Undercover Boss: Pittsburgh Mayor — Lessons learned

Undercover Boss Offers Insights for Organizations

biking the gap 020Last night’s new episode of Undercover Boss featured the City of Pittsburgh.  We just visited Pittsburgh a couple of years ago and we were shocked at what a nice city it has become!!  We were biking the Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.  We ended up in Pittsburgh for an extra day due to weather and got to do a bit of exploring.  The bike trails are incredible.  The city has two rivers that converge right downtown and the new park is beautiful.

Anyway, it was fun to watch Undercover Boss and remember our time in Pittsburgh.

The City has made huge strides in being a great destination.

Like every other large organization there are challenges and there were lessons to be learned by the Mayor.

Running a municipality is very much a business and many have large workforces.

The Mayor — undercover discovered several things!


Many organizations have operational inefficiencies.  Staff on the front line see the inefficiency and find them frustrating, but often feel dis-empowered to make any changes.  There is no method for getting this information to the decision makers.  Employees are not authorized to make the change and that makes sense.  You cannot have people making changes to procedures without a process of review.  We had this at the Outdoor Education Center that I was the Director of.  Staff would come in and say they had changed HOW we were setting up a high ropes course element.  We developed strict policies on how these changes could be made.  We welcomed the input and the feedback.  New ideas to improve safety, or efficiency or ease of use are great.  But they cannot be shared via word of mouth.  They need to be delineated in policy.  We set up a policy for how to submit ideas for review and how we would review and implement.  Changes needed to reflected in policy before they were implemented so that communication throughout the staff was consistent.

In Undercover Boss, the Mayor discovered that waste management trucks were backing up streets to collect garbage from a couple of houses and then the rest of the street was covered by another municipality and another waste management company was doing the same thing on a different day for the rest of the houses.  The Mayor implemented a program to work cooperatively with other municipalities to reduce costs for each and improve efficiency for each.

Dreams and Visions

One staff member revealed his BIG dream of working with youth and ministry.  The Mayor was able to take his passion and energy and implement a new youth training or mentorship program to improve employ-ability of youth in the city and help them develop work skills.

Imagine what would happen to your organization if you knew the dreams and visions of employees. The creativity that employees have, the ideas, innovations and improvements would be incredible.  New programs or products could emerge.  Employees would be happier because their ideas were valued and their dreams supported.

It sounds so ideal.  But is it realistic? In the employee performance system that I use with organizations it is part of what we do. Each staff member creates their one year plan and reviews it with their supervisor or manager.  In that review process they are sharing their bigger dream. It becomes a valuable experience for the manager and the employee. The employee is creating a one year plan to move their goals forward and the organizations goals forward.  It becomes a win – win, and in the process the manager is learning what is working and what is not working and how it can be improved.  They can then take that information forward within the organization to make system wide improvements.

There are several things that impact whether an organization is really going to use this valuable information.

Leaders must be committed to the ongoing learning of the organization.

Leaders must empower staff to share ideas and be willing to action on ideas that make sense.

Leaders must be open minded.

Undercover Boss gives each a glimpse of what we as the boss could be missing within our organizations.

You can uncover this information in your company when you begin engaging with staff and allowing them to share their ideas.

Undercover Boss — What Could You Learn?

undercoverbossWhat Can You Learn From Your Staff?

The new season of Undercover Boss premiers this Sunday.  When the show first started I didn’t watch… seemed goofy.  Then I caught an episode and was impressed.

Granted it is TV.  But there are real lessons there.

Each time I am able to watch — I learn something.  I see what could be learned by business leaders IF they were connecting with their front line staff.  It really is about “walking the floor”, so to speak.  Being in touch and really communicating.

Frontline staff KNOW what is happening within your organization.  They know what works and they are frustrated by what doesn’t work.  Often they are more frustrated that their input is not asked for or taken seriously.

Frontline staff can most often save organizations thousands of dollars… and in big companies probably millions.

In one episode the boss learned that the online reservation software didn’t communicate with the front desk software.  Customers that had made their reservation online had to wait up to a half hour to checkin while desk staff worked on getting the online information and inputting into their front desk software.  Now, I know you can see some problems here — customers are frustrated; staff are frustrated and efficiency is totally undermined.  Fixing this problem — improves the flow of checkin, saves tremendous time, makes customers happier and front desk staff are smiling.  That is just good for business!

