Editor's Page

Dec. 21, 2004
Reality rituals for new hires.

I learned recently of an interesting Japanese custom: the corporate welcoming ceremony. During this function, new employees are greeted by colleagues in a ritual that exemplifies and teaches the values of the corporation. At the end of the ceremony, the newly hired feel not only a sense of community, but also of mission -- of working to achieve something beyond profits and more akin to spiritual fulfillment. This concept set me to wondering about welcoming ceremonies for the companies we work for and work with -- but with a twist. What if these companies' opening rituals emphasized not the lofty aspirations on dusty mission statements, but instead the real values by which they operate every day? To wit: The Blame Ceremony: In this ritual, managers give a new employee a task that, unknown to the employee, is rigged to fail no matter how hard he tries or how well he performs. After the predetermined disaster, his new colleagues circle like sharks and point (with both index fingers) first at him, then at each other, then at senior management, then at customers. The CYA Ceremony: In a ritual that borrows heavily from Japanese culture, new employees are instructed in how to avoid the Blame Ritual, and even work itself, by using origami-like techniques to fold multipage memos into sturdy yet flexible pairs of trousers. Properly constructed, these trousers are virtually impervious to responsibility, accountability, or even comprehension, and can provide years of comfortable, unproductive seating. The Vision Ceremony: New employees are blindfolded and led into a hot, dark room without food or water where the CEO, or an executive facsimile thereof, lectures them for 16 consecutive hours regarding the future of the company, its industry, and the CEO's stock portfolio. Any employee who inquires about the CEO's execution strategy will be labeled a malingerer and sent to remedial Blame and CYA ceremonies. The Worship Ceremony: More a six-month orientation course than a welcome, this ritual is invoked whenever a new employee prays for budget approval. Soon after, a senior executive outfitted in a Peter Pan-like flying harness crash-lands like a drunken Zeus upon the new employee's cubicle. The senior executive not only denies all funding, but also announces a reorganization, cancels all projects the employee has nearly completed, and orders that any corresponding files be destroyed. The harness then pulls the senior executive back into the rarefied, customer-free atmosphere of the executive suite until his next appearance six months later, in which all previously canceled projects are reinstated, and the now unnecessary budget is approved. By the way, he will say, where are those files? By now you've probably thought of a few welcoming ceremonies of your own. E-mail your ideas -- ceremonies you've seen or ones you'd like to see -- to me at [email protected] or fax them to my attention at 216/696-7670. And let the finger-pointing begin! Send e-mail messages to John Brandt at [email protected]

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