Have you ever sat in the reception area of a company and let yourself absorb the culture of that company? Have you ever watched how the members of the company behave and checked to see whether this behavior is living evidence of the company’s brand? It was a chilly Monday morning and I arrived 15 minutes early for my meeting with the CEO so I decided to use the time to see if what the company said about its brand was brought to life by the way the employees behaved. After all, employees are the custodians of a company's brand.
You would be amazed what you can learn about an organization simply by sitting in the reception area, watching the receptionist and employees as they pass through. You can begin to see elements of the company culture and values coming through by the way people speak to each other and by their body language, tone of voice, the way they express themselves, the connectivity between people, the noise level, the level of interpersonal warmth or coolness. Sitting in the reception area you will soon be able to sense the level of energy and passion that permeates the company, the degree of corporate pride; you will soon know something about the level of professionalism and caring, about how people relate to each other, how they feel about themselves and the company.
I looked around. Plastered around the walls of the reception were several banners and beautifully framed vision and mission statements. A huge framed graphic, with many leadership and employee signatures on it, boldly pronounced the corporate values to be: building relationships, exceeding expectations; taking personal accountability and resourcefulness.
So I began to look for living evidence of these great statements, hoping that they would not turn out to be corporate value cliches of the kind that appear in Annual Reports. To my utterdelight, I soon began to see that the brand was alive and well in the way the employees behaved!
To begin with, the receptionist come out from behind the imposing reception desk and walked towards me. She said that since I was early for my meeting perhaps I would like a cup of freshly brewed coffee. I gladly accepted, upon which she disappeared and promptly returned with a cup of steaming coffee on an elegant tray bearing an elegant napkin and a small plate with 2 cookies.
She then went back to her desk to greet someone who had arrived. Just as I began to sip the coffee, the CEO’s assistant appeared through the side door, approached me and said, “Oh I see that you have already been taken care of. I am Sylvia, the CEO’s assistant. I knew you were waiting so I came to see if you would like something warm to drink.” She then checked with me that the flip chart and the laptop and LCD projector were all the equipment I needed (she had sent me an email the day before requesting to know what I required for my meeting with the CEO). This certainly exceeded my expectations!
“I love your accent,” she said. “Where are you from?” I asked her to guess, because I have an accent that most people do not easily identify. This led to a fun conversation about how British I sounded and yet I heralded from South Africa ….about what brought me to the United States… about whether there were elephants walking in the streets where I came from…This is relationship building!
She then went off saying that she would return for me in a short while. As she walked away, she turned back and suggested that she was going to prepare a copy of the organizational chart because she had a feeling that the CEO may want this for our meeting. (I was certainly going to ask the CEO if I could see an org chart!)
Being on the receiving end of branding come alive in this way, had a great impact on me. I felt energized; I felt recognized; I found myself smiling. It was a good feeling. I couldn’t help thinking how different this experience was from the meeting I had several days ago. From the moment I entered the reception area, the staff were stiff and impersonal. The employees did not communicate easily or spontaneously with each other; there was a sense of discomfort hanging in the air and evident in the body language of everyone I saw. It was as though every person I met made all the right gestures and facial expressions… but their tone of voice was flat. I had the distinct feeling that they did not really see me. I remember how de-energized I felt when I left.
Soon Sylvia was back. I followed her to the CEO’s office and as he greeted me, I knew exactly why this company’s brand was so evident in everyone’s behavior – he was a dynamic role model of all the company’s values! Everything about the CEO epitomized the corporate brand – how he was dressed, the way he treated his assistant, the way he greeted me, and his warm, engaging style of communication. Guess why he had called for this meeting - “Sandy,” he said, “Our values have created shareholder value! We have achieved our strategic goals for the year, even though it was a huge stretch! I would like to explore what we need to do to take this company to the next level!”