A friend shared this with me and gave me permission to use it. It is… thought provoking. – – – – –

It was a beautiful spring morning in mid-May. As the CEO pulled up to his reserved spot in front of the headquarters building, he took particular notice of all the flowers blooming in the gardens around the front door. As he got out of his car, carrying the lunch box he brought every day (just to prove he was “a regular guy”) he noticed that the fountain in the center of the garden seemed to be flowing less than normal. It was trickling as compared to its normal cascading flow. He made a mental note and went into the building.

At the front desk he greeted the receptionist cordially and she returned his greeting with a large smile. He asked if she’d seen the maintenance manager, whom everyone else simply called “the janitor,” and she said she hadn’t but if she did, she’d let him know that the CEO was looking for him. The CEO replied, “That won’t be necessary, I was just wondering about the fountain out front. It seems to be flowing a little less than normal,” and went on about his day making a mental note to remember about the fountain should he see the maintenance manager.

Fifteen minutes later his morning briefing began, delivered by the company President along with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) and Chief Operating Officer (COO). Near the end of the briefing, the COO reminded the CEO that they were expecting guests from a foreign firm causing the CEO to voice his observation about the front fountain. He wanted everything to look 100% and the fountain’s water flow needed to be brought back to its usual cascade levels. The COO said he would handle it and the meeting adjourned.

Just as the meeting adjourned, out in the reception area, the janitor was making his rounds emptying the trash and the receptionist mentioned to him that the CEO had been asking about him earlier. When the janitor asked her if she knew what it was about, she told him it had something to do with the water flowing in the front fountain a little less than normal. The janitor thanked her and made a note to stop in to see the CEO later in the morning after he’d tended to his normal rounds and had taken a look at the fountain.

Back in his office, the company President sent out a companywide email reminding all employees in the building that they were going to have corporate guests in the building later. He emphasized the need to look and act professional and to keep all common areas especially clean looking. It was important to the company to make a good impression. At the end of the email he put a note to the Vice President of Engineering to see if something could be done about the water flow in the front fountain.

The CFO and CRO leave the CEO’s office and meet together to discuss the potential impacts of the pending visit on future revenue and the obvious impact that will have on the company’s financial standing. The COO comes in during the meeting and reminds them that it’s vital to cut expenses as much as possible to show higher margins. Twenty minutes later they have a plan to cut expenses combined with a projection of increased revenues as a positive result from the pending visit, all of it making the company’s profit margins look that much better. One of the recommendations in the plan is to remove the fountain in front of the building so the company can save on the electric expense as well as the water utility. It’s agreed that the COO will make such directive communicated to the VP of Engineering at their next meeting.

As a result of the Company President’s email, the Director of HR puts out an email memorandum reminding all employees that food isn’t permitted to be consumed outside of the designated break areas and that any food items left in the break room refrigerators will be disposed of at the end of each business day. As a final note, to acknowledge the concern about the front fountain, she adds a line about making sure no one throws any trash or other items into the front fountain. She doesn’t want the “higher ups” to think she’s not giving it adequate attention.

Reading that same email from the Company President, the Vice President of Deliverables wonders what he might be able to do to help improve the company image for the visiting guests. He realizes that most of his impact is recognized weeks after his work effort but comes up with the idea of creating a montage of “corporate beauty” for the company. He visualizes it as a wonderful marketing tool that shows how pristine, welcoming and visually attractive the corporate workplace is. To that end, he puts together a project concept and emails out a directive to all section heads detailing the project and giving them their work assignments to make it reality. There’s a note to make sure photos, drawings or paintings of the front of the building, to include the fountain, are included.

In response to the Company President’s email, the Director of Social Media puts together a three day plan, starting immediately, to focus on how the company values and supports all things natural with a focus on Earth health, the ecology, nature’s beauty and more. She schedules about a dozen posts for each of the next three days on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and more. She sends out a company email recommending the use of the hashtag #corporatebeauty on all personal social media accounts and requesting that all employees share something about the beauty of their work environment.

The Vice President of Engineering, not wanting the fountain’s perceived pour water flow to have a negative impact on how his section is perceived, has his team begin a study of water pumps, fountain volume and various fountain designs that depict greater water flow while actually using less water and electricity to create the appearance of such. His team spends the next two days studying water fountain design, resulting in a 28-page report he delivers to the COO with recommendations on improvements for the front fountain.

The Vice President of Research and Data Management realizes that the company has never done a study or survey about the importance of environmental support within the company, or among their clients. He has his team build a survey about such with a planned distribution for the next day to almost 25,000 recipients via email. He projects a ten-day response period, a five day data analysis period, and sends an email to the COO with a promise to deliver the report in three weeks’ time. The COO responds with a supportive and complimentary email, promising to share the report with the President and CEO with final recommendations delivered to the VP of Engineering to make the appropriate changes.

The janitor, after having made his rounds to take out the trash and having cleaned out the refrigerators, went out to the fountain and turned it off. He cleaned out the leaves and other debris that fell from trees and plants from around the filter intake. He added five gallons of water to the fountain and turned it back on, insuring that the water was flowing as it usually did. Then he went inside to take his lunch break.

In the break room, as he’s eating his lunch, the janitor is greeted by the CEO who, being “just one of the guys,” also came into the breakroom to eat before expecting his corporate guests that afternoon. The janitor, between bites, tells the CEO that he’s taken care of the fountain and it’s back to its normal cascade of water, adding the sound of flowing water to the visual appeal of the flowers in front of the building. The CEO thanks him and doesn’t say anything else as they both eat their lunch.

Later that day, the corporate visit goes very well. Several of the visiting executives comment on how beautiful the corporate headquarters is; how clean it is; how all the employees seem quite happy and content as they work diligently to handle the company business. As a result of the visit’s success, the company sees an influx of investment, allowing some growth and an overall increase in company value.

Six months later, the President, COO, CFO and CRO all receive big bonuses from the Board of Directors as a reward for their performance supporting company growth. The Vice Presidents of Engineering, Research and Data, and Deliverables all receive slightly smaller bonuses along with framed commendations from the CEO to hang on their office walls. The Directors of HR and Social Media both get their own framed commendations from the CEO as awards for their hard work and in recognition of their support of company values. The janitor receives a $5 gift card from Starbuck’s.

So at the end of this adventure in corporate imaging, the people who did the least but cost the most in time also received the most recognition and financial reward. The guy who spent the least time but had the largest overall impact received the smallest reward. To be clear, this is a fictional story about a fictional company but it’s based on observations of how some companies operate. All too often, reward is based on title and not actual deliverable or work. Where do you fall in that spectrum?

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