Wednesday, 6 June 2012

First Contact

While Global Learning will be first in line to lend a helping hand gaining equal rights for our intergalactic neighbors when that time comes, I'd like to focus on a different sort of "first contact" till that happens.

Understanding the power of first impressions is paramount in any number of crucial situations, from the first-time meeting with your soon to be in-laws to being on either side of a job interview process. With whom and how we choose to represent ourselves from first engagement can make or break a career or business before it's even off the ground.

Now, I have heard the argument (and actually agree) that “what others think of us is none of our business.” Here is a spot on article we recently aggregated and posted saying as much:
This is so true and relevant to our own personal mental health goals.

However, when it comes to business and creating your own organizational culture, I'd like to suggest the concept of caring what others think within a first contact situation is not about the individual; it's about properly representing a unified vision of organizational success that you as a business leader have created for your diverse staff.

In recent weeks I have encountered a spectrum of examples that have really resonated with me. If you have read my other blogs, you have caught on by now that I love my "real-time" examples:
  • I recently accompanied a friend to the hospital in an emergency situation. There are times when a person can simply smell the trouble in the air: a pervasive waft of confusion that coincides with a pulse of anxiety. I made my way to what seemed to be a check-in point. There was a gentleman there behind the glass partition who I'd guess was in his late-forties to mid-fifties. Before I could get the words "Hi, how are you today?" out, I was abruptly interrupted with:

"The forms are over there, fill it out, put it in the box and we'll call you.”

I responded "O.k. Great, thanks!" and proceeded to the forms. I hadn't made it two feet when I hear the gentleman utter to a nurse standing with him:

"I wish people would just read the sign.That's why it's there; so you don't bother me."

It was one of those moments as an HR professional that I had to choose to either engage or walk away. For the sake of my friend’s well-being, I chose to not respond and continued on my path to the forms. I chuckled to myself as I thought "Thank goodness I have my own pen.” 

Have no fear I wrote a lovely note to the Director of HR of the hospital. I might also add that the rest of the hospital staff was stellar and my friend is feeling much better. This gentleman is the wrong choice of staff for first contact. 

  • Straight from the files: Years ago my advice was sought in a case where an office IT trainer was found to be using racist humour in his training. The company realized there was a problem when they started using this trainer for introductory training of new hires. They saw a spike in the number of people that didn't return after the first day had increased by almost 25%. Had the company invested the time in creating a clear outline for the trainer and not just assumed that their choice would do a good job, they would have saved countless hours and resources seeking new employees.    

  •  My favourite example: I recently found myself in a pool store. No, I do not own a pool. The moment I walked in, I was greeted by a young woman, who very calmly approached and asked if I needed help finding anything. I was there with a given mission, so I told her what I needed. She directed me to exactly what I needed and then proceeded to describe to me the differences between the choices I had, without once trying to influence my decision. I ordered what I needed, she quickly instructed a fellow worker to package up my order. By the time I was done paying, I was thanked with a smile and then told to go out to my car where an attendant would be waiting with my order to help place it in my vehicle.  Now That Was Service!  What I absolutely adored about the entire experience was that every visible staff member was young. Now I don't know anything about their other staff as this isn't a store I frequently visit. So I hope the rest of their staff is multi-generational. But it was so refreshing to see a young, friendly group with a strong work ethic. I sincerely believed they cared.


Your staff should consist of individuals with a variety of personal histories that provide knowledge stemming from cultural, education and social backgrounds. It's imperative to have a team that is diverse, however it's up to you as a leader to unify their goal under your guidance.

Everything starts with a beginning and “a first impression”. Choose how you are represented and who is representing you, with pride and care.

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.
~ Henry Ford

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