It's a brave boss that volunteers to discover the inner workings of his business on national TV. But last night Andy Edge, MD of discount caravan holiday chain Park Resorts, swapped his desk job for the coal face as part of the new Channel 4 reality show 'The Undercover Boss'. And Edge, to his credit, actually came out of it rather well - not least because he was so impressed with the innovative approach of one of his junior managers that he ended up changing company policy as a result. There's a lesson there, we thought...
Despite being MD of the UK’s second biggest holiday camp group, Edge had never so much as run a hoover over one of his caravans before. But in last night's show, he gamely rolled up his sleeves and worked as a cleaner, barman, kitchen porter and even a clown in two of his resorts. And his most significant experience came in the Isle of White camp, where customers reported clean and shiny caravans and happy staff whistled while they worked. The difference, apparently, was that manager Fiona Page pays cleaning staff double minimum wage - but gives them more responsibility, removing the need for supervisors. So impressed was Edge with this approach that he has now rolled it out to all of Park Resorts’ 37 UK camps. ‘I was blown away by Fiona. Under her system, you get people who are really good, who get paid what they feel they're worth, and they're given trust and empowered to do a good job,’ he said.
It wasn't all good news for Edge, however. He also found many disgruntled staff, including one extremely endearing yet untrained chef who disastrously attempted to single-handedly make a fry-up for 100 people. Blatant health and safety red flags, including a socket perilously close to a sink and bits of plastic in the cauliflower cheese, are hardly a PR coup. ‘We let him down,’ said Edge of the bedraggled chef, who is now on a training course paid for by the company.
What this show proves is that it can be difficult for those at the top to know what’s happening at the sharp end of their organisation. People are sometimes prone to tell their bosses what they want to hear; Edge's visible shock when one employee said she hated her job showed how sheltered higher management can be (a caravan park cleaner, hating their job? the very idea!). 'Normally when I'm back in HQ I spend my time looking at numbers and processes. I'm guilty sometimes of forgetting the people,' he admitted.
So he clearly learned some valuable lessons, and we're inclined to think it would serve more bosses well to follow his lead. Whether they should do it on national TV is another matter, though. The fact that Channel 4 only seems to have found two people to take part in this series suggests a widespread fear that the potential risks outweigh the rewards...
Still, we'll be following the show with interest - in fact, we'll be having a chat with next week's Undercover Boss, Stephen Martin of the Clugston Group, ahead of Thursday’s show.
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