After the Super Bowl last night I was anxious to watch the new CBS show "Undercover Boss". It was hysterical, sad, eye opening. Everything I had expected.
But it also made me realize something unexpected -- corporate executives today are ivory tower zombies.
Basically, the premise of the show is corporate bigwigs go out into their companies and pretend they're just average working stiffs.
This allows them to see up close and personal what's going on at the companies they run.
Larry O'Donnell, the president and chief operating officer of Waste Management, was the first big boss to go undercover. He seemed like one of those undead from "Night of the Living Dead" for most of the show, walking around with a dumb look on his face as he observed the inner workings of a company he runs but is clueless about.
Many of us think corporate titans sitting in an ivory tower is just a cliché, well, watch this show and you'll realize it's as true to life as it gets.
O'Donnell discovers that one of the company's female trash collectors, Janice, he accompanies on her route has to pee in a tin cup.
Why? O'Donnell realizes it was his own productivity demands he instituted throughout Waste Management that caused people like Janice to resort to such dehumanizing measures.
"It is my failure to not have thought about that," he said.
To me, this was the key moment in the show. Why wouldn't a smart guy like O'Donnell take into account what his edicts from on high would mean to the rank and file?
It's pretty simple. He doesn't get the rank and file. And I would guess this guy was never really part of the rank and file.
O'Donnell has been largely separated from the people who do the actual grunt work for the past few decades. He was general counsel for a large oilfield company in the early 1990s; a vice president, and a senior vice president and higher after that, joining Waste Management as general counsel and corporate secretary in 2000.
This is not a man who worked his way up at Waste Management, or any company I can see from his bio online. And he admits on the show he's never been fired from a job in his life.
There in lies the problem folks.
Men like O'Donnell are the norm at most corporations today who often go from law school or business school into the top ranks of companies, bypassing the realities of what goes on every day at the firms they run.
Once upon a time, it was a badge of honor to work your way up the ranks at a company. But those types of managers are few and far between. Today, moving up in Corporate America means going from one corner office to another with a better view.
I can't help but think that's why we see the problems we do today in workplaces across the country.
O'Donnell was surprised one of his workers was doing the job of three employees and not getting paid for it. The poor, hardworking woman, Jaclyn, was also close to losing her dream house because she couldn't afford it.
It's nice the O'Donnell was moved by her story and ended up helping her, but this again shows how out of touch executives are.
There are many people like Jaclyn out there. Companies are cutting costs and doing more with fewer people.
Hello Mr. O'Donnell. How do you think this is happening?
It's not that men like him are cold-hearted it turns out. They just may be ignorant.
Maybe the show should be renamed to reflect what it's really about:
"Undercover Clueless Boss"