You must have seen the TV show Undercover Boss…a great idea for a TV show and one that is pulled off fairly well. My point is that over the past few weeks it has developed into a kind of standard script, but I think it is extraordinarily instructive for people who are involved with the management and labor aspects of business (like EHS pros, but there are so many more)

I break the concept down this way: Company CEO has no clue that the work performed by the people in his company is so physically hard, and that people invariably have real life problems far beyond what CEOs typically think of as work related that have such an enormous impact on how and why people work.

CEOs got there through various means but they have zero clue about how ordinary people live and how so many problems in people’s lives are absolutely not fixed by simply “having a job.”

The show’s conceit is that they have producers who hunt up great subjects for the undercover CEO, people who have massive personal problems or difficult histories but still bring a great attitude to work and have a great work ethic. They always show the CEO how hard their job is, but compared to their real lives, it is nothing they can’t handle.

What is so interesting about the show is the second act where the CEO becomes the CEO again and meets the people and delivers help. The single mother gets child care assistance. The guy who coaches the at-risk youth at basketball when he gets off his 12 hour shift gets a van to take them to games, the guy with the great attitude doing the very worst job gets promoted to the training department and the woman with the autistic kid gets financial help and enrollment in an autism program, and the guy working full time and going to school at night gets a scholarship on and on.

What I find so fascinating is that 1) management never understands labor and their world, and 2) once management sees real work firsthand they react firs t with shock and then with remorse and then act by making what are eventually simple fixes that are totally opposite of typical bottom line mentality: they are fixes that show the value of labor to a company beyond the simple profit.

And every show ends with a company wide viewing of the show and the company probably benefits wildly by this new-found connection between the CEO and labor.

Every time I watch that show, I say, why does it take this parlor trick of going undercover for CEOs to understand the people in the company they are managing, and why do they never understand the true value of managing human capital until they get their undercover noses rubbed in it?

What does this have to do with the latest mine disaster?

The latest mine disaster CEOs will sound just like the Sago CEOs from a few years ago: we value our people, we don’t try to put them in danger, and we did do much to keep them safe.

We know it is bull.

So don’t look for any mine CEOs to do Undercover Boss. Ever. They won’t ever get it. And over the next few days and weeks we will unfortunately hear uncovered the sad history of MSHA violations and citations and slow to get fixed issues are going to come out soon.

Just like before.

And just like they will again in the few years at another mine or another refinery.

Undercover Boss should be mandatory for mine companies, oil companies, and on and on.