Vivint and Undercover Boss: Lessons learned


Vivint CEO Todd Pedersen wasn’t “fast enough” to work in one of his own warehouses, was “moving a little slow” on an installation job and should have been more adept at handling a basic tool, according to two of his  employees.

Pedersen got those professional reviews during his stint on the CBS show “Undercover Boss” on Feb. 20. I wrote about that here. During that experience, he says, he learned much about being a company leader and that “details matter most.”

For the popular reality show, Pedersen posed incognito, which included wearing a wig, as a Vivint trainee and met with four of his company’s employees at their workplaces.

First he worked with Mark on an install job that involved being up on a roof. That encounter enlightened him on the need for Vivint workers to have proper, non-slippery footwear.

He then worked with a monitoring center rep, Sandy. Pedersen, handling a call, disconnected it inadvertently. During one call, static was prevalent and Sandy told Pedersen that the system needed some fine-tuning.

On his third stint he worked at one of the company’s warehouses with Alma and was surprised when he had to fill out a work order on paper rather than digitally. Alma is the employee who told him he wasn’t suited to work for Vivint: “Too slow.”

He also was told he was working too slowly by employee Will during Pedersen’s final “Undercover Boss” gig at a smart-home installation. And, Will added, Pedersen needed practice working with a basic tool—a drill.

When I talked to Pedersen before the show aired, he couldn’t say all that much about the outcome of the show due to CBS restrictions. But I did catch up with him via email this week to get more details.

Here’s what Pedersen had to say.

Q: What was the top lesson you gleaned from being on the show?

A: As a leader, it’s your job to look at the big picture and focus on the vision of the company, but I learned that when it comes to employees, the details matter most. The smallest upgrades in equipment and installation hardware can shave off significant amounts of time and stress for employees. Little things really do make a big difference to the people you employ.

Q: How will the show have an impact on the way your company is run/managed in the future?

A: After each day on a new job [for the show], I would get on a conference call with senior management and discuss what I learned and potential improvements pertaining to that job. And while the experience hasn’t changed the way we run the company in a major way, we have made several changes in equipment and processes. 

The most significant change we implemented was announcing a brand-new facility for our monitoring professionals. As I worked alongside Sandy, she had interference issues with her equipment. In addition to improving phone cords and headsets for Sandy and her coworkers, we decided to give them a beautiful new facility. 

Q: Any other insights? Would you do this again?

A: The most interesting part was just being able to work alongside my employees as a regular guy, rather than the CEO. I truly enjoyed getting to know each of them on a personal level and learning about their backgrounds and the things they’ve overcome. I’ve always believed in cultivating strong relationships with my employees, and this experience reaffirmed the importance of that for me.

While not every executive has the chance to go undercover like I did, taking the time to work side by side and connect with employees is important for all members of the leadership team. I plan to give this opportunity to other executives so they can benefit from the invaluable insight that comes from being on the ground. (Although, I won’t make any of them wear a wig!)

I don’t think I could get away with going undercover again. Word has definitely gotten out around the company, but I did really enjoy going out in the field and working with employees across the business. I would definitely do that again, and I’ll probably take some of our other executives along with me next time. 

Pedersen also heard the four employees’ personal stories and responded to their hardships—widowhood, bankruptcy, cancer treatments, custody disagreements and more—with compassion and with his wallet. Kudos to him.