How many of you watched Undercover Boss on Channel 4 last night? I was expecting something fairly insipid and dull, but it actually turned out to be rather insightful. For the first episode we were following the back to the floor adventures of the new Sales and Marketing Director of "Park Resorts", a caravan holiday company.
There was lots of familiar stuff about the gulf between senior management perceptions and what's actually happening on the ground. A gulf, of course, that can be removed by good research! But the main takeaway, I thought, was that the problems which are too expensive to fix can be solved, with imagination and courage.
The programme focused on the contrast between the cleaning staff at the Norfolk resort, unengaged and poorly motivated minimum-wage slaves whose every piece of work had to be checked, with those at the Isle of Wight resort, paid twice as much and trusted and empowered to need far less checking up on. The interesting part was not that the better-motivated staff did better work, but that they were paid far more without increasing the total wage bill. How? Because they need less supervision, the company needs fewer supervisors...which adds up to a significant wage saving.
It's hard to think of a better example of how short-term cost-cutting can lead to higher long-term costs, as well as all the damage that comes from poor work that means customer dissatisfaction. The message? Get the right staff, give them the training and support they need, motivate them and then TRUST them. Staff are happier, customers are happier, and the company makes more money.