On Friday, February 28, the Utah Jazz will make television history by becoming the first NBA franchise to be featured on CBS's two-time Emmy-winning show, "Undercover Boss." Donning faux facial hair and assuming a new identity, Larry H. Miller Group CEO, Greg Miller, spent a number of days undercover performing four distinct jobs within the Utah Jazz organization. When initially presented with the opportunity to participate in the show in the summer of 2013, Miller and other organization leaders jumped at the opportunity, as they believed participating could positively impact the organization. "I was familiar with 'Undercover Boss' and I think that it has a positive purpose. I was eager to participate to see what opportunities existed to improve our organization that I wouldn't see in my role as CEO," Miller recalled.
During his undercover period, Miller engaged in roles ranging from a halftime performance with the Utah Jazz Dunk Team and acting as a human basketball hoop during his work with the Jazz's Interactive Team. Additionally, he worked alongside the team's facilities department and tried his hand as a concessions staff member. Throughout each of these roles, Miller saw firsthand the ways in which his organization thrives, but also noted areas in which it could improve. "There were a couple of issues that jumped out right away. One issue was that some of the equipment that we use to set up the arena for Jazz games was in desperate need of repair. The mechanisms in place were installed when the building was built 23-years ago, so they were tired," Miller explained.
Another issue uncovered during his stint as an undercover boss resonated largely with Miller. "I realized that we need to do a better job as an organization expressing gratitude to our employees," he noted. Miller has focused on showing gratitude to the organization's employees since becoming CEO in 2008 by sending over 30 handwritten notes to employees monthly. Hence, he was surprised by this revelation. "I asked one of the employees I worked with when I was undercover how he likes working here. He said he loves everything about it, except that the employees don't get as much recognition as he thought they should for a job well done. That was a little hard for me to hear, because I take a lot of pride in how many handwritten thank you notes I send to our employees each month," Miller said.
For Miller, whose father founded Larry H. Miller Companies in 1979, one particular exchange while he was undercover struck a personal chord. Miller's first "boss" when he went undercover was a man named Dennis, who is responsible for setting up the Jazz's arena for games. When Miller arrived to assist Dennis with the job, Dennis looked at him and said, "I only have two rules. Number one: Don't drop the Jazz floors. Number two: Don't drop the Lexus tables." While the Lexus tables are costly tables utilized in the arena's premium seating areas, Dennis' instruction about the Jazz floors particularly stood out to Miller. "The rule about the floors meant so much to me, because the floor was named after my dad. I was just very impressed that Dennis had taken mental ownership of that floor and was so protective of it. I immediately felt a friendship with Dennis," Miller recalled.
In his role leading the Jazz, Miller notes that one of the individuals who prepared him the greatest for the job was his father. "My dad ranks way up there," he noted. Yet, another Jazz figure largely molded Miller's leadership style. "John Stockton is another individual who has influenced the way I lead. John's influence would be one of quiet strength, where you work hard every minute of every day to be the best you can be and then you don't talk about it. You go to work, do your best and step back into the shadows," Miller said.
Through personal experiences and the mentorship of leaders, Miller has built a management style that he defines as one focused on "optimizing every aspect of the organization." In explaining how he optimizes every aspect of the organization, Miller notes that he works hard to be collaborative and delegatory. To that list, Miller can add innovative, as his participation in "Undercover Boss" demonstrates his willingness to take unique approaches to get to the root of issues, both positive and negative, within the Jazz organization.
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