You may have heard the line, “Too many cooks in the kitchen.” It’s a phrase not usually offered as a positive observation when trying to reach a goal. I’m reminded of it now, in the throes of an annual collaborative effort to gather as much food as possible for people in need in my community.
This particular “kitchen” is crowded with A-type cooks. And yet it works.
I’m in my third year as part of the organizing committee for the Business Cares Food Drive in London, Ontario. It’s taken me until now to fully accept and embrace that this committee runs counter to most others I’ve experienced. While this three-week-plus sprint to raise food and donations for our local food bank has many different activities and agendas as part of it, the whole thing seems to steer itself in a common direction, driven by good feelings and genuine positive efforts.
I believe there is a strong lesson in it.
The brainchild of Wayne Dunn (current committee Chair and owner of County Heritage Forest Products in London) and Ed Holder (Member of Parliament, London West), Business Cares was born 15 years ago and has since seen all kinds of companies from this area come together to reach a common goal: feeding people in need. Wayne leads by setting the example, creating the timeline and then empowering people to run with the ball. To his credit, Wayne runs harder and faster than anyone else. But when someone comes along with a new idea that could help bolster the overall effort, not only does Wayne not micromanage them to fit the brand or to mold their efforts into the way he might do things, but he is likely to have encouraged and empowered that person or group within moments instead. By doing so, he gives these people a sense of ownership and pride in their end of it. And so they go, and it all rushes forward in a gush of hopeful inertia that concludes by feeding a lot of hungry people.
As a person who works in marketing, I sometimes get antsy sitting at the committee table as we continue to splinter off the main “brand” (Business Cares) to create other off-shoots that are smaller (but very important) parts of the bigger goal. Usually, you want to keep to one defining brand name and stick to it, otherwise you risk confusing people. But the many cooks in the Business Cares kitchen have their own unique ways of contributing and a lot of terrific sub-brands have been the result. Some examples are “Be a Fan, Bring a Can” (where sports fans are encouraged to bring food donations to the Budweiser Gardens arena prior to select dates for the IBL’s London Lightning basketball team and the OHL’s London Knights hockey team), Golfer’s Care” (a one-night event that gathers local golf enthusiasts for an evening of fundraising and entertainment) and what has come to be known as “Metro Weekend” (a two-day volunteer effort of canvassing in front of several local grocery stores). Each of these activities could be their own brands and/or stand-alone efforts in their own right. But they aren’t. It could all end up being confusing. But it isn’t. It’s all part of the machinery and magic that is the larger effort called Business Cares. And it works.
You’ll sometimes hear negative things about big business. You may hear some not-so-nice things about small business, too. And yet I believe that the world of business remains similar to people in general: most of them are good and decent. A select few sometimes cloud it for the rest. But when something like this rolls around, I’m reminded of just how kind-hearted and hard-working most people can be.
Businesses of all kinds get involved. Over 400 companies find a way to contribute what they can to Business Cares. Some challenge other industry competitors to raise the most food. Some rally their staff and adopt the cause as their own. And some simply display a poster and drop box for food. All of it is valuable.
It will all wrap up at County Heritage Forest Products on Tuesday, December 23rd. There will be last-minute cheque presentations and other eleventh-hour surprises that morning. There always are. It is, for me, one of the best parts of Christmas and a reminder that the true spirit of the season does still exist. It is genuinely heartwarming.
Wayne says that “Taking care of business means taking care of people.” Ironically, it’s people that have to take care of any business. And in this case, the businesses come together to help more people. And when those people are empowered and truly believe in what they’re doing, they work, put their egos aside, and are well-equipped to successfully arrive at a mutual, positive goal. Business Cares is proof of this, and I give Wayne Dunn and everyone who participates loads of credit for it.
In my experience, it usually doesn’t work to have “too many cooks.” But this is a crowded, happy kitchen that thrives because it’s driven by genuine good feelings and honest efforts.
You’re welcome to join us.
Please bring more food.