I’m tired of listening to Tom Peters. I refuse to buy Jack Welch’s book. I’ve grown weary of reading the latest management guru’s list of habits and business principles. I become depressed when I get to the part of the book that states, ….Get everyone together, tell them the business plan, and demand that they believe and implement it fully.” Then the book quickly ends with very little said on how to make this happen. I’ve started looking elsewhere for answers to my business needs.
The Story of Mr. Hatch
Of more help to me is Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli. It’s a children’s book about an isolated workingman, 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 allow that to happen. The neighborhood revolts. “We can’t let this happen to Mr. Hatch,” they say, 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? How might our corporate neighbors respond? I decided to find out.
Designing a Program
My plan was to anonymously send a $40 floral arrangement to two unsuspecting employees every Monday morning-a Mr. Hatch Award. They would be chosen subjectively-sometimes based on their commitment to the corporate common good or just because they happened to be at the right place at the right time. Attached to the flowers would be a note saying, “Don’t ever think your good efforts go unnoticed.” It would be signed, “From someone who cares.”
The business world has taught me always to do a pilot before jumping into full implementation. I’ve also learned that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, so I kept the idea to myself and received 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 (SVP). Although I personally hate anyone in authority, I’ve noticed 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 SVP was scheduled to get 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 ensure anonymity, I would pay cash, and I would 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 anybody.
On Tuesday I made it a point to pass by the desk of the woman 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 had gotten 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, as well as 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 SVP. I planned to 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 their concerns. I know it’s impractical; we’ve got 13,000 employees, 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 come up with 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.