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Mark Goldring is the Undercover Boss

Posted by Mark Goldring Chief Executive of Oxfam GB

18th Jul 2014

Oxfam CEO Mark Goldring posed as a volunteer in the UK and in the Philippines as part of Channel 4's Undercover Boss which is on TV on Tuesday at 9pm. Mark tells us a little more about his experiences - including trying street fundraising - he promises no spoilers.


Watch Mark explain what it was like to be the Undercover Boss:


It is very uncomfortable digging pit latrines in 40 degree heat, at the same time as trying to make sure your wig doesn't fall off! It may be nearly 30 years since I've had a proper head of hair, but when I did I promise you it looked better than on the Undercover Boss TV programme this week.

"I met passionate, committed and able staff and volunteers and saw some great work."

Posing as a new volunteer, I went 'undercover' with the cameras following my every move and word for a week. I did it for two reasons. The first was that I felt that letting the cameras in to see the reality of Oxfam's work and our people would help everyone to better understand who we are and what we do. It was a risk: the TV crew decided what to film and had full editorial control, but I trust our people and that paid off. I met passionate, committed and able staff and volunteers and saw some great work. The cameras capture that well. They had to, it was what they saw.

The second reason was for me to see Oxfam from a different perspective. People do act differently when they are talking to the boss. How would they react talking to a trainee volunteer working alongside them for a few days? What would I learn about what we may need to improve?

Spending time in the Philippines and the UK, I saw and learnt a lot. Most was positive and made me proud. Some stories moved me deeply. And a few experiences showed me things we clearly need to do better.

I learnt just how hard it is to raise money, how every pound has to be worked for, and how important it is that we remember this as we spend it. I saw the powerful impact of our work on fishermen whose livelihoods had been devastated, and had an emotional glimpse into the lives of some of our own staff caught up in the typhoon. I was reminded how 20,000 volunteers are our ambassadors on every high street across Britain. I also learnt that however much I believe in Oxfam's causes, I could never be a street fundraiser!

A different perspective

Seeing Oxfam from that different perspective, and being able to ask questions but not give answers - however much I wanted to - I was forcefully reminded of two basic rules of leadership. The first was that the more you explain the full picture to people, the better a job they can do, and the second that you can't ever say 'thank you' or 'well done' often enough.

We want our people to show initiative, make things happen and take responsibility. All the people who I met felt they were part of an important cause, and were wonderfully motivated. But some didn't know enough about the key decisions that affected them, or why they were being asked to work in the way they were to really get the best out of them. Where things were explained, people could do more to make the outcome happen. Written papers didn't do it. It was where their managers took the time to talk face to face in everyday language that really made a difference. I saw clearly how just a little personal recognition and taking time to say a proper thank you does go a long way.

Most of the staff who were interviewed for the programme without knowing who I was made it clear to the interviewer that they would never hire this new volunteer with a dodgy haircut, but I would give all of them a job tomorrow. And I will try to remember to say 'thank you'.

Undercover Boss: Channel 4 at 9pm, Tues 22 July -  catch it on 4oD.

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Header Image: Oxfam CEO Mark Goldring takes part in Channel 4's Undercover Boss.

Blog post written by Mark Goldring

Chief Executive of Oxfam GB

More by Mark Goldring