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How Caroline Nahas engages her team at Korn/Ferry Featured

10:47am EDT January 3, 2012
How Caroline Nahas engages her team at Korn/Ferry

Caroline Nahas doesn’t try to be intimidating. But it would be naïve to deny that her position has that effect on people. So when she speaks to employees at Korn/Ferry International, she works hard to be very approachable.

“People can be intimidated through absolutely nothing that you did other than you have the title,” says Nahas, office managing director of Southern California for the executive search firm. “I always think one of the greatest approaches is to sit down and say, ‘Hi, I’m interested to hear what you think.’”

Nahas leads about 150 employees that work in offices in Irvine and Los Angeles.

“Show them the respect and show them that you think their views and what they have to say is of value,” Nahas says. “There is bound to be someone, whether they come up with a right or wrong statement, someone is going to open up. And suddenly, you are getting into this dialogue and then you can ask some of the questions that you’re curious about.”

Korn/Ferry is going through a transition where clients expect the firm to have more intimate knowledge of what recruits can do and how they can address specific concerns in their business.

When your business is going through a major transformation, you need to get your employees at all levels of your organization involved in the discussion about how to address the changes.

“I might say, ‘We are going through this strategic change, and the people on the executive team are extremely excited about it for these reasons,” Nahas says. “I’m curious, what would you do if you were us to get this out to the population of the firm?’ What you have just done is show them a great deal of value. You’ve said, ‘I value your opinion.’ When you do that, you break down the barriers, but you also engage them and win them over and make them part of something rather than making them feel part of something that is being imposed on them.”

Keep in mind that just because you’ve been thinking about this change for a long time and have talked about it with your peers, others in your company may not be as familiar.

“If you’re a CEO and living this day to day and it’s sort of your overall vision, you’re very deeply steeped in the subject,” Nahas says. “Sometimes people can forget because they are so engaged in it and so enthusiastic and passionate about it, they forget that the people they are communicating to haven’t had the benefit of all that vetting, of the debating, the learning and the creating. So you just have to be more repetitive and consistent in terms of delivering that message and trying to put yourself in their shoes, three or four levels down. Make it real for them.”

Reality is another obvious but often overlooked component in communication. Just as you look for concrete evidence to see that your business is growing, your employees appreciate tangible examples to help bolster the case for whatever it is you’re telling them.

“If you tell people stories about why something has been successful, giving them real-life examples of clients who have integrated and used some of those services and how they have benefitted and how the partners or the people at Korn Ferry identified those needs within the clients is extremely impactful for helping people understand how something works,” Nahas says. “Telling them on paper or giving them theoretical ideas is not as effective as practical application and real-life examples.”

After you’ve had a good discussion with someone who you don’t normally talk to, follow up with a note to express your thanks for their time.

“Write back and say, ‘I truly appreciated the open, candid session we had,’” Nahas says. “’Your input was valuable and your active participation made a huge difference, not only in the meetings but obviously also in our company.”

How to reach: Korn/Ferry International, (310) 552-1834 or www.kornferry.com

Don’t act too soon

Caroline Nahas doesn’t face a lot of conflict in her role as office managing director of Southern California for Korn/Ferry International, where she leads about 150 employees. But when she does, she works hard to maintain a sense of impartiality.

“When you’re going to be involved in resolving conflicts with individuals, it’s very easy when the first person comes in and gives you the story; generally, that person is obviously editorializing,” Nahas says.

“It’s not that they are trying to do that. It’s just natural. They have their own view and they are very passionate about what they are raising objectives about. It’s very easy, as you’re listening to that, to get drawn into the story and to potentially show a reaction or to even prematurely make a judgment.”

If you want to maintain peace in your company, you’ll resist the urge to make that judgment before you’ve heard the other side.

“Listen, don’t render any kind of a judgment, don’t show any kind of expression that you agree or disagree,” Nahas says. “You’re just listening. This is such a great adage. There’s always two sides to the story. Often times neither one is right or wrong or they are both right and they are both wrong. But it’s absolutely critical you get all the information before you react.”