Undercover Founder?

CBS has a new show – Undercover Boss – airing Sunday evenings at 9:00 p.m. EST:

Each week a different executive will leave the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their company. While working alongside their employees, they will see the effects their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their organization and get an up-close look at both the good and the bad while discovering the unsung heroes who make their company run.

In a Valentine’s Day episode, Hooters, Inc. President and CEO Coby G. Brooks goes undercover to work as an entry-level employee in four different restaurants in the Dallas, Texas area.  The episode can be seen in full on CBS’ web site.

The lessons that Mr. Brooks learns during his time undercover are easily applicable to fraternity life (and I’m most certainly not talking about wings and beer).  For instance, during his second stop, Mr. Brooks accompanies two Hooters waitresses on a promotional tour downtown.  He provides free wing samples to passers-by downtown and engages them in discussions regarding perceptions of Hooters.  One woman is not too bashful about letting Mr. Brooks know that she finds his restaurant chain “degrading to women.”  Following this encounter, Mr. Brooks admits that “…there is a public perception that’s out there (but I’ve) never seen it firsthand.”

As fraternity men, we know there are public perceptions out there regarding fraternity life.  Popular culture movies, literature and the unfortunate actions of some members that create poor publicity all fuel the perceptions that we battle on a regular basis.  But when was the last time we engaged our stakeholders in an honest discussion about our chapter, or even the state of fraternity life on our campus?  Having regular communication with alumni, non-Greek students, members of other fraternities and sororities, parents, college/university administrators and neighbors can ensure that you’re getting the most honest feedback about your chapter.  But just hearing it isn’t enough.  Mr. Brooks launches a marketing campaign following his experience to re-educate the public on the Hooters brand.  Sometimes, an effective marketing campaign is necessary to ensure that a stakeholder’s perception is indeed the reality.

Additionally, Mr. Brooks observes one store manager who requires his waitresses to play his ‘reindeer games’ in order to earn privileges, such as going home early.  He requires the waitresses to eat a plate of beans with their hands behind their backs and, prior to the start of the day, has all the waitresses line up for an inspection in which he comments on their overall physical appearance.  The activities seem innocent and well-intentioned to the store manager (indeed, this is a way for him to ensure dress code is being followed and a fun way to determine who goes home first); however, to an outsider such as Mr. Brooks, they are disrespectful and not congruent with the mission and values of the organization.

It is a lesson that should not be taken lightly.  Next time you are thinking about a questionable activity (be it an offensive social event theme, derogatory philanthropy or suspect candidate activity), imagine how the activity would be perceived if Hopkins, Quarles or Riley were in the room.  Would they approve?  Could they shrug off the activity as a ‘funny joke’ or ‘innocent fraternity stunt?’

You represent more than just your members, your campus or your region of the country.  You represent an international organization with a proud vision of ‘Excelling with Honor’ since 1869.  Ask yourself: is my chapter driving the organization forward toward this noble mission, or are we holding it back with our own ‘reindeer games?’

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