Matt Larson is the CEO of Exterior Light Inc. a company that manufactures and installs external lighting for municipalities, malls, and athletic stadiums. Working closely with Helen Ono, the vice president of administration and human resources, he organizes a company picnic every summer. The tradition has endured for 25 years.

Four hundred of the company’s 440 people attended the picnic this year, held at Larson’s summer home on lakefront property. The picnic

facilities featured a volleyball area, a 22-foot inflatable slide, pony rides, face painters, temporary tattoos, miniature golf, an open beer- and-wine bar for adults, and a fully stocked Good Humour truck. Larson, Ono, and the other corporate officials worked the grill, which included meat products and vegetarian choices. According to the accounting department, the picnic cost $49,000 including reimbursed travel costs for employees working in field locations.

Perry Sanders, an accounts payable specialist attending the picnic, commented to Larson, “Geez Matt, I hope you and the other four hundred people stuffing themselves today are getting a bang for the buck.  Today’s fun willprobably run a tab of $49,000.  Those buckswould look pretty good if they were used to fatten our bottom line.”

Larson   retorted, “Perry, take   off   your accountant’s hat for a few moments.  Our annual picnic sends a clear signal that it’s part of our culture to treat people well, and for ouremployees to work together in a friendly, cooperative environment.”

After the last guest had left, Larson and Sanders chatted about the value of the picnic some more; they were joined by Ono. When she heard about the challenge to the picnic, she chimed in.

“I’m a human resource professional, not a drum- beater for the company picnic, and I like Matt’s

point about the picnic communicating the culture. Setting up lighting systems requires a lot of cooperation across department and geographic lines. Seeing so many of your colleagues in personcreates a culture of cooperation and teamwork.” Barbara Lyons, the  director  of  marketing, said, “I saw a little of this friendliness go too far. The open bar led to too much random hugging, kissing, and patting. If you get sexually harassed at a company picnic, it is as serious as harassment in the office.”

Ono replied, “Good point Barbara. I think Iknow who you are talking about. Some of our

field technicians get a little too macho at the picnic. We’ll have to send out a polite reminder before next year’s picnic.”

Larson rested his chin on the thumb of a clenched fist and said, “So you folks think there might be less expensive and time-consuming ways of communicating our culture of caring andteamwork? Let’s leave the door open on this topic and return to it at a staff meeting.”

Sanders said, “I don’t want to be the Abominable No Man, but we need to calculate the

return on investment from these picnics.  Are we getting a cultural bang for the buck?”

Discussion Questions

  1. Do Sanders, Ono, and Lyons have the right to challenge the annual picnic’s value in communicating the corporate culture values?
  2. How would company management at Exterior Lighting know whether the picnic was an effective way of communicating the cultural values of caring for people and teamwork?
  3. What, if anything, should management do about possible sexual harassment at the company picnic?
  4. Aside from a picnic, how might top management communicate the company’s culture?

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