So, how can you get this information if you aren’t one of the chosen to be on Undercover Boss?

1. Create a safe environment for staff to give you input.  It is valuable information.  Creative, learning organizations should always be evaluating how they operate and do business to improve. If staff feel threatened if they give feedback then you will never hear it.

2. Get your head out of it: Some organizations have leaders that have so much EGO in the game that they cannot hear anything from staff. This is extremely detrimental the overall operation of the organization. Staffs have such valuable information.  They have great ideas on how to streamline operations.  They see what is coming down the pike and can be helpful in planning or project management.  And most often they are also very loyal — even when they are treated poorly — not appreciated — and not empowered.

How Would Your Organization Change?

If you empowered people? If you asked for input and took it?  If leaders weren’t control freaks?

3. Empower your staff to be leaders.  Many organizations are seeing incredible results when staff are empowered to take personal responsibility for their job.

4. Talk to people.  Walk the floor.  Let people know who you are.  Listen more than talk and hear what their ideas are and give them credit for them. DO NOT be so small that you take ideas and credit.  Your staff will continuously improve your operations when you value their input and opinions.

Being a leader is challenging, no doubt.  But being a leader that stands all alone and doesn’t include a team creates an environment that will not produce the results that he/she is truly going for!

Undercover Boss: Great Wolf Lodge

Micro-Managing vs. Employee Empowerment

The Micro-Manager...Are YOU on Task?

The Micro-Manager…Are YOU on Task?

Micro Managing Your Staff Creates Negative Results

What Would Change In Your Workplace If YOU Stopped Micro Managing?

The leader that micro-manages his or her team, might be sacrificing bottom line results and team performance for that control. Control is hard to give up when you are the leader or manager.  You just have that feeling that others won’t do it as well as you, or that if you don’t make every decision, mistakes will be made.  To some extent that is true.  When you think back to your own journey you can probably find a few mistakes that you made along the way.  They were lessons that have guided your ultimate success.  Empowering your staff gives them responsibility and opens up the possibilities of mistakes and new lessons.  Part of the leader’s responsibility is training staff to take on responsibility.  The other part is letting go of the micro level control and empowering staff to do things, perhaps differently than you would and perhaps better!

When leaders have to have control over each detail they slow operations down, they demoralize the staff and decrease performance.  Staff Have ideas, insights into the day to day operations of companies.  They can anticipate problems and see ways to overcome them.  They know the tasks that need to get done and can schedule those to fit into the team’s workload more effectively.  When leaders don’t empower their staff the results are poorer.  But the results are even direr than that.  Demoralized staff doesn’t stay forever.  They look for other options.  They seek positions where there are opportunities for growth and increased responsibility.

Self-Reflect To Overcome Micro Managing

The micro-manger needs to do some self-reflection to identify why they need control.  What is holding them back from letting their staff shine and take the lead?  Often it is their own confidence and the need to recognition.  Confident and self-assured leaders can give over the reins to their staff.

Micro managing undermines your goals and vision.  While be a control freak might feel like the right path, it will eventually undo you.

Using Adventure Based Team Building For IMPROVING Results

Adventure Based Team Building Remains HIGHLY Effective in Creating LONG Lasting Change
an aerial view of a rowing crew in action.

Adventure activities for team building remain highly effective.  Part of what I love about using adventure based or experiential activities is that they get staff out of their typical environment.  Suddenly we are talking about group dynamics in a novel environment. The playing field is level.  Experiential adventure basedteambuilding activities for teams helps to identify the group dynamics quickly for the facilitator.  The communication styles of participants quickly emerge.  The natural leaders step forward.  The over bearing employee stands out.  The quiet and shy individual that has great ideas that are rarely heard appears.

As the group moves through different activities, they start to recognize the strengths and challenges that exist within the group.  Most are related to communication and the interaction dynamics between people.  The insights that are gained are valuable, but the big challenge for all team building is taking the lessons learned back to the workplace.

How does real change take place?  Learning is inspiring and exciting immediately following the team building event.  As time goes on old behavior re-emerges and the lessons learned are forgotten or put on the shelf.  It takes a committed leader to keep the team focused on their new commitment to different team dynamics.


