Corporate Change on a Shoestring
The economy's tight. My company no longer has wads of money to throw at high priced consultants to transform our culture. If change is to happen, it'll have to be done by ordinary employees and on a minuscule budget. And I'm discovering that I may need to get personally involved.
My two-part plan is presently underway. It's cheap and it's fun: two clear signs that senior management won't embrace it. But who cares? With limited financial incentive from my company, I'm learning to look to small pleasures to keep me engaged in the business.
It Starts Small
The first part of the plan all started with Beverly. She works in Accounting. She's not the department head. She's not even on our list of "High Potential" employees. Fact is, Beverly's a union worker. But she's wonderful. When I have an accounting problem, I go to Bev. When I fall short in following the most recent financial procedure, I go to Bev. On the days I can't get to her, it's often because there are other befuddled employees seeking out her practical wisdom.
Does my company need to reengineer accounting practices to make them more user-friendly and efficient? You bet! However, based on my limited experience in dealing with accountants, it's unlikely to happen in my lifetime. So in the interim, I rely on Beverly.
A Serendipitous Moment
I was in the local Dollar Store the other day looking for a cheap nightlight for my son's bedroom. Wandering down the aisles, I saw a coffee mug engraved with a heart that read: "You're the Greatest." Even though it was hand-painted in China, this oriental work of art was available for a mere $1. The sign said the supply was limited, but I think they still had a few cases in the back room. The cup reminded me of Beverly so I bought it. On the way back to my office, I passed her desk. "I got you a small gift, Bev … a present for all the help you give me" and took the cup out and gave it to her.
She smiled. "Even though I don't drink coffee," Bev said, "I still love it. I can use it to keep my pens and pencils in." But more than her words, it was the look in her eyes that captivated me. It was a glint of appreciation. A sparkle of affection. A tinge of some positive primordial emotion tethered to the woman's sacred soul. It was one of those rare moments of Divine Revelation in the workplace.
Something more was going on here than the exchange of porcelain. Something, I suspect, that was only loosely connected to the fact that the cup was hand-painted in the Orient. It was a small moment of acknowledgement for the talent of a lone employee who was making a difference. It represented an undersized deposit into the overdrawn account of employee passion that daily gets bestowed for the sake of the corporate common good. My single regret from the encounter was that there was no high priced consultant nearby to witness the event.
I now regularly find myself visiting the Dollar Store and using my small budget to keep the tectonic plates of culture change in steady movement.
It Ends Small
The second part to my grand, but cheap, change plan is to take fellow employees out for a cup of coffee. Not Starbuck's, since I no longer have the budget for such luxury. We go down to the company cafeteria. It costs me 80 cents. If they want a juice, it's a dime more. I tend to invite folks who other employees are drawn towards. They represent a type of "heliotropic leadership" in the rugged jungle of business life. They radiate a natural luminescence that coworkers gravitate towards and are nurtured by. With these folks around, corporate toxicity is keep to a minimum and a form of workplace photosynthesis takes place.
I spend the first part of these caffeine-laden meetings expressing my appreciation and thanks. It's odd how seldom people share a personal "thank you" in a corporate setting. The rest of the time is spent in a whimsical conversation about how we might make the company a better place to work in. I seldom walk away with a detailed action plan. Most of the time, I merely enjoy taking a few minutes out of an otherwise hectic day squandering it on a person I admire. I'm also darkly reminded how seldom I detach myself from petty complaining and give some thought to creating a positive future. It's common that these conversations wind up changing me more than the culture.
But I'm learning that maybe that is exactly what's needed in these tight financial times. I believe Alan Greenspan would be proud of me. (Mr. Bernanke as well.)
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 email@example.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 is Corporate Ombudsman and Human Resources Director at a New York City Fortune 500 energy company. Reporting to the C.E.O., he is primarily responsible for awakening joy, meaning and commitment in the workplace. While these efforts have largely been met with skepticism, he remains eternally optimistic of their future viability.
Kenny has over 20 years experience with change management, leadership development and healing the corporate community. He's been profiled on CBS Sunday Morning News, and interviewed by Tom Peters, The Wall Street Journal and Fast Company magazine regarding his unique leadership style. His business practices are based on Louie Armstrong who said: "I am here in the service of Happiness." Louis died a rich and beloved man; his voice still rings in the ears (and hearts) of millions. Kenny is the recipient of Notre Dame University's 2006 "Hesburg Award" for his significant contribution to the field of business ethics.
Prior to his work in corporate America, Kenny spent 15 years in a monastic community as a Catholic priest. Several years ago, he had the good fortune of being diagnosed with "incurable" cancer, at its most advanced stages. He underwent a year of experimental treatment at the National Cancer Institute and survived. Kenny came away from that experience recalling the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us." Kenny's lifetime goal is to spend more of his time playing his music. Having dealt with both God and death, Kenny now finds himself eminently qualified to work with senior management on corporate change efforts.
Kenny is a watercolor artist, poet and photographer. He is Founding Director of "Art for the Anawim," a not-for-profit charity which works with the art community in supporting the needs of terminally ill children and the inner city poor. His poems have been published in several anthologies; one was selected as a semi-finalist in the North American Open Poetry Contest. Kenny lives in Totowa, NJ and is married to the "fair and beautiful" Cynthia. Together, they are fighting a losing battle of maintaining their mental stability while raising 2 growing boys.
Kenny can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 956-8210
(Kenny is also a regular contributor to The CEO Refresher. He has the distinction of having the longest bio we have published as it is, in and of itself, a truly wonderful and inspirational story of a man on a most mindful mission. Thanks Kenny. ed.)
Many more articles in Leading Change in The CEO Refresher