I believe that there is no better investment than the time spent trying to better understand the prevailing culture and management style of a company than sitting unannounced in reception. Last week’s post was about my positive experience at First Direct when Chris Pilling was CEO and he had invited me to spend a day with him and his team.
Some years ago, I was invited to give a leadership talk at Marks and Spencer (M&S), where I had worked for 10 years many years before. I had a real sense of pride and it was with great honour that I returned to the head office, Michael House in Baker Street.
I mistakenly walked into the employee’s entrance, which I had used for many years in the past. I was politely redirected to the visitor’s entrance which was two doors down. In all the years I have worked at M&S I have never experienced the visitor’s entrance.
It was now my second visit in two weeks. We had met before for a briefing meeting but again, I had to be redirected to the visitor’s entrance – old habits die hard. There was a bit of a queue, but everyone appeared to be resigned to waiting a long time.
As every visitor was called up to the desk, nothing appeared to be straightforward, and it just seemed to take forever.
Eventually they called my name, and I stepped up just like two weeks before, they seemed to want copious detail on who I was and why I was there. It started to feel like perhaps they didn’t want me there. There was no eye contact, in fact there was nothing warm about this process whatsoever.
After my 5-minute interrogation, I was sharply informed that when I had visited 2 weeks prior, I had not returned my security pass. “Have you got your security pass with you?”. I was now made to feel very guilty when I said, “no I have not”.
To my shock, the rather officious receptionist then responded curtly, “you will have to pay £10 for the replacement security pass or you can’t come in”. I was appalled and couldn’t believe how they had come to this as the appropriate outcome for either party.
I could have been a prospective employee, a valued supplier or a trusted partner, but no-one appeared to care.
As I was just about to turn around and walk out, an old colleague saw me and yelled my name. I stopped, and he came over and we spoke, I told him how gobsmacked I was with what had just happened.
He calmly went over to the receptionist and asked for her to charge the £10 to his cost centre.
An unbelievable experience.
Originally published at www.carayol.com