How businesses can strike just the right note

The Nashua Symphony Orchestra recently had an all-Beethoven program. There is truly something inspiring about 50-plus musicians all playing the same music in the same time. As the strains of the Coriolan Overture wafted over me, I could feel the stress of a particularly grueling week melting away.

But it wasn’t just NSO music director Jonathan McPhee and his orchestra, the pleasant experience began as you entered the Keefe Auditorium. Even the ticket agents were extremely pleasant. The ushers tried to be helpful. In short, everything was as it should have been.

The second piece was Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor. For this, they brought in Virginia Eskin, a guest soloist, to play the piano. She didn’t apologize for being new; she played like part of the team.

OK, so it wasn’t the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but they were pretty darn good and a lot less hassle than getting to Symphony Hall. It was really a delightful evening, and I got to thinking – what an example for businesses to emulate.

Imagine the next time you have to call the phone company, your cable provider, your bank or any other business that serves you, just imagine if the person, who answered the phone was a conductor like Jonathan McPhee.

You see, his job is to get the very best out of each member of the orchestra, to orchestrate their performances and make sure it’s as pleasing to us as possible. If somebody makes a mistake, he can’t say, “I’m sorry but my third violinist or my oboist or even the guest soloist messed up.” None of those musicians can put on a symphony performance alone (that’s why they need so many), but any single one of them can mess it up.

Those of us in the audience wouldn’t really care. We would have a spoiled performance and knowing exactly who did it provides little comfort.

No doubt being on stage in front of everyone adds a little excitement and even pressure. These folks are trying to do their best. It’s not just the audience they don’t want to disappoint; their colleagues are depending on them and no one wants to let the orchestra down.

Loving your job

Unfortunately, a person sitting in a cubicle looking at a computer monitor and answering the phone doesn’t quite have the same ambiance or motivation. Oh, there are certainly attempts (“This call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes”) but they pale in comparison.

Even worse, how often do the cubicle dwellers get to hear resounding applause or even a standing ovation for a particularly good performance?

And that’s what so great about this example — it’s multi-dimensional. Yes, the person answering the phone is a conductor for the customer, but the CEO and the various managers are conductors as well. It’s their job, like McPhee’s, to get the very best they can out of their people, equipment, processes and supplies and to orchestrate them in such a way that they deliver superior performances.

I recently visited an organization where raises have been curtailed for five years and everyone had been recently forced to take a 10 percent pay cut. Talk about not hearing applause — these folks weren’t even getting the basics. I couldn’t help but wonder how many would leave if better jobs were available.

Cutthroat international competition and the economy are the reasons, not that this is justifiable. In too many cases, it’s squeeze cost out of the operation or shut it down. It’s a terrible choice, but if you’re caught in that position, there are no good choices. All you can do is make the very best of the least offensive.

Even so, if you decide to stay, you’ve still got to try to do your very best for the customer. Otherwise, you’re just making yourself and your organization even more uncompetitive. You may feel you don’t get paid enough to try harder, to be pleasant and to smile, but that virtually guarantees you’ll be paid even less.

I don’t know if NSO musicians are paid or how long it’s been since they’ve had raises. I have to believe they are there because they love to play. Loving your job can make a big difference in helping you do it well.

They finished up with the Symphony No. 6 in F Major (“Pastoral”). It’s a great piece, and if you’ve got a recording, you just might want to listen to it as you think about your job and career.

It was written in 1808, and we’re still listening to it. There has to be a reason!

Ronald J. Bourque is a consultant and speaker from Windham. He has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871; fax 603-894-6539;;