When the Boss Does the Dirty Work

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Did you hear about Eric Casaburi? He’s the CEO and founder of New Jersey-based Retro Fitness, and on Friday night he appeared on CBS’s Emmy award-winning reality TV show, Undercover Boss. The show features senior executives working undercover in their own companies to investigate on-the-ground operations in their firms.
In the episode, Casaburi poses as Barry Goshe, an employee being trailed by a film crew because he’s trying to land a spot on a game show. Casaburi grew a beard, dyed it for the role, and donned a wig. He also wore padding under his shirt so he wouldn’t look suspiciously in shape.

Disguised as an employee, Casaburi did everything, including hanging heavy bags, cleaning dumbbell racks, leading sales tours, and making prospecting phone calls. He faced a few challenging situations: a failed sales attempt, a disaster at the juice bar, the need to keep his mouth shut when a fellow employee told him that sometimes she wants to punch customers in the face. (Happily, to make up for that, he also met an employee who credits Retro Fitness with having changed his life.)

Casaburi told the online fitness industry news outlet Club Industry that appearing on the show was his own life-changing experience. “No one is going to try to let the ball drop when they’re juggling when you’re there. But when you go in as an undercover guy…everybody is themselves, and you learn more,” he said.

Those are the words that caught my attention. Obviously, not every health club CEO can go undercover in his or her own facility, but thinking about Casaburi’s experience made me wonder what would happen if every boss took more time out to be on the ground. It’s true, you might see everybody on their best behavior, without getting to witness who they are when you’re not around, but you’d probably still garner a sense of how things work day-to-day, what needs improving, which employees need some encouragement, and which ones deserve recognition for hard work.

What if you put on an apron and got behind your own juice bar? What if you took over front-desk duties for a day? Maybe you’d set an example for your employees; seeing you getting your hands dirty with the nitty-gritty work might inspire them to work harder. Or what if you gave tours to prospective clients for a day? How impressed might they be, knowing that you care enough about what you do to meet with them face-to-face? Or, what if you actually could go undercover in your facility for a day? What kind of knowledge might you gain to help you improve your business?

Casaburi’s experience was something of a spectacle (and fun to watch). Yours might be quieter, less sensational, more like reality than reality TV — but it could still be extremely effective. Give it a try. Let us know how it goes.

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