3 Mystery Shopper Tasks for; Executives, Non Executives, Directors and Chiefs


Moai - buried, but that one looks a bit toppled Moai – buried, but that one looks a bit toppled

I’m thrilled with my latest T-Shirt purchase,“something buried in the dirt cannot topple”, it’s all about the slogan…..

My interpretation; if you are deeply involved to something at a practical level (buried in the dirt), you are less likely to be easily disrupted (toppled) by external forces or events.

I’m sure we could spend many enthralling hours talking about the purpose of metaphors and the ‘real’ meaning of that statement, but we can’t. What I did want to talk about was the idea of ‘The Bosses’ in organisations being involved in ‘frontline’ activities (buried in the dirt) by participating in a few mystery shopper activities.

Undercover Boss, Back to the Floor. I’m sure you’ve seen things like; ‘Back to the Floor’ and the ‘Undercover Boss’ programmes. The basic ‘plot’ is that the Boss, goes undercover at their organisation (usually doing a low-level job) and finds out astonishing things. It’s typically a mixture of good and bad, but any TV producer who knows the tricks will have some of the following:

  • Superstar frontline workers doing a brilliant job, despite –
  • Daft policies and processes that work against good sense*,
  • Dodgy Managers / Co-workers who exploit / bully the good people*,
  • An amazing insight that will save the company / make them all superstars*.

All of these examples (*) provide a brilliant opportunity for the Boss to ‘make things right’ through inspired leadership (it is telly after all). Despite the twists that TV programmes might introduce I think that bosses getting involved in front line activities are potentially a very good thing. My reasoning is fairly straightforward:

  • If you experience the practice you better understand how it actually works,
  • Better understanding helps you make better ‘strategic’ decisions,
  • You’ll leave people alone to get on with the things they are good at,
  • People doing the job will (hopefully) have greater respect for your decisions because you understand their situation, and
  • People might like you more (because you get your hands dirty).

I do however realise that it’s not that easy to go ‘back to the floor’ or ‘undercover’ in lots of organisations. Being known/recognised, the ability to perform specific skilled tasks and available time are a real things that work against it. You probably wouldn’t want your Hospital Director of Finance, ‘undercover’, helping out with a kidney transplant. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try something else.

IMG_4437Try Mystery Shopping. This is why I’m recommending the ‘Mystery Shopper’ route.

Why not have a look at things from the perspective of someone on the receiving end of your organisation? There’s a lot to be learnt.

With this in mind, here are 3 mystery shopper tasks every Boss (anyone with Executive, Non Executive, Director or Chief in their title) could try, at least once a month I’d suggest. They’ve been carefully chosen because they are relatively easy to do. Something that might take no more than 10 minutes during a lunchtime, without even having to leave your desk – so no excuses. Please try to:

  1. Apply for a job online
  2. Make a telephone enquiry
  3. Complete your expenses online (by yourself)

Apply for a job online. I’ve observed some people in the 18-25 age group going through this activity recently. It’s fair to say that the experiences range from brilliantly smooth to unbelievably torturous. Given that so many organisations are using online methods to recruit new people it really is worth experiencing ‘how it feels’. If staff really are your greatest asset, and the future of the organisation depends on them, what is their first impression? How do you feel walking away from the online recruitment process? Is this what you want the ‘future’ of the organisation to experience?

Make a telephone enquiry. This is easy. Just think of something somebody might need from your organisation, or a question they might ask. Then just make a call as a ‘member of the public’ and see what happens.

DON’T USE YOUR DESK PHONE – that might give the game away.

Someone recently told me of their experiences of doing this with an organisation they were working with. The results were awful: hugely complex phone dialling systems, waiting for ages, getting cut off and when they did eventually speak to someone they were given wrong information. This was a middle manager phoning in as part of some training. They (and definitely the Chief Executive) had no clue that things were so confusing for service users.

Have a read of this blog post by Kate Bentham, Channel Shift or Channel Shove?, to get the feeling of what she experienced when she tried making a telephone enquiry.

Complete your expenses online. This doesn’t have to be your expenses. Just try to do anything your organisation mandates that staff perform online. This is particularly effective if it is something usually be done for you by your Personal Assistant. A bit of ‘mystery shopping’ of what that the people on the ‘frontline’ of the organisation have to grapple with. Have a go, you might be thrilled.

Disclaimer: none of the above is foolproof. Wrongly applied it could be perceived as; meddling, micro-management or even harassment and spying.

It just seems a better alternative to sitting isolated in an ‘Ivory Tower’ waiting to be toppled. Better to have a bit of you ‘buried in the dirt’.

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. Practical experience of what happens in an organisation can help you better understand and appreciate what it takes to do the job. This can help you make better decisions.
  2. Going ‘back to the floor’ and becoming ‘buried in the dirt’ can be difficult to do, for many reasons.
  3. Doing some mystery shopping could be a relatively easy alternative that will give you a different perspective and possibly some valuable insights.

Picture Source: Easter Island Heads have bodies buried underground.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here: https://whatsthepont.com/churchill-fellowship/

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