Not So Undercover Boss
President and CEO of Doorways Interfaith AIDS Housing and Services, Opal M. Jones, traded the CEO title for a different role each day for a week in August. She worked alongside employees in other departments for a Not So “Undercover Boss” type of cross-training exercise. “The week taught me, among other things, that the more you know the less you know; everyone’s job is difficult; each of our employees cares deeply about our mission and clients while taking extreme pride in what they do; and nobody wants my job. :)”
Undercover Boss is the popular CBS television show where CEOs dress in costume to take on jobs in secret within their company to learn how to make their company better based on the common Human Resources practice of “cross-training.” Cross-training is proven to assist businesses to create a more efficient and team -oriented environment. By learning about how individual staff members succeed each day, Jones gained insight into the day-to-day services Doorways provides to better assist with creation of overall goals for the organization.
Read Opal’s blog about her experiences and share with friends!
“Not So Undercover Boss – Nursing”
Whew! What a day. I finished my first shift of Not So Undercover Boss. The day began with my trying to figure out how to accessorize scrubs. I quickly figured out that it was a lost cause, so I threw on some earrings and a pair of Nikes. (It was nice not wearing heels for once!) Fashion aside, I have to say, that you never know how difficult someone else’s job is until you do it. I started the morning with Nurse Candace doing the Med Pass. I was amazed with the way she was able to quickly dispense the meds to each of the residents as they waited patiently their turn in line. As I was watching her, I couldn’t help but be grateful that a facility like Cooper House exists to care for such an extremely vulnerable population—the homeless, people barely living with AIDS. Some of the residents had (easily) 15-20 pills to take—and this was just breakfast. When you take into account their afternoon and evening medications, I am sure that many are facing a regimen of 30-40 pills a day. Jim, the Nursing Supervisor, explained to me that several of the residents have comorbidities (diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, heart problems, hepatitis C, just to name a few) in addition to their HIV. The majority were also suffering from a mental health condition. It seemed as though it would be overwhelming to treat these residents, but they took it in stride. As Candace efficiently handed out the medications, she paid careful attention to document charts, make notes about follow-ups and give advice to the residents as they went on with their day. “Don’t forget to take your jacket and umbrella. You’ll need that today.” Or, “I want you to go back to the kitchen and try to eat something. The doctor says you need to eat.”
I got out of Candace’s and Jim’s way to help Tiffany, the CNA. Unfortunately, it would have been illegal for me to dispense meds, so I could only watch Candace and ask questions. But Tiffany had no problem with putting me to work! Together we changed linens on residents’ beds, cleaned bathrooms and swept and mopped floors. At one point I suspected that she thought that she would have to go behind me and “fix” what I had done. But little did she know that I am well-versed in the cleaning department having three boys at home (13, 14 and 48) and a dog to pick up after. I have to say that together we made a fine team, and I was sorry to leave her for my “real job” as she completed her paperwork and took off to take vitals and assist the residents going to doctors’ appointments and meal time.
Overall, it was a good day; I learned some new things and (mostly) stayed out of the way. I’m looking forward to tomorrow when I get to assist the ladies in dietary. I am going to try to serve more than I eat. 🙂
“My feet are killing me — Undercover Boss Day 2”
I began my shift with a write up. That’s right, a write up! As I entered into the kitchen this morning, Ms. Brenda, Doorways’ Dietary Manager, said “Young lady, the first thing we’re going to do is write you up for being 25 minutes late.” I said, “Ms. Brenda, I’m actually early.” “Not here,” she said, “Breakfast starts at 8:00 and you should have been here at 8:00.” Since there was obviously a miscommunication, I told Brenda that I would make it up to her and work through lunch.
Although the residents were groggy, they managed to put a smile on their faces when they saw that it was me serving them breakfast behind the line. After the dining room cleared out, the real work of prepping lunch began. Brenda and Rhonda (another cook) showed me the lunch menu and I was off to the races. Soon we heard a knock on the door. It was a delivery from one of the food vendors. As they stocked shelves with the new wares and washed the breakfast dishes, I started to cook lunch: taco salads, hamburgers, red beans & rice, fresh fruit and homemade brownies. I thought that I had it all together until the phone started to ring. It was multiple residents calling in with alternate lunch orders. Some had special dietary restrictions that prevented them from eating the meal du jour; others simply wanted something customized for them. I began to see how complicated cooking for dozens of residents could be. But I was put at ease by Brenda and Rhonda’s easy going and accommodating style. They just wanted the residents to eat and enjoy their meals—no matter what meals they chose.