This comes back to the team building event itself.  If the facilitator does not help team members to truly identify new behaviors and outline them in a concrete and usable way they will quickly fade away.  Creating a plan for sustained growth and development with ongoing follow up with an outside facilitator really ensures team change.  Change takes time to happen and long lasting change has ups and downs.  The outside facilitator helps the team to recognize when they are slipping back into old paradigms and old patterns of behavior.

Holding people accountable to change is important and it is not always effective within the team, although the team plays a major role in making change.

Adventure based team building is a tool for effective skill development.

It is most effective with ongoing follow up with the original facilitator to ensure that new behaviors and strategies are implemented long term.  Team building as a one shot event has benefits but they are short term and do not endure over time.

Benefits of Empowering Employees

Group of diverse business colleagues enjoying successEmpowering employees can have multiple positive benefits to the workplace.  Employees can take the lead on projects and tasks and free up the manager or leader to do other things.  The leader often has the responsibility of growing the company. When they tie themselves up in the day to day operations they remove themselves from this important task.  Growing the company, getting out and acquiring new projects, new clients and visioning greater success are all part of being the CEO or leader.  Employees can take on the day to day operations of organizations.

Empowering employees is good for morale.

When managers have to control every aspect of an employee’s work it is demoralizing to the employee.  When staff make suggestions or put forth ideas and they are never accepted or considered, or have to be the idea of the manger or leader, then employees stop making suggestions.  Staff do not work for pay alone.  Work conditions play a major role in staff satisfaction and performance.  When staff are in a situation where they have little control, are not acknowledged for their work or ideas then their performance suffers.  The results for the team or the company are negative.  Turn-over increases and the costs to organization are impacted.

Empowering means giving up some control, but does not mean that the organization runs wild. Staff have great ideas.  It is gold.  They see ways to improve operations, get things done faster, easier for less cost.  The misconception of the micro manager is that only they care about the company.  When true leaders share their vision and passion for the company, employees can embrace that vision and passion as well. When that leader then empowers the employees to do great work, results can soar.

As the leader or CEO you can set up communication systems that empower employees and at the same time keep you informed and in the loop.  But you do need to follow through and let employees make decisions and not take back all control when you are informed of staff decisions.

Empowering instead of micro managing will result in better organizational results and free you, the leader up to further grow the organization.

Should You Throw In the Towel?

Should I throw in the towel

When is it the time to close your business?

When Is It TIME To Throw IN The Towel?

Operating a business is not an easy task.

I have always relied on 3 principles or values:

  • commitment

  • perseverance

  • risk.

It takes all of these to make it in business.

If you are considering going into business, if you don’t have these traits or characteristics you should throw in the towel before you start because these are essential.

Once you are in business, you have to keep going back to these.

 A long time ago I learned about commitment when I was rock climbing.

YOU have to make a commitment.

YOU have to make a commitment.

I was high off the ground.

You know stories grow as you tell them, and at one point in this story I was hundreds of feet off the ground, but really probably about 30 feet off the ground.

High enough!! I was stuck.

I could feel the next place for my foot but it was just out of reach. I could see the hand hold but I couldn’t reach it. Precariously perched on the side of the mountain I searched for alternatives. My belayer (the person holding my rope/my life) was patient with me. After I had exhausted all of the possibilities and didn’t find an alternative, he said, “you have to commit to the move, you just have to go for it. “ He meant I had to let go of the safety of my perch and reach out, risk and make a commitment to making it to the next hold. I took a deep breath and did it. I made the move and I learned a lesson.

In my business I have used that lesson over and over.

There are many metaphors there:

  • taking a risk,
  • staying focused and on my path, and commitment.
  • commit to the move
  • commitment is 100% — you CANNOT be wishy-washy

When I have questioned my business I go back to the rocks of Joshua Tree National Monument and remember that it takes total commitment to be successful in business and that I have to “commit to the move”.

Next is perseverance.

should i throw in the towel?

Reaching the summit takes perseverance.

I learned this lesson biking across the country from Maine to Oregon.

Now that in itself takes some perseverance, but the real lesson came in Wyoming in the Big Horn Mountains.

