I ran into a friend of mine at a conference the other day. I was surprised to see her since I know that she works grueling hours as an art director. And, the impression that I’d gotten of the ad agency she works for left me with the feeling that they probably wouldn’t support a day of education out of the office. I guess I was right.

“If I thought for a moment you’d be here, I would have called,” I said. “But I didn’t think they let you out.”
“Oh I’m out,” she said, with an enormous smile on her face. “Out permanently.” “Uh-oh,” I replied.
“I’m thrilled,” she said, “that place was terrible, and it just got worse and worse. You can’t possibly thrive in an environment like that – even the fish are anemic!”
“What? Anemic fish?”

“Yes – when you walk into the office there is this big fish tank – you know the kind – it’s supposed to make you feel calm and peaceful and impress the new clients when they come in the door.

Except that the fish, those that are left – are sick. The filter’s clogged and the water’s all murky. The pretty fish all got eaten up and the ones that are left got so mean they even eat up their babies! They are all pale and look anemic. I don’t think they’re even fed enough because if you walk up to the tank to look at it, all the fish scoot up to that side of the tank and hang out there with their mouths open.”

As she went on I began to get this very vivid mental picture and then asked, “What was it like working there?” “Horrible.” She said, “In the beginning they promise you the world. They promised reasonable, family friendly hours, a review at 3 and 6 months, raises for innovating and for finding ways to help them contain costs. I delivered on my end but I was rewarded with more work, longer hours and more criticism. They don’t do anything there to sustain and nourish people!”


Or the fish either, it seems. We both looked at each other wide-eyed. The fish tank. The fish tank had become a metaphor for the whole culture. Oh my.

What do your metaphors say about your culture? Are your plants and fish and flowers and people thriving or just surviving? Are your people laughing, smiling, and leaning into each other when they talk?


Do they make eye contact and enthusiastically engage each other in discussion? Are they expressive, energetic? Do they eagerly participate in team meetings and events? Are they planning a picnic or a Halloween party? Are they working together to do something significant in your community? Are they coming up with fresh new ideas to make your business better? Are they learning and applying it?

What are YOU doing to encourage that kind of participative behavior? Do people like working there? Do people LOVE working there?

It’s September. Back to school. If your culture isn’t nourishing your customer’s positive experience, stop and consider what will. A happy engaged workforce is a darn good competitive advantage because it takes real effort and can’t easily be duplicated. A happy workforce is a force for good. They are more altruistic, they are more creative, they work well with others, and they send happy customers out into the world to sing your praises.

Take a look around – what are the fish and flowers telling you?

Have a noticeably nurturing week,


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