A good first impression can work wonders.
~J. K. Rowling
First impressions matter. A lot.
Our parents told us this and we tell it to our kids. We practice it in our professional lives — putting on a suit when meeting with an important client — and some consultants have made an entire career helping individuals craft first impressions. At an institutional scale, organizations can struggle to ensure that employees cultivate these positive moments.
That is why a gigantic smile came across my face this winter when I walked through the front doors of Boston College’s Cadigan Alumni Center and met Maureen McGrail, Director of First Impressions. Like our reactions when meeting new people, we begin to form impressions as soon as we begin to interact with an organization. James Uleman, PhD, a psychology professor at New York University and researcher on impression management shared in a 2012 American Psychological Association article, “In spite of the congeniality of many professional gatherings, judgments are being made and impressions formed all the time.”
In my various leadership roles, I often thought about the first impressions that our organization gave to constituency groups, from potential clients to potential donors to potential employees. Sometimes the changes were small, but other times we gave it more deliberation, time, and resources, like updating branding to better reflect our organizational identity. Yet, the most important work we did about cultivating good first impressions was working with our staff to welcome guests.
BC isn’t the only place in the world to replace the title of “Receptionist” with the title of “Director of First Impressions,” but the way Maureen lives into her title stands distinctly alone.
I had arrived at Boston College a bit early for a meeting with Jim Husson, BC’s Senior Vice President for University Advancement. Jim and I were introduced by a mutual friend several years ago. Since that time, he has been a source of invaluable advice and guidance (Jim also has a fantastic social media presence as he chronicles his travels engaging with BC alumni and donors).
Maureen struck up a conversation with me in the ten minutes before my meeting. In the little bit of time we spent together, we fell into a fascinating conversation that stood in contrast to the dull, grey sunlight spilling in through the large windows by her desk. Without really meaning to, I learned a lot about Boston College and about Maureen’s passion for BC. I also watched the grace with which Maureen engaged with members of the development and alumni relations staff. She asked me questions in a way that were inviting but not intrusive. Every moment of that time with Maureen spoke to the values of Boston College and the way BC wants to welcome its graduates back to campus. I cannot think of a better way to return to one’s alma mater than to see Maureen’s welcoming smile while walking through the doors of the Cadigan Alumni Center.
What I took away from my meeting with Jim that morning was useful, but it was far less valuable than the lesson he taught me through Maureen’s voice. Her title wasn’t the result of an institutional mandate or part of a trend toward inflated job titles. It was the result of a gifted leader understanding the importance of every staff member. I could share the wonderful story Maureen told me about the day Jim presented her with the “Director of First Impressions” nameplate, but I wouldn’t do it justice. You should find out for yourself.
Suffice it to say the nameplate and the way it ended up on her desk says a lot about Maureen. It also speaks to Jim’s leadership and the culture of joyful engagement Jim has built with his team. If you have the chance, visit Maureen. I’m confident it will be a wonderful first impression whether it is your first time on BC’s campus or if it is your first time back as a graduate.
Organizational Sustainability Consulting supports the efforts of leaders and board members at independent schools, colleges and universities, membership organizations, and other nonprofits. Ari’s consulting work draws upon considerable experience in nonprofit leadership and governance using a lens of mission-driven, data-informed decision making. He is a collaborative partner with demonstrated strengths in change leadership and group process. Ari combines broadly applicable nonprofit experience in areas such as governance, leadership development, fundraising, strategic planning, and branding with education-specific expertise in areas including enrollment management and integrated curricular design.