Getting closer to the coalface

I’m a big fan of the undercover boss series, UK, US, Australia, I will watch them all, you see the boss getting into disguise and then entering their own business and meeting the employees at the sharp end of things. Usually these bosses are isolated from these employees by multiple layers of management and I bet they hear a completely different story at the lofty heights they operate in from the one they see when working at the coalface. So its no surprise that at the end of every episode they seem to have found some real nuggets of useful information to improve the business, met some really good people and in many cases then give them promotions, money or some other unforeseen benefit which leads to lots of tears and hugs. But am I surprised? No of course not, the people at the sharp end know the real issues and opportunities, shock horror!

So I was fascinated to listen to the unfolding disaster of the COOP live arena opening, first Peter Kay had to cancel the opening gig, then more cancellations and threats for artists to move their gigs to other venues. What was really interesting to me was a BBC interview broadcast on the 2nd May, following the cancellation of the previous days opening gig when a piece of air conditioning fell from the roof, when they talked to a couple of the contractors working on the Arena building. Their assessment was that management had rushed things to get them done in tie for opening and although the contractors had done the work none of it had been properly assessed and checked. Their view was that it would take 14 days, 2 weeks to check everything out properly and for the venue to open. They were pretty accurate because 12 days later on the 14th May the first act, Elbow played and opened the arena. So a bit like Undercover boss the contractors were closer to the real world at the sharp end than the arena management were who were trying to open on the 1st May when things hadn’t properly been checked.

Micro and small businesses

That is why in my opinion micro and small businesses have a real advantage over their larger competitors, they can see changes in the marketplace quicker, see opportunities and issues and if they act on them and are fast on their feet can benefit from these insights. But you and your organisation have to have a willingness and enthusiasm for change and the processes to enable you to do it.

Big Business

Larger businesses have the challenge of getting closer to the coalface, Boeing moved its head offices and senior team away from the coalface and engineering in Seatle and you could argue that move proved costly. All senior executives should be looking at spending more time at the sharp end of the business in my opinion. Its probably why they keep asking for more stability it’s the safe option for them, business is fluid and dynamic, not static.


Which just leaves government, most MPs, civil servants, regulators and Ministers have no expertise in the areas they look after and perhaps setting a day or two aside in their busy diaries would benefit them and the economy in the long run. After all you only have to watch a few episodes of undercover boss to see spending time at the coal face is time well spent!

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