HR Strange But True!
January 20, 2011

The CEOs on the CBS series “Undercover Boss” always gain incredible insight into their companies by actually performing company jobs. Recently, a college president decided to try going undercover himself and in the 3-day stint, he reports he had several revelations about his workplace.

Tom Rochon, president of Ithaca College writes in his “President’s Corner” column in the IC View: The Ithaca College Magazine about his adventure working in the Grounds, Custodial Services, and Set-Up and Events divisions of the college Facilities Department. He raked and seeded, cleaned shower stalls, moved furniture, and helped set up tents for orientation. And he saw places on the campus that his job never took him to and worked with employees he had never come in contact with.

To the delight of returning students, he told them that the president of the college had cleaned their dorm showers. But the experience was anything but funny to him; he says it literally transformed his relationship with workers and gave him an appreciation for and understanding of how tasks on campus were accomplished and how much pride his employees had in doing a good job.

Unlike the “Undercover Boss” CEOs, President Rochon did not try to disguise himself, so he was often recognized. After laying irrigation pipes and rototilling, seeding, and mulching to restore bare patches in the Quad lawn, he was chagrined when people promptly walked across them. He scrubbed the insides of the refrigerators in a student apartment complex to get them ready for fall semester and moved heavy furniture from old to new locations.

What he observed was that employees in these nonacademic departments “work very hard and take great pride in their jobs,” even though the faculty, staff, and students may take their accomplishments for granted. And another thing he learned was that these employees know how to do their jobs better than the people setting up “the organizational processes and priorities … [that] look suboptimal when viewed from the front lines.”

He wrote: “Experience and insight are often located at lower pay grades than is the authority to make improvements … I hope to use my new relationships and continued presence around the campus to ease the flow of suggestions up the chain of command.”

And what about students? President Rochon is thinking of issuing students a complimentary can of cleanser at next year’s orientation.


IC View: The Ithaca College Magazine

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