Notes from the Corporate Underground
by Kenny Moore
Reprinted with permission from The Inventure Group

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 it 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 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? How might our corporate neighbors respond? I decided to find out.

They all continued to speak in utter giddiness about the strangeness of the delivery and what made this woman so special.

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, sometimes based on their commitment to the corporate common good. Or because they just happened to be at 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 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 nobody. 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 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 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.

Not everything needs to be imitated and mandated into business policy. Some things work just fine when they're small, personal and unique.

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 breath. 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."

The Results

It's a year later and I'm still sending flowers, anonymous notes and balloons. My company still knows nothing about it. Have I changed our corporate culture? No. Was I able to get everyone together, tell them the business plan and demand that they believe and implement the Mr. Hatch Award? Hell, no. But here's what has happened:

  1. I actually look forward to coming to work on Monday mornings.

  2. A small number of employees go home Monday night with a smile or quizzical look on their faces.

  3. Co-workers are having a blast trying to figure out who's sending flowers to their friends, what for and how come. I suspect a few even dream of receiving flowers and a balloon for themselves.

  4. One aging executive is making retirement preparations by meeting individually with employees. While this is the least verifiable part of the program, I trust that the S.V.P. is making the effort. (Did I actually say that I trust someone in authority? Who knows, maybe Mr. Hatch is getting to me . . .)

  5. I've got a proprietor in downtown Brooklyn who smiles when he sees me coming and warmly shakes my hand. I also have the feeling that the storefront area is a bit more revitalized than it was a year ago.

There's organizational strength in fermenting a mixture of the institutional along with the idiosyncratic.

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." Fuggedaboudit! Not everything needs to be imitated and mandated into business policy. Some things work just fine when they're small, personal and unique. 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 the corporate common good.

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.

Who knows, Mr. Hatch might start a trend in corporate America. I can hear Tom Peters talking about it now ....

P.S. 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 kmoore@keyspanenergy.com.


Kenny Moore is a former monk and present day businessman, improvising his way through the daily work-a-day grind. He's Corporate Ombudsman and Human Resources Director at KeySpan in NYC. Kenny has survived "incurable" cancer and open heart surgery largely due to luck and Divine playfulness. Having dealt with both God and death, he now finds himself eminently qualified to work with executives on corporate change efforts. You can contact him at kmoore@keyspanenergy.com .

This article was originally published in the The Inventure Group's On Purpose Journal Volume 8 Number 5 and is reprinted with the permission of the author and the publisher.

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