The Devil and Miss Jones

I thought this headline might catch your attention. No, I'm not speaking of the Georgina Spelvin porn classic, "The Devil in Ms Jones." Instead, I'm referring to a 1941 screen gem starring Charles Coburn, Jean Arthur and Robert Cummings that provides some outstanding image and reputation lessons for businesspeople of all types and stripes.

The plot is a variation on the old Prince and the pauper scenario in which aDevil_and_miss_jones
privileged executive goes undercover to live among the plebeians and see how the other half lives. In "Devil," the world's richest man (Coburn) follows suit. He decides to become an hourly employee at Neeley's, one of the many department stores that he owns (and one that has been plagued by poor morale and productivity). What he discovers is a legion of smart, hard-working hourly employees, a belligerent middle management level and an out-of-touch executive group.

"Devil" wears surprisingly well for having been filmed just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It suffers from a needless love story but, in the end, it reinforces the need for executives in every business to get closer to their customers: whether those "customers" are employees or sales prospects. As some of you know, Ed and I did this at Peppercom a few years ago. We swapped jobs with junior account executives for a day and saw, first-hand, what they experienced. Needless to say, we instituted quite a few changes as a result.

It's interesting how timely and relevant Devil is to 2009. As organizations everywhere try to figure out new and different strategies for survival and success, they need to remember the basics: namely, that the success of any organization is dependent upon the morale and productivity of its workforce. And, the single best way to know for sure what "they" think and feel is to become one of them for a day or two. Trust me, it'll be one of the single best business investments you could possibly make.

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