I watched “Undercover Boss” on the television in which the boss of Carluccio’s – the Italian restaurant chain that is looking to expand dramatically – disguised himself as a budding entrepreneur who was making a documentary about starting up his own business. Under this pretence he went undercover to see what was happening in his restaurants; in particular, whether his employees were delivering.

The stated outcome from our Boss was that staff morale was a problem. I disagree.

Of course, careful editing may affect my perception but in any event I was struck by the quality of the staff – their energy and dedication to customer service was (from what I could see) excellent. BUT the staff also shared with the disguised boss that they felt undervalued and “like a number”. The company had not recognised and rewarded their hard work.

An aspiring Sous Chef had been left in charge for the kitchen for three months, with no training, no Head Chef and no General Manager – the boss observed that the restaurant was not tidy and clean enough… well not exactly a surprise under the circumstances.

The Boss proposed a number of things to improve this – a big party for one restaurant, portable waiter tills so that they could process bills at the table and speed things up (and reduce customer agitation), training and some trips abroad for individuals to sell them on the restaurant’s aspirations.

Is it staff morale that is a problem? Absolutely not!! And it rarely is the problem.

It makes me feel edgy when I see great staff delivering at a high standard and then hear that morale is a problem – quite obviously the staff are perfectly capable of delivering, so it is not their morale that is the problem, it is the failure of management to support them. To put it another way, would the staff be feeling low if they had been acknowledged, rewarded or supported? Answer is clearly “no”. They feel low but they soldier on… so I say “leave the staff alone, they are not the problem, and go sort out the managers!” (not one of which appeared on screen).

The most important trust relationship at work is between employee and line manager – if this is broken then nothing else works – it doesn’t matter how great head office staff are, this is the relationship that will make or break your business.

The disillusioned waiter was delighted when he was promised by the Boss that his restaurant would close one day for a big party. In that moment he clearly felt appreciated.

However, when all the balloons have gone down, the loud music is a distant memory and he is faced with a Manager who doesn’t know how to value him, will he still feel as good?

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