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Undercover Boss, Lush, And Mining For Stardust


“Sina has a great energy about him, he’s has the passion that we look for in an employee.” – Brandi Halls.


Undercover Boss has been a show that can show many unique perspectives into business management. An episode that rendered me stunned was when president and CEO of Lush cosmetics, Mark Wolverton sent another member of his senior staff undercover on his behalf, in order to gain insight into the way that the messages from the head of the company are being translated throughout.


He acknowledged that he had far too much interpersonal communication with the teams on the ground. “I can’t go undercover myself because I have a lot of interaction with our staff on every level”. With this in mind he sought to send someone with less presence amongst the shop floor, and product making staff to go in his place; Brandi Halls, who had been with the company for a decade, and held the role as the director of brand communications at Lush was the ideal candidate for the job.


This episode contained many poignant themes, the topics of conversation were not limited to the bullying of young people who identify as LGBT, the Vietnam war, accessibility and the health inequality in Canada and the trials and tribulations of navigating a long-distance relationship.


In this episode, the viewers were given insight into what many may consider a rather forceful form of customer service, with Lush aiming to remain competitive within their industry through positive customer experiences. It is not uncommon to enter a retail outlet of Lush and be stricken by the intense concoction of smells from the various products, that and the loud and extroverted nature of the sales team, it can appear rather overwhelming to some.


However, this was explained in the episode, without being directly discussed, Lush strive to retain a positive image, without paid media advertisements. This was explored by one of the employees that Brandi, undercover as a drugstore cosmetics salesperson, Catherine, shadowed. Sina explained to Catherine that “[Lush is] more about sharing through word of mouth. We know our products are good, so if you get great customer service, if you get amazing products, you’re inclined to tell people about that.”


Halls was filled with positive feedback about Sina and loved his work ethic. She noticed quickly that he was and extroverted person, ideal for his role on the floor. His exuberant nature shone through, however, when he saw Catherine make a sale. He turned to her, high fived her, and in a frenzy of excitement, swore about how amazing that was. A new recruit who supposedly knew nothing about the store and the store’s products, was able to make a sixty-dollar sale whilst being shadowed. That was amazing. He was really proud of her for her achievements.


Sina explained during his own time with the camera crew that customer service is essential when working in retail: “customer service is extremely important; it can make or break a sale. People can come into a store not expecting to buy anything, make that connection with a sales associate and leave the store with a hundred dollars’ worth of product.”


He was very much engaged and motivated by the fast-paced work environment. The nature of the role, the uniqueness of the company, and the demands of being good at customer service meant he was stimulated on the floor. He was working for a growing company, that made handmade products, and were very proud of the fact they were not testing on animals, and also had significant stake holds in making changes elsewhere; with charity collaborations with organisations that helped build homes in Guatemala and animal rights organisations. Motivational speaker and author, Daniel Pink would propose that it was this sense of purpose at work that would have kept Sina on the ball.


For futher reading on this topic, you can read The Agile Works’ articles: Pink & White: Engagement At Work


When Brandi moved onto the cash desk, she was out of her element, and despite saying that she felt “frantic” she couldn’t sing Sina’s praises enough, saying that “he was doing a really good job training me”. Although she struggled, he was encouraging of her, writing off a lot of her struggles due to first day jitters and learning a new system. It isn’t uncommon, after all, to need some time in a new workplace, to find your feet.


At the end of her first day undercover, and on her way to her accommodation for the night, Brandi still couldn’t stop singing Sina’s praises, he had certainly produced the quality of customer service that he had been talking about, making a connection with her as a consumer of the brand at a face level instead of someone who regards stores as data and reports. The rapport that they established stuck with her, and left her excited for what she was going to see from her other undercover experiences: “Sina was a great representative of the brand and his customer service was exactly where I would want it to be. I couldn’t be more satisfied with what I found today.”


Sina was certainly a star employee. It is not uncommon for consistently performing individuals in a business to be glanced over in comparison to others who may not be able to retain the same mental fortitude and positivity that comes from working in a customer facing role. It was identified by Rob Cross, Heidi K Gardener, and Alia Crocker, in their study for Harvard Business Review that star employees would often find themselves being stretched too thin, and struggling with the demands of a role, particularly in an office or team setting.


For further reading on Cross, Gardener and Crocker’s research and its applications you can read The Agile Works’ articles: Catch A Falling Star and How ONA Helps You Stargaze


Despite this being a retail environment, it isn’t uncommon, if you work in a store, to be able to identify who your best salespeople are. Lush stressed the significance of customer service, and it would not be surprising to believe that one bad day would certainly be noticed by your team if you worked there as opposed to a clothing retailer such as Primark, as you don’t necessarily need to make the same positive sunny impression.


The question lingered in my mind, however, about recognition, and how, he had not been swept up and promoted to a greater role in the company prior to meeting Brandi, for his clear dedication and knowledge of the brand. Cross, Gardener and Crocker suggested in their research that it wasn’t uncommon for other people in an organisation to be overlooked when compared to others who may have more experience, which lead me to thinking, was Brandi’s experience undercover in a similar league to organisational network analysis.


Organisational Network Analysis, often shortened to ONA was highlighted as a great model to refer to when identifying members of an organisation that should be selected to be on an agile team. This would be when a system would search through digital chatter to see whether there were team players that were existing under the radar that could or should be praised for their ability to work hard, and assist colleagues, being dependable but not necessarily as overworked as an easily identifiable star employee.


It was clear that Brandi, regardless of how well-acknowledged Sina’s work was in the store, had been taken by him, because when she met with him again, she was still, filled with praise. She spoke highly about his work ethic, his dedication to the charity causes that they promote ins-tore through charity pots; lotion where the proceeds go toward various charitable causes, and was able to pay for Sina to use that enthusiasm to help these causes first-hand, sending him to Guatemala to help build houses. Once he would return from his time working with the charity, he was to head an anti-bullying campaign that Lush would share, expressing the significance of bullying in young people, and how negative the impacts truly can be, utilising the platform the company has to make that message heard.


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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