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We don’t need an Undercover Boss

Patti Breckenridge

Patti Breckenridge

The reality show Undercover Boss is a ratings leader.   Its popularity crosses language barriers and geographic boundaries.  There are local versions of the show in 6 nations with another 8 nations in the process of producing their own take on this phenomenon.

One reason millions of people watch each episode of Undercover Boss is because they find it very believable that a CEO could work on the front lines of a  company without being recognized.   Many viewers have probably never met their company’s leader.

Publix Super Markets isn’t a good candidate for the show.  Why?  Because our CEO is widely known among our 163,400 employees.  Because we are an employee-owned company, so the CEO is a servant leader, not a boss.  And because we solicit so much feedback from our employees that the CEO doesn’t need to go undercover to find out what’s going on in our stores, our distribution centers and our manufacturing plants.

  • Every fall, the CEO and other company executives spread out among our nearly 1,100 facilities to talk with each of our employees (known as “associates” at Publix).  They’ve been doing this since the late 1970s.  We call these Associate Appreciation Visits, but they are only one method our leaders use to stay in touch with our employee-owners.
  • Our CEO and our President spend one day of every week of every year visiting our stores to stay in touch with life on the front lines.
  • We are one of the only sizable companies in the nation that annually surveys every employee who’s been on board at least 90 days.  And we’ve done so every year since 1997.  The annual survey is anonymous, confidential and voluntary.  More than 90 percent of our associates participate.  And they do so on the clock.  We pay them to provide their feedback on how workplace leaders and company-wide leaders live up to our values.  Survey results are used to improve customer service, employee support and company strategy.
  • In addition, we conduct more than 80 one-time surveys each year to solicit advice from our employee-owners on a wide range of topics, from their wellness needs and training preferences to their suggestions about store conditions and scheduling policies.
  • And then there are our service award banquets hosted each spring by company leaders to thank associates on each 5th year of their service at Publix.  In 2012, more than 20,000 associates attended one of these banquets.

Our associates are not only owners in the company. They are clearly recognized as our most important asset.  They are the key to delivering premier customer service, keeping our stores colorful and clean, stocking our shelves with high quality products, and being intolerant of waste.

We know this kind of culture is rare in today’s business world.  Given Publix’s success over the past 82 years, we sometimes wonder why.

Patti Breckenridge
Recruiting Manager




10 Responses

  1. yuneisynoa December 19, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    I’m a fan of Publix. I’ve always be enchanted with the special service to their costumers.

    • Patti Breckenridge
      Patti Breckenridge December 21, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

      Thank you for your loyalty to Publix!

  2. watergirl1022 December 31, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    they should do undercover boss in store 1237.

  3. keepitreal October 30, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    It is so naive of you all to think you don’t need an undercover boss apparently you have no clue what is occurring in the Birmingham market. You claim CEO is a servant, but here in Bham the store managers was scare tactics to strike fear in their ppl. Also, most of them sit in their office all day. Store managers won’t let sick managers call in sick if they do call on they talk about them to every other manger and associate. Your executives have NO CLUE what is REALLY happening in the stores. Not to mention all associates hate the days before the via I because all the SM does is yell and scream at associates and managers cause he’s scared of the executive coming. TRUST ME WHEN I SAY BIRMINGHAM HATES THESE VISITS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Patti Breckenridge
      Patti Breckenridge October 30, 2013 at 11:47 am #

      Thank you for your feedback. Have you reported this to the Retail Associate Relations Specialist in your district? That person’s name should be on your breakroom wall. It would be helpful to Publix is he or she knew about the details of what is occurring at your store.


  4. jbird1115 January 18, 2014 at 9:13 pm #

    I agree with the above comment. Our managers get paranoid after learning of a potential visit so they go in to tighten down everything before the higher ups see it. I have also had bad experiences with the things managers say to their employees. It’s not just what managers say. The problems fall under many categories and these are things our CEO or president will never see by making store visits especially at a store with horrible managers. If a visit takes place then most likely the manager causing problems are escorting the VIP through the store.

    On the flip side, yes I have contacted HR about my experiences and assume action was taken accordingly. Overall publix is a great company that does care about its employees. I’m lucky that at my store I have good managers but Patti, the reality is that people have slipped through our cracks and cause problems even as you read this.

    Am I saying to take Mr. Crenshaw and throw him undercover on reality television? No. But a similar secret look at what publix really is would be a great idea. Especially if it was conducted by the higher ups and didn’t involve cameras.

    I’m thankful to work for a company that is more in tune of what the front lines are like but corporate still has a lot of tuning to do. A reminder wouldn’t be a bad idea. 🙂

    • Patti Breckenridge
      Patti Breckenridge January 20, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

      Thank you so much for your feedback. It is greatly appreciated. You are right that an undercover look at every store would undoubtedly reveal that some managers don’t live up to Publix’s high standards. Thank you for everything you do to help make Publix a great place to shop and a great place to work!


  5. cwilliams07 September 13, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    I stumbled upon this blog after watching an episode of Undercover Boss and thought it was very interesting and confident to think Publix does not need an Undercover Boss- situation to take place in its stores. For instance I talked with a young man who has been with Publix for almost 3 years, in a store near Seffner, and he is already an assistant manger and he operates as if he’s been there for decades, but his workers can move with so little care for the job that I actually feel bad for the guy while waiting in line for a sub that I really don’t like being there when they’re busy and definitely not when he or the manager aren’t around during rush hours. But I actually love the store. Then there is a store on the main road of Brandon that my friends and family and I have completely stopped going to. The Deli always looks a mess, there is always something that has run out in the cold cases and you hate to ask the employees from the deli for help to get it because there is a “5 minute hold time.” But our time as customers is just as valuable as the employees who own the company but often move as if they’d rather be somewhere else running, their company, as you say. Not to mention the horrible service at the store in Lakeland, your head quarters, just off of i4. I apologize if I am rambling but maybe you all should do an undercover experiment and televise it so that the store managers at the store near Seffner can set the standard for the associates of your others stores. Part of the deciding factor in my family moving from California for my husband’s job was my overall experience at Publix, but you guys could always self reflect to do better in some of your stores that miss the mark. Especially, knowing that you all don’t have a discrete way of observing, as stated above, or a way for your employees to see and understand real life situations and how they should be handled and are observed by your corporate. To think otherwise is to be naïve because there is always room for improvement to truly make shopping a pleasure no matter what store you go to.

    • Patti Breckenridge
      Patti Breckenridge September 15, 2014 at 10:30 am #

      Thank you so much for these insights. I will share them with our retail leaders. We love hearing from our customers because it makes us a better company. And you’re right, your time is every bit as important as the time of our associates.


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