First impressions on the company's front line

ABOUT 20 people, employed mostly in management training, work in the Palo Alto, California, offices of the Tom Peters Group - or TPG, as we call it.

I like my colleagues. And, since I spend lots of time these days at my home in Vermont, I am always pleasantly surprised at how nice it is to be back around "the gang".

This is no advertisement. We have good days. We have bad days. We win business that we deserve to win, and lose business we deserve to lose. We also get a little that we don't deserve, and lose a little that by all rights should have been ours.

But one thing is for sure: our staff is loaded with CVs to die for. We are "professional" to a fault. Our core customers tend to be big and conservative companies - rather amazing, given that I have attacked most of them in this space.

And there is Leslie McKee, the receptionist. I have never seen her CV. She may well have a PhD. in nuclear physics. Or she may not have made it through primary school. But she has taken our company and turned it around.

That's right, our receptionist is a genuine turnaround artist. You see, Leslie is upbeat, courteous, funny, patient, upstanding, professional, smart, helpful and sometimes outrageous.

I don't know what our official "core values" are. We've never written them down. (Whoops.) But I know what they are unofficially. They are Leslie.

Clients love her, and she, of course, is our Commander-in-Chief of Client Service. Among other things, she takes most incoming calls, so to be TPG'd is really to be Leslie'd. Here is her customer service magic:

o Her manner - energetically cheerful is the best I can do - gives us a foot in the door with whoever is calling.

o She's meticulous. Leslie makes sure you end up talking to the right person (no small thing), or are otherwise handled efficiently and effectively - and feel good about it (even if the one you wanted is "out of town for the next month" but can be heard screaming "No, no, no" in the background).

o Once a week or more, it seems, she takes some amazing personal initiative to research something for a client. Often as not, it is unrelated to anything we do; it's just plain helpfulness. (Reading "Leslie letters" from clients eats up a lot of my time these days.)

And that's just the external stuff, exceptional as it is. The internal is even better. Leslie is a one-person cheerleader for life. Honestly, it's impossible to feel sorry for yourself (a habit we self-important professionals have in spades) after you get 30 seconds or more of "Leslie- ing".

American football commentator John Madden said that when he was a manager, and the pressure got to him, he liked to hang out with the players from the front line - just being around them made him feel better.

That's Leslie: when I'm having a crummy day, after my umpteenth unexplained flight delay, I sometimes call just to hear her hello.)

OK, I'll knock it off. Believe it or not, this column is not meant to sing Leslie's praises. I tell her in person, not via the newspaper. Instead it is a very practical reminder of three important points: 1) What an enormous difference one person can make in the spirit of an organisation; 2) That energy and enthusiasm really are "everything" and have little to do with job titles (unless they are in inverse proportion to one's stature, a thought that sometimes crosses my mind); and 3) That a receptionist is probably the most important person in your company, in terms of tone. After all, first impressions are everything, right? (Even for "insiders" - after all, she's the first employee you see at the start of the day.)

Look, we've had a receptionist or four at our place. Everybody these days wants to grow up to be in charge and quickly move beyond the job. Sometimes, between "permanent" receptionists, we've gone nuts. A different temp every two days; everything is screwed up; everybody's out of sorts; customers are on our case. (They have this rotten habit of expecting us to live up to what I write about.) My instinct: "Good heavens, just hire somebody."

It's a natural reaction, and a lousy one. "Just hire somebody" is in general a bad idea, and especially when relative to "mundane" positions. I'm sure lots of you give lip service to "receptionists are really important". I always did. Even in speeches. But in truth, I didn't have an inkling of how important that receptionist could be.

Thanks for the lesson, Leslie. Which is, (a) there really are a lot of things they don't teach you at Harvard Business School, and (b) take as much care in hiring your next receptionist as you do, say, a vice-president.

Who knows? If you're patient enough, maybe you, too, can find a turnaround artist.

TPG Communications

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Technical Software Consultant (Excel, VBA, SQL, JAVA, Oracle)

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: You will not be expected to hav...

SQL DBA/Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL DBA/Developer SQL, C#, VBA, Data Warehousi...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering