In his first week on the job as consumer electronics retailer Best Buy's new CEO, Hubert Joly is sort of pulling an "Undercover Boss,"
minus the undercover aspect.
He'll be spending a lot of his time in one of those
well-known blue polo shirts, selling merchandise on a store floor in Minnesota.
So why is he doing this? According to Reuters,
he's butting against criticism that he doesn't have adequate retail experience.
Kelly Groehler, Best Buy's director of external relations, says there's more to it.
"Our stores and our Geek Squad services are two critical channels for our business, and they represent best where the employee experience and the customer
experience intersect," she says. "Hubert is committed to engaging with our employees, and our channels, as he takes on the leadership of Best Buy."
Expert opinion is mixed on whether this week of retail work will effectively push back against critics and engage with employees.
"I believe only good can come from a CEO's spending time on the front lines of their business," says Robert Holland, owner of independent consulting firm
Holland Communication Solutions. "Not only do they get a ground-level view of the business, but it gives them a chance to communicate directly with the
people who are closest to their customers."
Tripp Frohlichstein of MediaMasters Training says this move is "an excellent start" to Joly's tenure as CEO.
"It sends a message to employees he wants to know what they are going through," he says.
Christine Perkett of Perkett PR says Joly is demonstrating a great attitude.
"It shows from the get-go that this guy is all about leadership," she says. "Leadership makes things happen. Leadership can fuel change, something Best Buy
This move alone may not change public perception of Best Buy. Frohlichstein says he is a direct observer of "lousy service and an uncaring attitude," but
Joly's week-in-the-life effort could be a first step.
"If this is the first of a series of experiences in stores, and perhaps taking other jobs a la 'Undercover Boss,' it may work over time in gaining the
trust of employees, shareholders, and, most importantly, customers," he says.
A one-shot deal?
Shel Holtz of Holtz Communication + Technology agrees, saying that if Joly gets out on a sales floor every quarter or so, it could really help cement his
relationship with employees.
If this is Joly's only run at being a salesman, however, employees may view the effort more cynically, Holtz says. In that case, "this mostly will be
perceived as a one-time stunt."
Joly has to work to make sure this doesn't come off as a PR gimmick, agrees Perkett.
"It should lead to some feedback on what he saw that worked well, and what he believes could be better," she says.
CEOs at other companies, such as Avis and FedEx, have routinely worked in day-to-day employee roles, Holtz says. At Avis, it was a requirement. He doubts
those efforts did anything to silence critics of an executive's experience, however.
"The goal in these instances was to put executives in front of customers to remind them who they worked for, and how customers interacted directly with the
company," Holtz says. "I doubt that the executives at Macy's or Home Depot take to the store floor in order to learn retail."
On that front, Frohlichstein suggests that Joly most likely won't see all the harsh realities facing Best Buy employees in other stores.
"You can bet the store he works at will be well orchestrated to make sure everything goes well for 'the boss,'" he says. "What he won't see are the
Drew Mendelson of Mendelson Communications says that if Joly were really interested in making things better for his sales staff, he'd be spending his time
Changes "will come from paying attention to your people in the field, your experienced salespeople, local managers, and the like; surveying the sales
force, allowing them to answer anonymously so they feel free to talk; and finding out what is working and what needs fixing," he says.
A model for others?
Perkett says CEOs need a reminder every once in a while of what it's like for their ground-level employees.
"I'd think once a year would be ideal, and realistic," she says. "In turn, bring one employee into your world once a quarter. Have them shadow you,
understand better what your big challenges are. When they do, and they see that you have mastered what they do and are in the corner office for a reason,
they'll be more likely to stay loyal [and] motivated and believe in your leadership."
Holland says it shouldn't just be CEOS: "More leaders at all levels need to do this from time to time," he suggests.
Frohlichstein says executives looking for someone upon whom to model their behavior should look to Jim Weddle, managing partner of Edward Jones.
"He spends lots of time with his financial advisers, home office associates, and even customers," he says. "He is known to wander into the cafeteria and
eat lunch with associates to get a sense of what is going on in his organization."
[RELATED: Best Buy's lax response lets PR crisis drag on for months
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.