Never thought a friendly greeting at reception was a critical part of your business? Well, consider this: A good first impression may not generate revenue, but it does indicate whether your company can.

As a consultant, I visit two different companies monthly. Same country. Same city. Same industry. Same size. Very, very different receptions.

What Your Front Desk Says About You

At one, when I arrive, the receptionist greets me warmly with a relaxed and friendly smile. My name is taken and a phone call is made while a security badge is being prepared. By the time the call is concluded, I'm in.

At the other, my arrival feels like an inconvenience to the front desk. I can't say anything. I have to fill out a form. A call is made, but obviously goes into voicemail. Consternation. Another phone call. Some typing. Only now am I spoken to: Who are you visiting? While I wait, I notice that the security staff wear the logo not of the company I am visiting, but of the company they work for. Security has been outsourced. After half an hour, the executive I'm to meet comes to retrieve me in response to a text I've sent. I know my way to his office and could have met him there. Instead, he's wasted time fetching me. I sometimes get a badge, sometimes not.

It might not surprise you to discover that the financial results of the two companies are different too. One can get things done with efficiency and make money; the other cannot.

Though it may seem small, the reception process is representative of the culture of the company as a whole. The efficient, friendly desk is staffed by employees who now know me; the other one doesn't notice when I leave with my badge. The first makes me feel welcome and the other wastes my time with a process that has neither meaning nor effectiveness. 

What I see on the surface reflects what I've found underneath.

One of the hardest tasks as a leader is to know truly how (or whether) your organization functions. So try this test: Send a friend to meet you at your office. Ask them what the experience feels like from the moment they step in the door. And then ask yourself if that's really the message you're trying to convey. You could learn something.