October 2001 - Celebrating Employee Heroism - Before the Fact
By Kenny Moore
I believe the employees who acted heroically on September 11th were that way before the tragic events occurred. While much recognition is being given to them afterwards, I believe it's possible to celebrate these brave souls in advance of their courage. This entails a type of prolepsis - the recognizing of employee greatness in the present moment, even though it won't appear until sometime in the future, perhaps even called into play by the forces of destiny. In some regards this entails making a faith statement on behalf of our employees. For the past year I've had a chance to experiment with such a concept in a corporate setting. And it all began with Mr. Hatch.
The Story of Mr. Hatch
I met him in Eileen Spinelli's book, Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch. It's a children's book about an isolated working man, who lives, works and sleeps alone. Neighbors say, "Mr. Hatch likes to keep to himself." One Saturday, while cleaning his porch, the postman delivers a heart-shaped box of candy - with an anonymous note signed "Somebody loves you." Mr. Hatch is confused because he interacts with no one. He finally concludes: "Why, I've got a secret admirer." Mr. Hatch begins to change, dressing up and walking the streets of town, greeting and helping strangers - all with the hope of meeting the person who sent him the candy. Children are drawn to him. He bakes brownies, serves lemonade and plays an old harmonica that he's had from his boyhood. Everyone dances. Time passes. Mr. Hatch is having so much fun, he's even forgotten about finding his secret admirer.
Then, the postman returns informing Mr. Hatch that he delivered the candy to the wrong address and takes back the now-empty box. The "Somebody loves you" note falls out in the transfer, reminding Mr. Hatch that he was correct at the outset: nobody really does love him. He withdraws back into his isolation. But the kids won't have it. The neighborhood revolts: "We can't let this happen to Mr. Hatch" ... and they don't. Their response is truly prodigal. My seven-year-old son made me promise not to tell how it all ends, so go read the book. But the story left me thinking. What would happen if Mr. Hatch showed up in corporate America? What havoc might be wrought by small gifts, anonymously given to an ordinary worker - possibly even the wrong person? Perhaps someone who was destined to rise to the occasion … but the "occasion" just wasn't' here yet. How might our corporate neighbors respond? I decided to find out.
A Program is Designed
My plan was to anonymously send a $40 floral arrangement to two unsuspecting employees every Monday morning - a Mr. Hatch Award. They would be subjectively chosen, perhaps based on their commitment to the corporate common good. Other times, because they seemed to demonstrated potential. On other occasions, merely because destiny just happened to place them in the right place at the right time. Attached to the flowers would be a note: "Don't ever think your good efforts go unnoticed." Signed: "From someone who cares." The business world has taught me to always do a "pilot" before you jump into full implementation. I also learned that it's better to ask forgiveness than permission - so I kept the idea to myself and got no formal approval. For my trial run, I picked one employee from the opposite side of my floor, as well as my Senior Vice President. While I personally hate anyone in authority, I notice that no one ever says "thank you" to executives. Granted, they do make mistakes. But they also do some good things - for which they seldom get credit. Besides, my therapist would be proud to hear me even consider doing something positive for someone in authority. So the S.V.P. got flowers too.
On Monday morning I walked down to the florist who handles our corporate account and asked what I could get for $40. She showed me a small bowl with five petite flowers in it. (Their overhead must be high.) I told her I wanted to send two arrangements and to insure anonymity, I would pay cash, not sign my name or leave my phone number. The florist was extremely uncomfortable with this. I wasn't feeling too happy about the transaction either. Maybe this is how all pilot projects feel? By that afternoon, the flowers arrived; I said nothing to nobody. On Tuesday I made it a point to pass by the woman's desk who worked on my floor. I said: "Hey, nice flowers. Is it your birthday?" "No" she said. "Somebody sent them to me. Look. Here's the note." By this time, all her co-workers were crowded around, telling me the layout of events. They also knew that an executive got the same flowers delivered. One of them even called the florist to find out who sent it. Nobody seemed to know. They all continued to speak in utter giddiness about the strangeness of the delivery and what made this woman so special. They also spent considerable time trying to figure out what she had in common with the executive, and who might have sent them both the flowers. Even as I left, they continued on in frenzied conversation and merriment.
