Friday, July 18, 2008

The Company Kitchen

In corporate life, I regularly collect news stories and pictures from 30 company locations in various parts of the world. I compile these bits of wisdom, inanity, and lameness into the bi-weekly Corporate News Update—a sort of half-baked electronic newsletter.

Over a three-year-period, I've discovered at least one important thing: people in Sofia, Bulgaria have drastically different views of newsworthiness than their counterparts in Chilliwack, British Columbia.

A sample of typical news headlines:

* Stream Chilliwack's 7th Annual Golf Tournament
* Velizy Site Organizes Fun for its Support Functions
* Stream Derry Takes Part in Silver Surfers' Day
* Fundraising BBQ for Camp Trillium and the Canadian Cancer Society
* The Big Chop 2008
* Gasparilla Celebration
* Stream Watertown Employee Referral Program
* Stream Watertown Fifth Anniversary Events
* Fun Team Balloon Pop
* Healthy Resolutions Fair
* Chilliwack Fun Days
* Cape Breton Stream Fun Team Hosts Childrens Holiday Party
* Christmas Chocolates in Cape Breton

Surely, you get the picture. The Fun Team Balloon Pop was a real BFD in Watertown, New York. In Helsingborg, Sweden? Not so much.

Over time, though, I came to discover the common denominator, or perhaps the universal language of corporate news. And you guessed right...FOOD!

I could not possibly tell you why someone in Nova Scotia thinks I might be interested in what they ate at the Healthy Resolutions Fair. Or Chilliwack Fun Days. Or The Big Chop 2008; however, people from Mumbai to Milan have the very same impression:

"This guy is completely queer for pictures of food taken at company events."

And so the story goes—week-to-week, month-to-month, and now year-to-year—every other Thursday, my inbox takes on the puzzling characteristics of a Tim Burton musical inspired by Betty Crocker and the fine folks at Omaha Steaks. Banquet tables tremble beneath the caloric density of hot dogs, casseroles, beans, secret family recipes, cookies shaped like animals, seasonal dips, holiday beverages, and snack cakes.

I see cafeteria tables surrounded by the ravenous locals—nervous, ghoulish, and often delirious with the joy of free food. But more than anything, I see Crock Pots!

Old ones! News ones! Fancy ones! Dirty ones! Passed-down-through-generations-ones!!

I even have a picture of Tampa's 3rd Annual Chili Cook-off. Defiantly Spartan in its simplicity, this glorious 3"x4" testament to portable cuisine shows only a banquet table, draped in vinyl cloth, nobly displaying six icons of slow-cooking convenience.

These proud warriors shout for all to hear and adore—1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th place!!

As days turned to years, these hopeful and cheery scrap-bookers, those who once cast aside puffy paint and Bedazzlers in favor of raffia-textured picture pages and neatly stacked rows of Rubbermaid craft boxes, became my tormentors; taunting me in digital images, reveling in the bounty of free food, bellowing their disdain through terrible horns of plenty, smiling for the camera just moments before the tart residue of institutional yellow mustard smothered the last stain-free stitch of a freebie t-shirt from HSBC Consumer Credit.

Until one day, a single, gleaming ray of friendship peered out from behind the cracked shell of a castaway egg at the Easter Egg-stravaganza in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa. I had taken myself too seriously for too long. The pompous spirit of self-righteous indignation was smitten and tossed away like a wet clump of paper towel.

Irresistible lullabies rang in my ears, praising the spirit of community, friendship, and company culture; calling to me loudly and clearly in the distinct phrasings of food—the international language of corporate news, the Siren Song of Sam's Club.

In the time since this fateful day, I've come to cherish our regional differences. I've refined the critic's palette, and now enjoy European cakes just as well as North American cakes. And Caribbean cakes, too! I've even devised a rating scale to score these diverse desserts on a level playing field.

In recent months, I was finally able to love these cross-functional, cross-cultural, and multi-national epicures as my brethren in the company mission; but only after first embracing them in the company kitchen.

In this shining light of togetherness, employee engagement took flight on the greased wings of one more day at the office.

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