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Larry O’Donnel, Efficiency Versus Compassion


Larry O’Donnel, the CEO of Waste Management was featured as the first boss to go undercover as part of Undercover Boss, entering the field to get a first-hand experience of what the front lines are like. He strove to “revolutionise some of our processes which would improve efficiency and ultimately save jobs” through this experience.


His main goal as the CEO was to keep up with procedure as due to medical negligence his daughter was left disabled after a routine check-up in childhood. This mistake caused her permanent brain damage, which lead her family to believe she would die.


During his time doing his first undercover role, the need for efficiency on the floor, and employee speed was an issue, as new employees like the character he was portraying, were thrown in at the deep end. While shadowing an experienced employee at the recycling centre, Sandy, he learned that the need for efficiency meant that employees were being docked pay; for every minute they were late to clock in, they were docked double. He said that this wasn’t fair and the whole way the policy had been implemented needed to be reassessed, once his period undercover had concluded.


O’Donnel expressed to his employees that “[he was] going to become a better manager”. The experience of going undercover allowed him to have a richer understanding of what efficiency and productivity at work means; how it can be manipulated by the need for regulations etc.


When O’Donnel met a member of the frontline team, Janice, she recalled that when she worked on the front lines, she felt like she was being watched by her supervisors, who follow behind the lorries routinely to make sure procedures are being adhered to, something O’Donnel was directly responsible for. He also noticed, that the need to be on time, efficiency etc. meant that Janice;s role as the face of the company, was under exceeding pressure. She knew the people whose streets she works, and has a personable relationship with them. The patrons, and people she worked with, would wait in anticipation for her, and greeted her warmly, appreciating her and her role in the community. But her interactions with them were being cut short.


Furthermore, there was an issue with inaccessibility, Janice was in a scenario where once again, efficiency was her enemy, she would need to use the bathroom, and yet, when she did, she would have to urinate in a tin can, lest she run behind schedule.


After the session, O’Donnel was awed and expressed his dedication to further improve procedure.


Walter, a litter picker in Florida, and his second boss for the day, found himself being motivated because his spirit was motivating him, not his body. He elaborated, that for the best part of twenty years, he was on dialysis for kidney failure. Walter explained that he gets angry when he sees able bodied people not applying themselves particularly in the workplace. His need for speed and proactive performance was implied to be part of the company’s need for efficiency. And, his complimentary motivation of not wanting his illness to limit him.


It was this need for speed and efficiency, and Walter expressing that if Walter collected two bags of recycling from the side of the road within ten minutes, then Larry, or his persona of Randy, should be capable of collecting three. And so, he was fired for not managing to pick up enough litter. Yet, there was no hostility, Larry explained that “Walter was the first person to fire [him] in [his] entire career”.


He strove to create a program which would have him paid time off, to improve his health, but also to create a support group for others with dialysis, to motivate people, because Walter’s attitude about working hard. In the weeks afterwards, it was shown that Walter had become a health mentor for the entire company, before sadly passing away later that same year.



Based in London, U.K., and founded in 2016 by Arvind Mishra The Agile Works (www.TheAgileWorks.com), 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: arvind@theagileworks.com

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