OFF with the Versace and on with the viscose. When head office decrees that all senior managers have to go back to basics and see what life is like at the bottom rung of the ladder, the biggest shock to the boardroom brigade is often the limited wardrobe choice offered to junior colleagues.
Bespoke suits and calfskin leather shoes – all the rage in the boardroom – are swapped for the catalogue chic of the counter clerk.
But aside from the change in wardrobe, is there anything senior executives can learn by leaving their ivory towers and sampling life on the shop floor?
Lunn Poly’s recently appointed managing director Nigel David obviously thinks the experience can be very valuable.
When he was holiday services director at Thomson, he did a stint as a holiday rep, and in his new role, he recently spent a week behind the counter at the Bedford branch to see first hand what life is like at the sharp end for a consultant.
He is now keen to extend the idea of job swapping throughout the company.
Unijet joint managing director Terry Brown is another senior industry figure to try out life as a holiday rep, though it must be said his job swap in Tenerife was not his idea, but one prompted by the producers of the BBC2 series Back to the Floor.
The series, which follows the progress of chief executives sampling life on the shop floor of their own companies, has just been repeated complete with newly filmed updates on what the participants feel about their experience a year or so later.
One company which is a firm believer in the idea of going back to basics is Avis.
Senior managers are encouraged to swap jobs so they can gain a better understanding of the kind of work their colleagues on the shop floor are expected to do.
Head of travel sales Tom Knopek recently spent the day washing cars at Heathrow and he maintains this kind of experience is extremely valuable.
“It makes me understand the kind of pressure my colleagues are under to deliver a decent service.
“Pressure is not something you only feel in the boardroom. Everybody has a responsibility to thecustomer.”
Knopek says job swaps also have the benefit of demonstrating to employees that senior managers take an interest in what they do.
“It is a positive move. It shows they are not being ignored. When you do a job swap, you don’t swan in for the day, you are treated as an extra pair of hands and have to work very hard.”
But Cresta head of marketing Jane Williams is no fan of the job swap idea and – at the risk of insulting industry colleagues who do indulge – dismisses it as a gimmick.
“I could take a telephone booking, but I am physically incapable of taking a booking on our computer reservations system. I don’t have the skills that took our reservations team six weeks training to gain.”
According to Williams, it is far better that staff stick to what they are good at and what they are trained to do, but that the company ensures that there is good communication so that senior management are aware of any concerns or problems that employees are facing in their work.
Williams added: “If I did do a stint in our reservations department, it would just be a stunt or a photo opportunity for Travel Weekly but I would not be of much help to any of the customers.
“It is far more important that there is good interaction between senior management and frontline staff so that they get good feedback.”
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