All business is personal. Though a shopworn cliche, we all nod in sage agreement upon hearing this proverb of commerce. Yet in the next breath we laud every corporate action that objectifies its workers and clients. This company pays bonuses to customer service reps based on how quickly they get clients off the phone. That one forces line workers to sacrifice pensions and tells management that training updates are frivolous expenses. Somehow, we believe the theory, just not the practice.
Karen Nathan, founder of Olivine Consulting in Lawrenceville, is stepping forward to show that if you value your bottom line, you had better keep the personal connection in the process. Nathan will present “Outperforming Your Competition by Actively Engaging Your Employees and Clients” on Friday, December 17, at 12:30 p.m. at Mediterra Restaurant. Cost $30. Visit www.gothamnetworking.com.
Nathan began her training in the sciences, yet switched toward becoming a people professional — disciplines that are not mutually exclusive, she assures us. Raised in Providence, Rhode Island, with a registered nurse mother and an aeronautical engineer father, the concept of having a “rocket scientists dad” delighted her. She attended Bryn Mawr College, graduating in 1995 with a bachelor’s in biology.
Then after her initial experience in the workplace, Nathan returned to take her master’s in adult education from Rutgers with a minor in training and performance management. In 2008 she opened her consulting business, which she designed to help businesses comfortably and profitably adopt more environmentally sustainable practices.
Nathan named her firm Olivine after the bright green stone brought to earth by meteors. The glow of this stone may be seen in its gem-form, peridot, a sample of which Nathan often wears.
In 2011 Nathan will take over the role of general coordinator for Gotham Networking’s Princeton Chapter. Gotham is a New York-based networking group that espouses the motto “We are all non-salaried, noncommissioned salespeople for each other.” Its members view each other as tightly tied, a friendly club of folks who happen to be in business.
“We are not at all like most networking groups, people here connect to find ideal vacation spots just as much as marketers for their product,” says Nathan. Founded in 1997 in Manhattan by Fred Klein and Nancy Schess, the group continues its stated goal of forging “a virtually cost-free partnership steeped in the spirit of fraternity, with a genuine concern for the welfare of our fellow networkers and the world.”
“Engaging clients and employees doesn’t involve some complex, corporate construction,” Nathan says. “It entails merely remembering that you’re human.”
Leader to employee. On the job, production is all a question of environs. All employers realize they cannot expect optimum performance from people laboring under leaky steam pipes. Most now recognize that bullying, harassment, and bureaucratic fiefdoms are equally stymying. But Nathan urges employers to get beyond the mere removal of these negative blockages, and personally work with individual employees to create an emotionally positive work environment.
“Engagement is a one-on-one process in which the employer makes each member of the team feel valued and approved,” says Nathan. She is not calling for ceaseless compliments, but rather precisely directed guidance. The first step involves daily informing the team of the whole project and keeping their eyes on that prize. Then with this goal in mind, each individual must feel that his part is vital to completion — and that his whole team is counting on him. That is what gets employees saying that they will lock up after the boss leaves.
Beyond the personal interaction with the team, Nathan notes that employers and supervisors must transform themselves into identifiable leaders. “You have to establish yourself as a trustworthy person,” she says. This involves all the timehonored rules: don’t silo information or hold secret meetings, but do make only promises you can keep — then keep them. “But the most important aspect — and the biggest hurdle for most employers — is to show your concern for your employees is dominant,” says Nathan.
One business owner was heard to remark, “I feel like I am always training my people to move on to some better job — and most of them do.” “Then you must be doing it right,” responded his coach.
Touching the clients. If you are doing it right and your employees feel that you have set them on some kind of fast track, they will become your best possible spokespeople. This enthusiasm is reflected far beyond the company’s actual client list. One John Deere executive who had risen from the secretarial ranks under the careful tutelage of her supervisors could be heard, somewhat ad nauseum, to sing her firm’s products’ praises whenever a tractor was spied. It was natural. Human. Perhaps a bit annoying, but it created the most ideal branding possible.
“We now have ways to deal with clients more interactively than ever before,” says Nathan. “But few companies take full advantage.” Using blogs, E-mail, and social media, companies may now challenge clients to improve the products they use. Many business owners avoid such interaction because, frankly, they do not comprehend the motivation behind this burgeoning phenomenon.
An individual may take 10 air flights a year and buy half a dozen garden tools. Like most people, he really doesn’t want to chat with either company, he just wants to get to his destination and to hoe his garden. However, such attitudes increasingly are being nudged into a minority. Why? “It has nothing to do with boredom,” explains Nathan. “People visit, talk, and express their views on company websites for one major reason: they believe the company will answer them.”
In a world in which neighbors, government, and businesses seems to not be answering, the company-to-client response blows in like fresh air. Like all of Nathan’s rules of engagement, it simply involves being human. As my interview with Gotham Networking’s new general coordinator came to an end, I expressed a need in my business, and she responded with a name. It may or may not work out. But either way, it was nice to be acknowledged, and nice to have someone answer me.