We had to cross the Rocky Mountains somewhere and the Big Horns looked like the best option. The climb was 30+ miles long. For me, that means I am biking between 3 and 6 miles per hour for a very long time. There I learned that no matter how slow I was going I had to keep pushing that pedal to make it to the top of the mountain. There are times when in business it feels like a BIG mountain climb. Some days the mountain is not as steep and the climb isn’t as long and some days it is a very long climb. But I also know that it is perseverance that keeps me moving my business forward. One of the tools that I use is an accomplishment list or journal. There are days when you are climbing that mountain or putting out fires that you just can’t see what you have accomplished. An accomplishment journal helps because when you start listing all of the things that you did do, and it is amazing. It can energize you and keep you moving.

Risk is a willingness to make bold moves....

Risk is a willingness to make bold moves….

Finally is risk. Business is risk.

You are stepping out of the comfort zone of a JOB and into being an entrepreneur.

Not everyone can take that risk and live with that risk.

Sometimes the risk lasts for a long time before the payoff comes.

You have to know yourself and what you can tolerate and what your life can tolerate.

When you are in business you are in the driver’s seat and you are making the decisions about what is acceptable.

It is vital that you are looking at your entire business.

You need to have your finger on the pulse of your organization in several areas:

 Vision –

  • You need to have a clear and compelling vision that helps to energize you and draw you into the future.
  • Be clear on what you are creating so that you don’t get distracted or pulled off track.

 Strategy –

  • Create strategies to accomplish the vision.
  • Keep your strategies in front of you and know where you are with each strategy.
  • So many strategic plans get put aside and never referenced after they are created.

 Money –

  • You need to know your numbers.
  • This is one area that I was never good at.
  • My business did not start taking off until I put my finger on the pulse of money.
  • You need to know what is coming in and going out.
  • Know the numbers.
  • Know what it takes to make you profitable;
  • Know where you are now and how far away you are from that profitability.

 Staff –

  • Know what is going on with your staff if you have them.
  • Know their vision and their passion.
  • And stay in touch with what is happening on the floor.
  • There is incredible information there.

So, What Do You Do When the Pulse is LOW?  This is perhaps the hardest question you will ever answer.

YOU have to make the decision and you need to rely on several factors.

First, listen to your own wisdom.

Many times we know what we need to do and we ignore the inner voice that is telling us.

We get further down the road and in hindsight it is clear and then we can even acknowledge that we know.

Listening to yourself and your feeling and gut is important.

But you also have to be a wise business owner. That means that you have to take a look at the facts in front of you. You’ve been paying attention to your business. You know its current state and you know its growth.

Evaluate: Current Status, Growth History and Growth Potential

  • What is the current status of the organization?
  • Are you still investing money in it?
  • Has it been 3 years?
  • 5 years?
  • Can you afford to continue investing?
  • Does that fit into your life plan?
  • Or is it self-supporting?
  • What is the growth history?
  • Has the business been growing?
  • Adding new clients?
  • New customers?
  • Is that growth consistent?
  • Does the product or service remain in demand?
  • Have you evaluated the potential growth of the product/service?
  • Do you know your market?

If your business is struggling have you exhausted all of your marketing strategies to bring in new customers or repeat customers?

 As the business owner considering throwing in the towel you must not leave any stone unturned.

If there is a marketing strategy that you haven’t tried because you are personally uncomfortable with it, now is the time to get comfortable. For instance, if you are not tech savvy and don’t like being on the Internet – you have to have an internet presence. You cannot be in business and not have an internet presence. You must have a social media presence.

Are there things that you can be outsourcing that will free you up to do the sales side or development side of the business? As the owner or CEO your role is to build the business and develop the business. This may mean networking, connecting, landing new clients, new investors, new products or services. You know what business building looks like in for your business. What are your business development strategies? Do you have the time to carry them out? If not, what can you delegate in order to do that?

If you are spending your valuable time doing non-essential tasks then you need to re-order what you do so that you can do the essential and fundamental task of business building or business development.

Make a list each day of the essential money focused tasks and do them first.

Delegate or outsource the other tasks.

Many business owners have discovered the magic of outsourcing. Suddenly, you have the time to make more money. You have handed off jobs, you are paying money to have someone else do them and you are making MORE money!

Should I Throw In The Towel

How sweet is that? What can you hand off? Now is the time to figure that out.

But, wait, you still have the towel in your hand and you are still unsure whether you should hold it or throw it.

