company's operation. As they assumed their anonymous positions on CBS's Undercover Boss, and went into the  rank-and-file of their own organizations, they may have gotten more than they bargained for. Here's what they learned, along with the actions they've taken to improve their operations.

1. PostNet CEO, Steve Greenbaum

Small business marketing solutions with nearly 700 franchise locations across 10 countries.

Being on Undercover Boss was an amazing experience for me. As a hands-on founder and CEO, it's easy to think that you know everything about your business. One of my biggest takeaways was that I realized I didn't really know that much about some of the most important people in my organization--my franchisees' employees. In addition to our franchise owners, these are the people on the front lines, providing  great service and building relationships with our customers. I am now far more connected to this area of my business and want to be sure that our franchisees' employees share our  culture, values, and passion and that we are doing everything we can to help them succeed.

2. Tilted Kilt CEO, Ron Lynch 

"The Best Looking Sports Pub You've Ever Seen," has over 100 units in operation throughout the US and Canada, with an additional 20 pubs in development.

I got an up close view of how truly hard our servers, cooks, bartenders and managers work at our pubs and the personal sacrifices they make to be able to pay for school, feed their families, or just make ends meet. A big takeaway was the need for us to provide  mentors for some of our younger team members. We hire a lot of servers who are between 18-20 years old. They have work experience, but not a lot of life experience. We put them in an adult environment. Some of these young people need more guidance than our pub owners or managers can provide. They need somebody mentoring them. I also realized our managers need to get up a little closer to the front line to hear what's happening at a table to be better able to advise the servers. As a result of the experience, we developed mentoring programs. 

3. Marco's Pizza President, Bryon Stephens

The fastest growing pizza chain in the US with more than 700 stores in 35 states, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and India.

During my Undercover Boss experience, I learned more than just how to hand roll dough and deliver late-night pizzas. The eye-opening journey provided unexpected business lessons that in many ways changed the course of how we run Marco's Pizza.

I discovered that while I had been laser-focused on creating a culture of accountability and driving sales to increase unit economics for franchisees, I overlooked many aspects affecting people behind the business at the store-level. Key takeaways included investing in safety and security of employees as a top priority, spotting high-level potential in low-level positions, empathizing  work-life-balance, reducing physically exhausting tasks and addressing low local brand awareness. The undercover experience has resulted in major company changes to enhance the Marco's Pizza team and growing a 700-store national footprint.

4. BrightStar Care CEO, Shelly Sun

More than 300 locations, employing over 2,500 registered nurses.

There are two key things I took away from my Undercover Boss experience. First, while undercover, I was struck by the lack of consumer knowledge of in-home care services available. For instance, the highest quality of advanced care was once only available in a healthcare facility, but is now offered in the home. Second, something that I already knew became even clearer to me--our franchisees, nurses, and caregivers are amazing, hardworking people who provide valuable, personal support to thousands of clients each and every day. This is something that I am so very proud of. 

5. Retro Fitness CEO, Eric Casaburi

Over 145 gyms open in 16 states and expanding to over 200 gyms in the next two years.

My biggest takeaway was learning how crucial it is to meet with your ground level troops--to get in there and see the granular stuff. I needed to see what problems might be happening right at the front counter of one of my gyms. As a CEO, you don't get that opportunity because everyone plays a different role when you walk in and you're in a suit. So for me, it was really seeing the granular stuff and working through it. It was creating plans and learning from basic experience. Since being on Undercover Boss, we've ordered more store audits, as well as more elaboration on how we manage our operations team. We realized we had to be in the gyms more often and must have more involvement in their day-to-day process.

What might you not know about your business? You probably don't have to go undercover to find out. Open lines of  communication, audits, and simply making time to pay attention will reveal a few surprised as well as the solutions to any issues. 

 

Published on: May 9, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.