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Corporations Aren’t Machines, Because The Cogs Can Feel

One of the most important aspects of mechanics and managing machines are that all of the pieces of this metal puzzle work together in unison to achieve a purpose. The cold and hard nature of this industrial tool means is significantly different from the way work actually is.

This was demonstrated in the first ever episode of Undercover Boss, which aired back in 2010, where CEO of Waste Management, Larry O’Donnel went undercover to gain insight into how his decisions at the helm of the organisation were translating along the line to the workers.

One of the members of his workforce that he met whilst in his disguise as new-guy Randy, was a young woman called Jacqueline. She confided in Randy that she had received numerous rounds of treatment for cancer in her short life already, and was working diligently within the company, with little to no recognition, even from her supervisor, Kevin.

O’Donnel acknowledged during his time with Jacqueline that she was certainly overworked and significantly underpaid for her efforts, making a set hourly wage for her role in admin, despite being the go-to person for numerous other roles in the site, including accounts. She was a member of the team that he was grateful to have but acknowledged that she seemed to be overlooked.

She admitted that she was experiencing financial difficulties, the home she, her husband, her father, her children, her sister and her sister’s husband were all living in was suddenly unaffordable due to the financial crisis. The house was up for sale, and they could be made homeless, and despite being the person this huge family depended on, Jacqueline was eager to open her arms out and welcome this man, who was new to town, into her home, to make him feel welcomed to the company.

Before he left for the next stop on his trip O’Donnel confided in his camera that “[he couldn’t] leave without at least getting the ball rolling, and do something to help” Jacqueline. In order to do this, he sought to have a meeting with Kevin and discuss why Jacqueline was doing so much at work, and wasn’t being given support. He admitted that the plant had been short-staffed by a few people for a while, and appeared surprised that O’Donnel was willing to ask for such significance changes to be made in just one plant.

At the end of the program, it was shown that Jacqueline was given a promotion, and a significant pay increase, and became eligible for bonuses, which allowed her the financial stability to purchase her home which had been up for sale previously.

Empathetic leadership was something that the coronavirus pandemic stressed, however, it has been necessary for a greater volume of time. When you work in retail, and an angry customer yells at you over an expired deal, discrepancies between the online prices and instore prices, or a misunderstanding, colleagues or supervisors will empathise. It isn’t uncommon to see people be ushered away for the sake of catharsis, and this is normalised and acceptable. There’s an understanding.

O’Donnel was shown at the beginning of the episode to have an issue with a lack of understanding of procedure, and efficiency. This was because medical negligence lead to his daughter experiencing permanent neurological damage, which impairs her daily life. This feeling of obligation to avoid his employees having similar experiences to his daughter, meant that he was perhaps, too objective and harsh, viewing his company as a machine.

This changed the minute he went undercover, but is much more striking when he met Jacqueline, unable to leave his motel, and his placement, until he was sure that the dominoes were falling already.

Everyone wants to have their hard work recognised; their efforts acknowledged and their life changed. You see it through the media often; incomprehensible prize money, gifts and winnings from game shows. You fantasize about how that can change you. Fantasies about how being acknowledged for your diligence can change you, whether it be through a promotion, or gifts like on Undercover Boss. Recognition is a motivator, and understanding how to use empathy, understanding and compassion to keep your employees working toward a similar goal is imperative.

Based in London, U.K., and founded in 2016 by Arvind Mishra The Agile Works (, is an up-and-coming recruitment and Agile consulting company. Arvind is a Certified SAFe SPC and regularly delivers both private and public SAFe certification workshops.

He is a design thinking expert, Sr. enterprise, portfolio Agile Coach with over a decade of experience working as an Agile coach in diverse industries such as banking, pharma, retail, auto, oil, gas, consulting and government.

The Agile Works; a small team of three strive to help shape the leadership's mind-set and values in readiness for their business transformation journey challenges. With Arvind at the helm, we strive to provide you with the agility tools to make your company that can thrive, and not just survive.

To book a consultation, or for any enquiries, you can contact Arvind via the following email address:

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