The Home Advantage
Before accepting any assignment, we always endeavour to spend 30 minutes in the reception of the potential client. There is no better investment than the time spent trying to better understand the prevailing culture and management style of a client we will need to hit the ground running with.
Just by sitting unannounced quietly in the reception, so many vital cultural indicators are there to be seen and observed.
Returning to the place your proud to belong to
Receptions at their best should give that affirmative emotional hit of returning home to a place you are proud to belong to. This can kick-start the positive feelings for a good day to be had by all.
It’s a bit like having home advantage at a sports event. You know and feel that most people, if not all, are on your side.
Why wouldn’t you work hard to make your reception a great place to look forward to coming back to?
There is little more informative than the arrival of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in reception. It begins to paint the rich tapestry of just how “things get done around here” – which is our definition of culture.
The Usain Bolt Entry
When the CEO arrives and only takes 15 ‘Usain Bolt’ type seconds to cross the reception, because they are staring so intensely at their mobile phone, with no time or attention for anything or anyone else. They soon disappear into the lift, and again, with no eye contact and just lost in the endless emails that they should have never have been copied on in the first place. Whilst wasting no time at all, it also sends a particularly strong message about the culture of the organisation.
The Opposite Entry
There is an opposite approach from very different CEOs. It might take them a full 10 to 15 minutes to cross the reception.
They tend to know everyone’s first names, they are hugely curious about all the people that work for them and they make a point of stopping for little chats with people they meet on the way to the lifts. “Margaret how was David’s graduation party?”. “Michael how was your wife’s operation?”. They seemed to have time for everyone, but it is far more than that.
Leadership is not a task, it is a mindset.
And when we are thinking leadership, we are always thinking people. These CEOs are giving a very strong message on what their priorities are.
Too busy to lead
So many senior executives plea that they are just far too busy to take on the (extra) burden of leadership. This is so wrong headed. You don’t make time for leadership, you live leadership. It’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are.
Back to our user-friendly CEO’s, as they hit the lift they are still initiating conversations, and again, endlessly curious about how their people feel.
Going the Extra Smile
When Chris Pilling was the CEO of First Direct Bank, he invited me to come and spend a day with him and his team, in order to prepare me to facilitate and speak at their annual conference.
It was a long and early drive from my home in London up to the city of Leeds in Yorkshire, in the North of England. At the time, Leeds was the fastest growing city in the UK, with a concentration of financial services businesses which were tapping into the young and well-educated talent that were being produced by the local schools and first-class universities in the area.
“I’ve got a parking space for you”
I arrived 20 minutes early, and as I drove into the car park, the parking official came out of his cabin to greet us. As we started speaking, he looked at me squarely in the face and said, “You’re René Carayol”. This threw me, and he smiled and I smiled back, as I said “yes”. He was warm and sincere and said helpfully, “I have got a parking space for you”. I smiled in return and he beckoned the car to follow him, he raised the barrier and shouted, “follow me, I will take you there”.
He had gone out of his way to not just show me where to park, he took me there and he was very happy to have done so.
Guess what mood I was in?
Passionate Employee or Corporate Culture
This rarely happens, but was this just a really passionate employee who loves their job, or was this the corporate culture?
I walked down to the reception, and the glass sliding doors opened as I walked up to let me in from the swirling wind. As soon as I stepped inside, one of the three girls at reception smiled, “good morning René”. Again, I was speechless. She smiled, and said, “welcome to First Direct”.
Two simple unsolicited interventions had put me in the best of moods.
She came from behind the reception and said “grab a seat and I will call Chris”. I sat down, and noted that she had called the CEO, Chris. Why was I so surprised?
Welcoming of Beginnings
Within 2 – 3 minutes down came Chris. Not his PA, not an assistant, but Chris the CEO. He came straight up to me, shook my hand, gave me my security badge, and asked me to follow him upstairs.
At the time, this was not an earth-shattering experience, but it was the most welcoming of beginnings to a day.
It must be over 10 years ago now, and I can remember it like it was yesterday.
It said everything about the culture I was about to experience throughout the rest of my day with First Direct.