Culture And Paper Fish
I remember years ago, working at a publicly held energy company and it snowed a ridiculous amount of snow on April 1st. It was a very serious, formal, buttoned up culture. We had policies and procedures for everything, which kept the company running like a finely tuned clock.
For some reason, the employees really loosened up that day and it was a fun day of joking and pranks and talking about the weather anomaly. The company had food brought into the cafeteria, and the feel of the day was different — it had people who had never spoken at length, sitting and chatting, getting to know each other better. Despite the sand and salt being tracked around, employees enjoyed coming to work in more casual attire and having the blessing to dial it back for a day.
I am a big believer in the power of organizational retreats — a retreat is of course, a move backwards, a chance to regroup, think, plan, before moving forward. Collecting the organization’s collective thoughts helps to shape the direction. It sets the tone for clear goals and crisp execution.
Sometimes an organization “needs a moment.”
Sometimes people “need a moment.”
That April day where 3 feet of snow was piled up outside, and the air blew crisp and cold, was a very memorable day. I remember thinking, why don’t we have this much fun every day? Why don’t we pick certain days to sit and talk and plan more than usual? My impish prankster nature was bubbling to the top and I thought for a minute, why don’t I place post it notes on my coworker’s back that say “Kick me, kick me hard?” And then the thought was fleeting, because that’s not proper behavior for a corporate executive.
Human behavior often places us on a virtual number line where we choose a behavior or approach somewhere on that continuum of good and evil. There’s a mischievous child within all of us, and we need to let it out of its cage once in a while.
Let’s face it, over the years we’ve generally forgotten how to have fun at work, other than the huge tech companies that have 3 people for every job and define culture as people who don’t shave, don’t bathe, show up late, leave early, and sleep in pods when they are not enjoying free snacks in the foozeball lounge or ride brightly colored bicycles across “campus.”
Corporate culture can be a curious and strange thing.
My late business partner and mentor Jim Malone, who was the CEO of SIX Fortune 500 companies in six industries, famously said, “culture is the worst behavior the organization tolerates.” The esprit de corps, or the lack thereof, can certainly set the tone for an organization. I’ve heard culture characterized by being “defined by the people you know you need to fire but haven’t.”
Business situations are always people situations.
I don’t envy anyone working as a senior human resources executive, because in addition to the ever burgeoning, myriad compliance issues there are many sensitivities that need to be dealt with. It’s a less forgiving, more sensitive workplace environment, and while much of it makes sense and is long overdue, it can be problematic when the culture devolves into a litany of excuses, complaints, and other barriers to work because individual responsibility and collective productivity inevitably suffers. Often the HR department takes on the role of referee or mediator addressing interpersonal and departmental conflicts, a very difficult spot to be in.
As an example, European companies have very different approaches to workplace culture. In France, for example, Poisson D’Avril is the version of April 1. In Italy it’s Pesce D’Aprile.
No, it’s not Joe Pesce day in Italy, or anywhere else for that matter.
It literally means “April Fish.”
The tradition dates back to Italian schoolchildren cutting out paper fish and taping them to their unsuspecting classmates’ backs — in America, we once had the “kick me” version of this. With all of the increased sensitivities in the world, I wonder if this even happens anymore.
Much has been written about the recent “Oscar Slap” where Will Smith sucker-slapped Chris Rock, presumably as a reaction to the joke he told about Jada’s head — she suffers from Alopecia. It’s out of character for a guy like Will Smith to go overboard with such a response, on live TV, moments before receiving an Oscar. Not his shining moment. One has to question, Why, Will? There is clearly something larger going on in his life, in his mind, in his heart. His absurd comments about being a “vessel of love” after having just slapped an industry colleague who was simply doing his job illustrate ego and hubris more than compassion and regret.
He’s clearly battling demons. Demons that clearly can’t be successfully chased away with fame and fortune. I hope he gets help.
To his credit, Chris Rock took the high road and Will Smith quickly became the ass. I’m guessing he’s going to be there wearing the Fresh Dunce of Bel Air cap for a while, and Chris Rock has, so far, played it brilliantly. We shall see what he does in the future, for, as Tony Soprano once reminded us, “revenge is a dish best served with cold cuts.” I think he meant, a dish served cold.
We are all wound tightly, still, after the pandemic insanity. People need to have fun, feel their feelings, but there are boundaries. The irony of the Smith-Rock Slap is that the hired fool, or joker, wasn’t the fool, Smith was.
Maybe it would have been funnier if Rock had a “slap me” note taped to his back, or a paper-cut out fish.
In any case, we are human, we are imperfect, and life is short, and there ought to be more fun and more forgiveness, and less judgment and contempt. And maybe more “snow days” in April spent at work.
Nowadays, sticking a taped note to a worker’s back is probably a violation of the HR “personal space” policy equivalent of the Geneva Convention, but in an earlier time and space in society, if we could stick a note on a coworker, maybe the note taped to their back would simply say, “let’s talk,” or “call me.”
There is always the very opportune default position of seizing the gift of communication.
Put the hands down, put the sharp objects away, stop throwing rocks.
Communicating makes us better managers.
Communicating makes us better employees.
Communicating makes us better people.
Write it down, discuss it, share it.
Sometimes Paper beats Scissors.
Copyright, 2021, Paul Fioravanti, MBA, MPA, CTP and/or Qorval Partners, LLC, all rights reserved. We can help. We’ve been transforming organizations for more than 25 years and have a proven team of subject matter experts.
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About the Author: Paul Fioravanti, MBA, MPA, CTP, is the CEO & Managing Partner of QORVAL Partners, LLC, a FL-based advisory firm (founded 1996 by Jim Malone, six-time Fortune 100/500 CEO) Qorval is a US-based turnaround, restructuring, business optimization and interim management firm. Fioravanti is a proven turnaround CEO with experience in more than 30 industries and 60 situational challenges. He earned his MBA and MPA from the University of Rhode Island, and completed advanced post-masters research in finance and marketing at Bryant University. He is a Certified Turnaround Professional and member of the Turnaround Management Association, the Private Directors Association, Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Association of Merger & Acquisition Advisors (AM&MA), the American Bankruptcy Institute, and IMCUSA.