The Myth of the Clever Manager: Lessons from Boss Swap

In: BlogDate: Jul 03, 2013By: Henry Stewart

Looking back at the lessons which can be learned from a decade-old TV show, there is still plenty for most bosses to learn.

In 2004 a programme called Boss Swap was shown on Channel 4 in the UK. It was a spin-off from the far more popular Wife Swap. Instead of two wives swapping places, the bosses of two companies were exchanged. There were three programmes and so six bosses were involved altogether. Five of these swaps were disastrous, which is possibly the reason the programme never ran again.

The problem was that these managers clearly saw their role as to know everything, to work out what was wrong in their new companies and tell people how to improve things. This was despite the fact that they had no knowledge of the industry and were working with people who had years of experience. They marched in and started telling people what to do, with predictable results for morale and motivation.

One manager took a different approach. On arrival at the new company he walked round the shop floor, asking staff what ideas they had, what got in their way, and what they would suggest for improvements. This was the only one of the six swaps to be a success.

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Henry Stewart, Founder and Chief Happiness Officer

Henry is founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happy Ltd. Following a fairly disastrous job early on in his career, Henry was determined to discover what enabled a productive and happy workplace. In 1987 Henry set up what was originally called Happy Computers. Inspired by Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick, he built a company with a reputation for some of the best customer service in the country and one of the UK’s best places to work, winning multiple awards for its culture and philosophy. His book, the Happy Manifesto, was published by in 2013.

Outside of work he is a father of three, Chair of Governors at his local comprehensive in Hackney and a keen cyclist.

You can find Henry on LinkedIn and follow @happyhenry on Twitter.

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