Brenda then took me aside and taught me how she works with dietitians to design meal plans for specific residents. She was proud that her staff had recently completed training to gain the knowledge that they needed to create meals for really advanced, nuanced patients. She also schooled me on how to properly sanitize the kitchen, check for proper food temperatures and meet other various state regulations.
I am proud that with a little guidance from them (okay, a LOT of guidance), I prepared the entire lunch menu myself. One of the residents even wrote me later in the day to say that MY brownies were the best he’d ever eaten. I am not proud of sticking Rhonda with the dishes—Sorry Rhonda! But it was time to go back to my other job as CEO, and my feet were killing me.
Next up, Maintenance with the Residential Department.
“Bittersweet – Undercover Boss Day 3”
Ahhh….The best laid plans.
Our day didn’t start as we had intended, despite Herman’s (our Maintenance Tech) good intentions. The other Maintenance Tech, Darryl, was called away to an emergency run at another property to tend to a leaky water heater.
While waiting on Darryl to arrive, Herman and I spent two hours fighting like an old married couple. Herman had created a two-page punch list of items for us to address for an upcoming HUD inspection at the property. But he wouldn’t let me do anything. Every time I went to go pick up a tool, he’d say “I got it, Opal.” Or, “Let me help you with that.” Although the residents were amused, I wasn’t. Finally, I grabbed the drill from Herman and he relented.
As we made our way through each apartment checking for safety hazards, we came upon a broken GFCI outlet. Herman disconnected the power and proceeded to let me swap out the receptacle. Yea! I was finally going to fix something. By then Darryl had arrived. After my initial fix didn’t work Darryl swooped in and began disconnecting the wires again. Right at that moment the photographer snapped a picture. Seeing the flash, Darryl jumped up thinking that he had just been zapped by the electricity! We all got a chuckle out of that one.
It was apparent by the way that Herman and Darryl systematically did their inspections, making repairs on the spot, or promising to return later when they had the right part, how much they cared about the comfort and convenience of the residents. Together, they have to travel between seven buildings everyday while serving 200 residents. Yet they handle the pressure and competing interests masterfully, in what could otherwise be an overwhelming job. They are creative sorts, always figuring out a way to accommodate clients so that they can remain in their apartments living independently for as long as possible.
Although I would have loved to have stayed all day, unfortunately, I had to leave the fellas to make it to my next appointment—which was bittersweet, because my next stop was a memorial service at Cooper House for one of the residents who recently passed away due to complications of AIDS. While attending the service and consoling the family, everything came full circle in my mind. A delicate balance is required of us. We must focus on the living, and put our efforts toward improving health, life skills and quality of life, all the while recognizing that early death is still very much a reality for some of the people that we serve. I am comforted, though, knowing that we do our best. That was crystal clear by the way in which Pam, our Activities Coordinator, led the memorial service. And by the dozens of staff and residents who showed up and gave their all to lift up a family in need, and each other.
“The Other Side — Undercover Boss Day 4”
Today I showed up looking how I felt: Tired!
Three days of working on my feet all morning, trying to learn a new job and then shifting gears in the afternoon to catch up on my other work started to take its toll on me. So you can imagine that I was a little hesitant about what kind of day lie ahead when Shawn (Doorways’ Building and Grounds Keeper) told me that he was going to show me the “other side” of Cooper House. “The other side, what’s that!?!”
We began by picking up the trash and cigarette butts around the building. At one point, I referred to Shawn as the Custodian and he quickly, but nicely, corrected me. “Technically, I am the Building and Grounds Keeper. I like to think that my job is to keep the building looking nice at all times, and I take that very seriously.” As we walked the perimeter of the property I asked Shawn about his personal life. I wanted to know what he would be doing if he wasn’t working for Doorways. He paused and told me that he had attended college, but did not complete it. Approaching middle age, he felt like he was paying for mistakes he had made in his youth by not being able to accept authority, there by not being able to keep a job. He credited Doorways with helping him mature in the nine years that he’s worked for the agency. Through the course of his employment with us he has gotten married, had a child and bought his first home. This is when I began to see Shawn’s “other side.” And I knew that he wasn’t paying back at all…Shawn was paying it forward. By using the wisdom that he’s gained over the years he is able to relate to, and have patience for, the residents he’s engaged with on a daily basis.