So far you have taken a look at your business owner characteristics of commitment, perseverance and risk taking; you have evaluated the current state of the organization and the future growth potential; you have looked at all of your marketing and sales strategies to be sure that you are doing EVERYTHING you can to bring in more clients and more business; and finally you have taken a look at yourself to determine what other things you can do to grow the business and what you can outsource or delegate to free you up to do that. After taking a look at all of this and listening to your inner wise voice, it should be pretty clear what to do. You know what to do. Hard decision. Hardest ever, but solely yours to make.

Whatever you decide to do it is important to do it with style, with grace and with the utmost professionalism.

  • Do not burn bridges.
  • Do not do anything to harm your reputation or that of your staff, your vendors, your board or others.

If you throw in the towel, make sure it is clean, that it shines brightly and provides everyone involved the most potential for future success possible.


Dealing with Difficult People Workshop

Small Business Week 2013: Strategic Planning 101

small business weekSmall Business Week Events

We are kicking off Small Business Week with a few events!

Strategic Planning 101

Monday, June 17 at 10 AM — Strategic Planning 101

I will be hosting a Google Hangout event.  Strategic Planning is a foundation of business success.

Learn a simple system for planning

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Learn Transformational Leadership Skills with Equine Leadership Training

Sometimes at work you’re struck by someone who seems to have ‘it’. The kind of person who’s full of passion and has a way of infecting everyone around them with their enthusiasm.

If we’re totally honest, this is the image we’d all like to present at work, but many people feel that this kind of ‘charisma’ is innate and can’t be learned. However, that’s simply not the case!

There’s no denying that the recent economic crash has been disastrous on a global scale, but there have been some positive effects too. The scandal surrounding the leaders of the world’s most powerful institutions that in part led to financial disaster have caused a noticeable shift in the way today’s top brass are choosing to lead.

Transformational Leadership Training Post-Recession

Transformational leadership was first devised by renowned leadership expert James MacGregor Burns in the late 1970’s. Over the decades Burns’ method gradually developed a reputation as one of the most forward thinking and holistic approaches to leadership training available. In simple terms, a transformational leader is able to positively change those that follow them and instil workforces with drive, ambition and the desire to succeed.

Transformational Leadership Training

But how do they do this? According to Bernard M. Bass, a researcher who expanded on Burns’ original concept, there are four main components to successful transformational leadership, all of which fall perfectly into the remit of Equine Leadership Training – a process which provides delegates with the opportunity to work one to one with horses to develop their leadership skills. Take a look below to learn more about Bass’ four components of transformational leadership and how they apply to equine training:

1. Intellectual Stimulation

A transformational leader challenges norms and encourages their followers to be creative and find new opportunities for learning and new ways to do things.

Working one to one with a horse requires thinking outside the box because a horse won’t respond in the same way as a human. Delegates need to quickly pick up new skills and devise creative ways to get the horse on side.

2. Individualised Consideration

Transformational leaders should be ready to offer encouragement and support to others whenever necessary. It’s essential that communication lines are kept open and that leaders are able to see things from others’ points of view.

For a horse to want to work with someone, they need to feel safe and secure, so delegates must find ways to communicate their support through their actions, rather than words. In addition, the more empathy delegates develop with their horses, the more successful a relationship they’ll engender.

3. Inspirational Motivation

The ability to fill others with passion and clearly articulate your vision to followers is an essential skill for the transformational leader.

When working with a horse they’ll sense your enthusiasm or lack thereof without you saying a word. Learning how to project positivity will create a more fruitful working relationship and help develop delegates’ ability to encourage teamwork.

4. Idealised Influence

The greatest leaders become role models for those who follow them through a combination of respect and trust.

When working with horses, if respect and trust are not present then you simply won’t be successful. Spending time learning how to engender trust and respect from a horse allows leaders to transfer their abilities when dealing with a workforce.

So if you’d like to develop the essential skills needed to become a truly transformational leader then choose equine training and let horse sense guide you to a more successful leadership style.

Passive Income Through Membership

Using Membership Sites or Membership Programs to Develop Passive Income (Part 2)

Passive Income Strategies

Membership sites are a great way to create a mainly passive form of income. Once you have your membership site up and running, you just need to keep it updated with fresh content. Setting up a membership site

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