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“If we could all be that way, what a great company we’d have”

Larry O’Donnel, the first CEO to ever entertain the idea of going undercover in his own company to see how the front-line staff respond to the work around them etc. went into the world of Waste Management and spent five days in five different roles involving the company.

On his fourth day undercover, O’Donnel, or his character, Randy, met Fred, a man who was employed by Waste Management to work in a theme park as part of the cleaning team. His job? To clean the contents of portaloos after every use as they weren’t able to flush.

This task appeared repulsive, and unpleasant for anyone, and yet, Fred managed to lighten Randy’s spirits throughout the entire process, embedding good advice on how to do the job with lighthearted humour and positive attitude. He encouraged Randy to keep his mouth shut when cleaning particular nooks and crannies, since they did not have masks or face shields to keep themselves out of the firing line, should they lose control of the hose. Simultaneously, Fred was making jokes about the fact that you needed to get the nozzle of the cleaning hose, deep into the base of the toilet. This was something that O’Donnel hadn’t anticipated. He commented that Fred had a great attitude to the job, and it made the work less unpleasant due to being in such good company. Even time constraints in the cleaning process weren’t an issue, because there was laughter to improve the process.

It is likely, that before Undercover Boss, Fred was one of many “hidden stars” of Waste Management as an organisation, often overlooked, but a consistently hard worker with a great attitude. Hidden stars were an employment trait that was identified in research carried out by Rob Cross, Heidi K Gardener, and Alia Crocker, for Harvard Business Review, where the three “studied more than 140 companies, surveyed some 30,000 employees, and interviewed more than 100 leaders.” They acknowledged that “hidden stars” were employees that “possess the talent and contacts needed to develop and roll out an initiative but have much lower profiles in the organization”. This would mean Fred, as a frontline worker would likely be a hidden star, moreso than someone in a role with a greater corporate-facing role, or a higher rank within the company.

This was demonstrated further when O’Donnel met Fred again, having shed his disguise. When discussing the experience of working alongside him, O’Donnel commented that “the positive attitude [Fred brought] help[ed] so much”, particularly with reference to the nature of his job in the company. As a reward for the work he had done and the way that he navigated the unpleasantness of cleaning used toilets that didn’t flush, Fred was acknowledged by the CEO on TV. But, furthermore, he was invited to speak with the senior management team to try and improve retaining a positive attitude across the organisation, having remarked “If we could all be that way, what a great company we’d have”.

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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