After making our rounds, we did some window cleaning. Shawn showed me how to use his vacuum pack, and let me know that I was special because he usually doesn’t allow anyone to use that particular vacuum. Just then, Johnny (Building Supervisor) walked by and asked Shawn if I had broken a sweat yet? Shawn said, “I’m Sweating.” What did he mean? Was he implying that I wasn’t working hard? Johnny told Shawn to send me down to him at 10:30 because he had some projects he wanted me to work on. Shawn was teasing me, because as I was heading Johnny’s way, he shook my hand and told me that he would hire me. That’s right! Shawn would hire ME.
As I entered Johnny’s workshop with my head held high, I saw his tools set out and could tell that he had been chomping at the bit for his turn to assign me work. My project was to re-screen some windows. Johnny efficiently and skillfully showed me how to pull out the old netting and replace it. Of course, when an expert does something, it always looks easier than it is. Although I wasn’t as fast and smooth as Johnny, with a little elbow grease I held my own. But that bit of confidence fell by the wayside when it was time to actually install the screens. Let’s just say that I couldn’t even lift the windows up because they were so big and heavy. But, that’s okay, because I got the assist. With my brain and Johnny’s brawn, we did it together!
After the window screen fiasco, Johnny and I checked all of the emergency exits and lights. Then he showed off his prized workshop. He stood proud as he explained how the building’s heating and cooling worked, the intricacies of the sprinkler system and all the contraptions that one might expect in a 120-year-old, 100,000 square foot building. While he marveled at his equipment, I marveled at him.
Next up… Own Home and Emergency Housing.
“Complicated Matters — Undercover Boss Day 5”
It was my first white-collar job all week and I was looking forward to it. But instead of catching a break I got a mental workout. Brenda M. (Own Home Program Director) led me through countless procedures as she gave me a crash course in the department’s workings. These procedures involved a highly technical database that left little room for error. Since this database was integral to their work, I did my best to master the dozens of details.
I concentrated hard while asking a lot of questions, because I knew I had to get it right. Own Home is Doorways’ largest program in the sense that most of the clients we serve get assistance through the program. On an annual basis Own Home provides rent, mortgage, utility and emergency housing assistance to more than 1,000 people. It’s fast-paced, and because people are almost always in a crisis situation when they seek assistance, the ladies in Own Home have to work continually with a sense of urgency.
My next assignment was to call clients and assess their eligibility for the program. I may have annoyed Brenda M. just a little. She had a long list of calls to get through and, while I was productive, I also spent a lot of time on each call curiously inquiring about the clients’ individual circumstances. I know all of the Own Home staff to be very caring individuals, so I imagined that it must be difficult for them to be in this constant predicament of wanting to help, but having limited resources (time, funding, manpower, etc.) to do so. One of my calls was to a gentleman whom we needed to place into emergency housing. He had missed two appointments earlier in the week and my job was to track him down and gain a better understanding of his need. When I reached him on the phone I asked where he was currently staying and why hadn’t he shown up for his appointments. He explained that he was squatting in a vacant building and had no way of getting to Doorways. As the staff worked to figure out a transportation workaround, I learned more about his personal story. His struggle with mental health issues, his former incarceration, his AIDS diagnosis, his limited resources and family involvement…. I was saddened by what I read because, even with Doorways’ housing assistance, I knew that he had a long road ahead of him.
I was left to contemplate that during my next rotation shadowing Carol (Data Coordinator). As she was training me on the numerous spreadsheets that she uses, Brenda M. would peek in from time to time. We were waiting on a client to show up so that I could do an intake. The staff was really excited to show me this hands-on process. Excitement turned into disappointment as we reached the end of the shift and the client still hadn’t shown up for her appointment. I got the feeling that they didn’t want my week of Not So Undercover Boss to end on a down note. But for me it wasn’t. It was an eye-opening realization of what staff is dealing with and what work still needs to be done in eliminating barriers for our clients. I was invigorated as I thought about what other services we need to make available so that our clients can show up, and when they do, get the assistance that they need from Doorways, while being ready and able to engage in making positive changes to increase their quality of life and independence.
To be fair, I only scratched the surface of the many roles at Doorways. In an organization that reaches more than 100 counties in Missouri and Illinois, with over than 70 employees, it would have been impossible to highlight it all in one week. I regret not spending any time in our rural programs, with the social workers, or with our administrative and finance staff. But I did pick up many lessons along the way. This week has taught me, among other things, that:
1) The more you know the less you know
2) Everyone’s job is difficult
3) Each of our employees cares deeply about our mission and clients while taking extreme pride in what they do, and
4) Nobody wants my job. 🙂
For more information about Doorways contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call (314) 535-1919