In case you’ve missed it, there is a great new show on CBS that every credit union leader should be watching. It’s called Undercover Boss.

The premise is simple: the CEO of a big company goes undercover and works on the front lines to learn more about the business. The set up story for the folks in the field is that the boss is a new employee being filmed as part of a documentary on what it’s like to start a new job in the company.

After a week in the field doing various jobs at various locations, the CEO returns to share what was learned from the experience with the leadership team of the company. Then the employees with whom the CEO worked in the field are brought to the corporate offices and the identity of the employee they worked with is revealed.

The show is compelling in many ways and provides powerful insight into the value of senior executives getting out in the field to see what is really happening on the front lines of the business.

ACTION ADVICE: Though it would be hard for most credit union CEOs and senior managers to create such an experience because they are too easily recognized, here are some things that could be done to gain more insight into the work on the front lines that might be worth considering:

1. Take ’em to Lunch…It’s amazing how powerful and insightful it can be to periodically sit down with a few employees who work on the front lines (and in mid-level positions) to lunch and have an open and honest conversation about how things are going. When asked they will share their insights and the senior executive hosting the luncheon will learn a lot just by listening. The key is to make the event a casual and comfortable one, and not a place where all the talking is done by the host!

2. Ask Every Employee…Focus groups are frequently used to learn more about how members see the credit union and they often reveal powerful insights. The same approach can be used with employees. Simply hire a facilitator to meet with all of your employees in small group sessions and invite them to share their insights, ideas, and concerns around a focus questions. Then have the facilitator process the output and share the feedback with the leadership team and the overall staff. It’s a great way to open up the dialog and get the important issues on the table in a non-threatening and supportive way.

3. Work by Their Side…Though it’s not easy to find time to work on the front lines, making time to work side-by-side with the team on a somewhat regular basis can yield significant insights into the day-to-day challenges they face. Investing one day each quarter to work somewhere in the credit union with front line and mid-level employees, seeing what they actually do each day and allowing them to lead you yields valuable insight into the realities of the work they do.

BOTTOM LINE: Each of these approaches is easy to implement and relatively low cost. If they are undertaken with an eye on learning more about how your credit union works on a day-to-day basis and the insights gathered are used to improve the decisions leaders make, you will strengthen your credit union and build a more engaged team. Just be careful to observe, report, and then take action…if you try to fix things on the fly, the experience is likely to do more harm than good.