A few days later I had a project-update meeting with my Senior Vice President. I planned to both tell him about my "pilot" as well as get his reaction as a recipient. Before I even got to my part of the conversation, he said: "You know, Kenny, last week some employee sent me a bunch of flowers, thanking me for something I did. I'm not even sure who it was, or what I did. But it got me thinking. I only have a few more years before I retire and I think I'd like to use that time focusing on individual employees: their needs and concerns. I know it's impractical - we've got 13,000 of them. But I'd like to give it a try." Gulp! Now I felt both entrapped and embarrassed. How could I tell him that I sent the flowers ... or that he was only part of a program I was testing out? He had arrived upon a worthwhile executive goal that I wasn't going to knock off track. I kept my mouth shut, gave my project update and exited as fast as I could.
Pilot Review and Implementation
These two conversations made me want to continue my plans with Mr. Hatch. Even though the company knew nothing about the program, I believed they would support it. If I can give an employee a $5,000 on-the-spot award for customer excellence, $40 is not going to break the bank. The pilot even taught me a few lessons: 1 - run the program on my own and forget about formal corporate support; 2 - keep the anonymity of the program intact; 3 - ditch the corporate florist.
The next Monday I moved into full implementation. I chose two more workers ... but didn't go to the swanky florist. I walked a few blocks North into the combat zone of downtown Brooklyn and found an all-purpose store. The "proprietor" sells a lot of things, including flowers. I said to him: "Here's my offer. Every week I want you to deliver two floral arrangements to my headquarters. I also want a "thank you" balloon attached - along with a note that I'll give you. You put the note in an envelope and deliver it all." "OK with me" he says. "I'll pay cash. You don't contact me; I only contact you. I'll show up every Monday with the names, notes and money." Unlike the corporate florist, he had no problem with this arrangement. Apparently, he does a lot of his business this way. "One final question" I said. "What kind of flowers do I get for my $40?" "Give me a minute" and he disappeared. What he brought back was a massive array of floral specimens: birds of paradise; tulips; roses; babies' breathe. I think I got half of his storefront display. "Looks fine to me. Do a good job and I'll keep coming back every week."
It's a year later and I'm still sending flowers, anonymous notes and balloons. My company still knows nothing about it. So, have I changed our corporate culture? No. Am I able to single out extraordinary employees when they are apparently acting ordinary? Hell, no. But here's what has happened:
And that's the present state of progress with the Mr. Hatch Award. I'll probably keep it up until I read another kid's book that leaves me feeling hopeful and alive. Then I'll experiment with another idea. Maybe something based on "The Velveteen Rabbit" or "Ira Sleeps Over."
I'm sure some well-meaning executive will read this article and try to formulate a corporate "Mr. Hatch Award." Forget about it! Not everything needs to be mandated into business policy. Some things work just fine when they're small and personal. There's organizational strength in fermenting a mixture of the institutional along with the idiosyncratic. Executives would be better served by encouraging staff to "hatch" their own ways of nurturing unsung heroes … in advance of the fact.
Oh ... one more thing. While I was finishing this article, I passed the woman who received the first Mr. Hatch Award when it was a pilot. She had fresh flowers on her desk. "Is it your birthday?" "No" she said. "Somebody still sending you anonymous flowers?" I whispered. "Nope, not this time. They're from my boss," she said. "I got promoted and she sent them as a present." "Sounds like you have a growing list of admirers..." I said, and walked away feeling a little renewed.
At the end of the day, I feel I'm doing my part in helping my company sing the praises of our heroic employees … even though we might have to wait for destiny to reveal exactly who they are. Mr. Hatch rewards employees not for what they do, but for who they are. As I reflect back upon the events that happened here in New York City with our employees, maybe Mr. Hatch saw them as heroic in advance of the tragedy. Possibly, one of our employees who responded bravely on September 11th did so because she'd recently received a bouquet of flowers from someone who secretly saw her deeper gifts and valor. Mr. Hatch is a faith statement in favor of the greatness of our employees - in advance of them actually demonstrating it … and possibly even preparing and encouraging them to demonstrate it when destiny chose its time to arrive?
It causes me to ponder how an ordinary day on the job can become so extraordinary.
About the Author
Kenny says, "If you’re thinking about writing me, give in to the temptation. I love getting mail ... and being influenced by what you have to say. Please E-mail me at kennythemonk [at] yahoo.com."
Kenny Moore is
co-author of “The
CEO and the Monk: One Company’s Journey to Profit and Purpose”
(John Wiley and Sons, 2004), rated as one of the Top Ten best-selling business
books on Amazon.com. He has over 20 years experience with change
management, leadership development and healing the corporate community.
Prior to his work in corporate America, Kenny spent 15 years in a monastic
community as a Catholic priest – doing a very similar kind of work, but
getting paid a lot less.
(c) Kenneth Moore 2001, used with permission of the author. Thanks, Kenny!!
Page updated: June 06, 2009
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