Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Undercover Boss

I absolutely love the new reality TV show, Undercover Boss! I love it not only because it celebrates the unsung hero who truly makes the company successful, but because it is a fascinating case study in Christianity. There are myriad applications of this fact but I’ll concentrate on just a few. First though, I need to give you a broad overview of what the show is all about. CEO’s of different companies have agreed to be filmed while working undercover in their organizations. They work in various entry-level positions across different locations of the organization over the course of a week. The big idea is to observe and get a feel for how the employees are doing, what their feelings are about the company, how effectively they work with the customer and with each other, what needs to be rewarded, and what needs fixing. It’s amazing to see how the CEO’s perspective of the business is changed as they interact on a more personal level with the people that make their companies run effectively (or not so effectively!)

7-11 CEO & Lawmakers Support Law Ending Unfair Credit Card Transaction Fees
But I digress, because I’d really like to talk about the applications and similarities I see between this show and Christianity. The Bible reminds us that we shouldn’t become weary as we serve and care for strangers, because we may well be entertaining angels without being aware of it. These unsung heroes in the companies profiled were completely oblivious to the fact that the employee assigned to work with them was actually the CEO of their organization, and thus the one responsible for “signing” their paychecks. They could have acted all superior and condescending (and believe me some of the employees do), but these unsung heroes simply wanted to provide the best opportunity for a new employee to be successful, and so they went out of their way to ensure that the process was made easier by the way they treated the new employee.

The 7-11 episode is by far my favorite so far. The “undercover boss” spent a day working in a New York store that sold the most cups of coffee each day. Wanting to find out what was different about the product in that store from all the others, which caused it to be so popular he made that his first stop. What he discovered amazed him. Delores, the matronly lady who had served in the store for 12-years (in a 7-11 convenience store!), was the reason people came to the store. She knew just about every customer by name, and had a kind word for everyone. She was patient and friendly as she taught “Danny” (the undercover boss) the ropes and made the learning curve much easier to navigate. Then Danny discovered from a customer that Delores had bad kidneys and was on a transplant list, however she wouldn’t accept a kidney from any one of her five kids because she was concerned that if they developed a problem at some point in the future, they needed their kidneys so that they could live longer since they were younger.

Then Danny went to 7-11’s largest bakery and interned under Phil. Phil was incredibly pleasant, patient, and kind. Even though he was the bakery supervisor, he not only took the time to show Danny the ropes, but he worked right alongside him doing the basic stuff while making light of Danny’s gaffs and encouraging him to be patient with his own foul-ups. During their break Phil, an amazingly talented artist, showed Danny some of his artwork and even drew a picture of a donut and gave it to Danny as a gift. In yet another store Danny works the nightshift where he meets Wakas who refers to him as “Mr. Danny.” Wakas, originally from Pakistan, has worked the night shift for four years. Working with the most pleasant disposition and attitude you’ll ever find on a nightshift worker, Wakas does this “graveyard duty” just so he can put himself through school studying Criminal Justice. His ultimate goal: to return to Pakistan so that he can help the poor people who cannot afford to get justice for themselves! Wow!!

Finally, Danny rides with Igor, an overnight delivery truck driver. Igor is originally from Kazakhstan and he loves his job. His enthusiasm for his job is infectious as he regales Danny with tales of how he’s living the American dream (driving a night-delivery truck that doesn’t even belong to him personally), and how grateful he is for what America has provided for him and his family. Why is Igor so grateful for a seemingly dead end job? You see, Igor came to the USA with a wife and $50.00 in his pocket! Amazingly, Igor works nights while his wife works days, so they are like two ships passing in the night, and only get to spend the weekend together. Igor’s take on that: “Well it means we have less time to fight and more time to be lovers.” Do you see the correlations yet? These are all ordinary people living extraordinary stories. Unknown to them though, life is about to change because the “messiah” is walking among them and they don’t even know it. But simply because they are enthusiastically pursuing their purpose with passion and dignity, they are in for a very pleasant surprise. You see, the best part of the show comes at the end. I call it the big reveal because all the people the boss has met on his undercover journey are brought to HQ where he finally reveals his identity and rewards their faithfulness.

The parable goes of a rich man who was going on a long journey. He calls his three servants and gives each of them some money (each according to his ability), and tells them to manage it until his return. After a long while he returns and finds that two of the servants have literally doubled their investment while the third literally buried the money because he was scared of losing some of it and being berated by his master. The master takes the money from him and accuses him of being wicked, stating “You know I’m a shrewd business man yet you didn’t even put this money in a bank so that it would at least earn interest?” He gives the money to the guy who had the most amount initially so that two of the servants now have not only the money they invested at the beginning, but everything they made through their investments. This is Delores’, Wakas’, Phil’s, and Igor’s story. Investing what time, energy and effort they have into making 7-11 better, they are about to be rewarded.

As Danny reveals his true identity to them one by one, he tells Delores that he is personally setting up a “Delores donor awareness program” within 7-11 so that the tens of thousands of employees are aware of her need for a kidney transplant so that it will hasten the process of her getting a donor. He tells Wakas that he will personally mentor him and ensure that he makes his way up the company ladder as long as he chooses to remain at 7-11. He begins by making him a field operative overseeing ten stores. He assures him that if and when he decides to go back to Pakistan to fulfill his dream of helping hurting people, the company will help him fulfill that venture too.

He puts Phil in touch with the ad agency that does all of 7-11’s advertising and marketing, and Phil becomes a free-lance artist with the agency, helping to build his portfolio. Finally, he moves Igor from driving a delivery truck to owning his own franchise, and also sends him and his wife off on an all-expense-paid, week long vacation. When Igor begins to tell him how appreciative he is, Danny simply says, “Hey Igor, this is the American dream.” Igor’s astounded look says it all, and I think to myself, now wouldn’t it be priceless if we as Christ-followers could love and serve people so much that the expressions on their faces when they discover that we are Christians would be worth everything we do? You see, Jesus is the ultimate “Undercover Boss” because He goes into the world disguised as you and me, loving, serving, and caring for the people He died for. How’s He looking in your neck of the woods?


Zonoma said...

*wild applause*

Jeff Finley said...

I came to the same conclusion and wrote a blog post about it today at:


In testing to see how the post came up on Google, I just found your blog. Great minds think alike, and if you see my post, I just want you to know I’m not plagiarizing.