I feel assaulted by the daily headlines. The litany of sickness, death, layoffs, food lines, bankruptcies and partisan bickering drags me down. To make things worse, most of my professional discussions these days focus on the difficulties of reopening, the pain and complexity of layoffs and the sad reality of how long it might be before we return to any kind of “normal.”
I get most anxious when I try to imagine what life will be like in six or 12 months. My scenarios range from happily sitting in a packed baseball stadium, to navigating National Guard troops posted at Walmart to ensuring we don’t kill each other over hamburger meat.
It’s hard to find good news, and it’s hard to remember that most people in our country are kindhearted and compassionate. We truly want to help each other, regardless of how anyone feels about wearing a face mask.
So, I was pleased when a friend shared a tale of a small act of kindness. It reminded me of the enormous power that small gestures can still have in creating goodwill.
First, a little background on my friend. He happens to be blessed with the gift of affability. He is charming, self-effacing and incredibly smart.
Not surprisingly, he is also a successful executive, and he now serves as the chief communications officer of a global corporation. When I had lunch with him last year in the company’s corporate cafeteria, I felt like I was dining with the mayor of a small city. People stopped us at the salad bar, the soda dispenser and the hot food line to make small talk with my friend, all of whom knew his name and lit up upon seeing him.
But the most convivial banter happened between my friend and the cooking crew that worked the grill. They knew exactly what he wanted for lunch, and how he wanted it prepared. They peppered him with playful barbs while grilling his salmon exactly as he liked it. There were smiles all around.
My friend told me that when the company had to shut down its headquarters due to COVID-19, it became clear that the kitchen staff would be laid off abruptly, because they worked for an outside contractor and were not corporate employees.
He told me that when the CEO discovered this news, he called the catering company and told them to keep the kitchen staff on the payroll, and that the company would find a way to compensate them.
As he recounted this story, my friend’s voice swelled with pride, and he abashedly said that it brings tears to his eyes every time he tells it. News of this gesture spread quickly throughout the headquarters, and it spoke more about the values and heart of the company’s management team than any corporate message could possibly convey.
Small gestures matter, especially when they resonate personally.
I’ve always thought that one of the greatest public relations moves was made by Arte Moreno, who bought the California Angels baseball team from Disney in 2003. One of Moreno’s first decisions was to cut the price of beer at the ballpark by 15%. He accomplished many other milestones, including winning a World Series championship, but in my opinion, nothing earned him more goodwill than cutting the price of a cold beer at the stadium.
When I think of a CEO taking care of the kitchen staff, or the price of a beer actually going down at a baseball stadium, I feel a little more optimistic about our future.
At least for a moment.