“Globoforce?” asked President Obama, looking at my co-worker Roger’s t-shirt. “What does Globoforce do?”
Shaking the President’s hand, Roger grinned. “We are in the strategic recognition business.”
“Oh? What’s strategic recognition?”
“We give employees a way to thank each other when they do good work.”
“Wow,” I heard the President reply with a laugh. “Great. I need some of that.”
The Globoforce team is in Denver this week, at our summer sales meeting. I flew in Monday and was unpacking my suitcase when I got a text from my sister:
“Obama is in town.”
“He must be following us.” I sent back.
“I bet he heard you guys won Great Place to Work!” she texted.
“LOL” I replied. “Maybe he’s looking for pointers.”
Little did I know that within 24 hours, we would be shaking his hand and talking about social recognition.
You see, the next evening, we were hanging out at a company event at the Wynkoop Brewing Company, playing pool and eating dinner, when a man wearing a clear earpiece called us all to attention. The President was coming by, he said, and they would be securing the area for his visit. The next thirty minutes were a swirl of body scans, explosive-sniffing dogs and the appearance of a host of serious, burly looking fellows with sharp, alert eyes. Most of us pulled out our cell phone cameras.
Then the show arrived. First came the government aides, then a parade of media, cameras, microphone booms, then the secret service detail and finally, at long last, the smiling face of the President appeared on the stairs. He shook hands and made his way to the bar, where he first had a photo opportunity drinking a beer, and then another playing some pool with Colorado governor John Hickenlooper.
I was taken aback by the organization and preparation required for the president to enjoy a simple beer with a colleague. I’d been reading a bit lately about the President’s calling himself a “bear on the loose” and wanting to break out of the ceremony and formality and hubbub that constantly surrounds him. Now I could see why he was trying to break loose. It all felt staged and a bit inauthentic—gamed, if you will.
But what impressed me and my co-workers most was what happened afterward. About 5 minutes into the pool game, the media entourage filed out. But the game did not end. In fact, the President did not even seem to notice they’d gone. He continued on smiling, laughing and shooting pool, eating some BBQ, chatting with Hickenlooper and exchanging quips with the onlookers. (Obama won both games.)
A few faces poked out of the kitchen, and I noticed as the group of shy cooks in their kitchen whites approached the security detail and said they’d been asked to have a photo with the President. The press were long gone, but the President went over to take a photo with the employees, thanked them for the beer and food and shook their hands, chatting with them.
This was an authentic moment we witnessed, snatched from the jaws of inauthenticity and ceremony. Because the President was enjoying himself, because he was living in the moment and grateful to those who made it possible. Because his attention and his kind words gave a few kitchen workers a moment they would never forget, and because he was aware of the impact that an experience like that can have.
It reminded us, in the most powerful way, how important authenticity is. It also reminded us how critical it is for all of us to be “bears on the loose” and to reach out to connect with one another, and strive to be authentic and grateful. And how the trappings that surround appreciation—certificates, plaques, presentations—are the least important part. They are the press that get the photo op and move on. What really matters is the smiles on the faces of the kitchen crew. What matters is the moment, the words, the exchange of good will and smiles, and the lasting memory that creates.
So, President Obama. Thanks. Thanks for the handshakes and thanks for the grins. Thanks for asking about social recognition, and thanks for “getting it”. And above all, thanks for the reminder about authenticity. We really appreciated meeting you. You totally made our trip.
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