Trainer's Diary: First Impressions Count

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Byron KaliesIf you are planning on working for a new organisation, how can you get a feel for its culture beyond the glossy brochures and PR-driven website? Byron Kalies can start to read the signs just as soon as he enters the building.

How do you work out the culture of the organisation you’re working in? What are those tell-tail signs that indicate it’s going to be hard work or fun? You can spot the signs way before you begin training. Sometimes you can get a sense of the organisation before you enter the building.

Let me explain. I worked with a consultant, Dave Hall a number of years ago. It had never met him and new arranged to meet in my office. I met him and asked if he’d like me to tell him about the culture of our organisation.

“No need,” he said. "I’ve a pretty good idea already.” I looked suitably surprised.
“There a lot in your mission, vision and values booklet about meeting the needs of the customer. However I’ve had to spend 10 minutes explaining who I was to the security guards before I was let through the gate. Then I had a half-mile walk, in the rain, to the main building. I’ve had to walk past a number of expensive cars – I guess they’re senior managers parked very near the front door. I then met more security staff. I was told to wait in a cold room with nothing to read, no coffee. I was told nothing until you turned up. Yes I’ve some understanding of your culture.”

He told me of a meeting had had the previous week with a client. As he approached the car park he was met by security. Instead of interrogating him they directed him to the parking area (close to the building). He was met by a secretary who apologised that the CEO he was meeting was running late and asked would he mind waiting in an office? He was supplied newspapers, magazines and coffee (milk, no sugar). The secretary had phoned Dave’s secretary and asked her what the registration number of Dave’s car was, a brief description of Dave and how he took his coffee.

I use this illustration frequently on first meetings and try to add a few observations of my own. It does give you an insight into the organisation if you keep you’re eyes open. Look for broken windows, notices out of date, neglected paintwork. This can often give you a feel for the attention to detail in the business. It is all useful evidence but it is just a start though. Talk to people, look and remember.

I was talking with a lecturer at Henley who reckoned he could spot delegates from the private or public sector by the way they walked. He maintained that the government delegates sloped in to the training room with hunched shoulders and an air of despondency. He was over elaborating to make a point, but he was right identifying 16 of the 20 delegates accurately.

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