Episode Description

Creating Virtual Connection with Clients: With Tamara Nall

The majority of our work is done remotely and the majority of our interactions are done virtually these days. Most people are really longing for in-person interactions, and my guest today is one of them.

Welcome to The Frame of Mind Coaching™ Podcast! With me today is Tamara Nall. She is the CEO and Founder of The Leading Niche, a consulting firm that helps clients with data analytics and machine learning.

Tamara’s greatest challenge right now is developing virtual intimacy between her team and clients. Even though everyone is used to working from home, she misses in-person meetings and water cooler talk. But that same kind of intimacy can be created virtually as well.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Kim Ades: Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I'm the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching and the Co-founder of The Journal That Talks Back. I am super excited that you have joined us today, and I'm very looking forward to introducing you to our guest today. Her name is Tamara Nall and she is the President and Founder of a company called The Leading Niche. Tamara, welcome.

[00:00:31] Tamara Hall: Thank you, Kim. Happy to be here.

[00:00:33] Kim Ades: So, you come to us from Arlington, Virginia.

[00:00:37] Tamara Hall: That's right. I am located in the DMV, which is the heart of federal contracting, which is a hundred percent what our business does is to actually work with federal agencies, to help them meet their mission.

[00:00:51] Kim Ades: Okay. So, tell us a little bit about that. What does that mean? I know that you're into data analytics. So, tell us a little bit more about what that is all about. Who's your typical client? What do you do for them? Just give us a bit of an intro to you.

[00:01:05] Tamara Hall: Yeah, sure! So a little bit about myself and the company. So, my name is Dr. Tamara Nall, I am located in Arlington, Virginia. I tell people I've had two jobs in my life. One is starting and growing The Leading Niche, which is my company. And then I worked for a large management consulting firm out of New York for almost a decade, where I led a lot of major engagements in healthcare.

And The Leading Niche, we are a federal contractor. Our clients are federal, civilian and defense agencies, and we help them with their mission, primarily around data analytics and machine learning. So, we build algorithms to look at both structured and unstructured data and to help them, you know, if there is an examination, to help with the examination.

We do a lot of work in public health and looking at trends around, you know, we're in the COVID pandemic now, so, we're at the heart of that around anything and all things, public health. So, we have employees across about 12 different states, we've done work in over almost 20 other countries outside of the US. And so, it's expansive and everyday I wake up, I'm just really excited to know that I employ folks that are a part of our team TLN family and are working to make the lives easier of our federal agency customers.

[00:02:35] Kim Ades: So, tell us about your team. How many people are on the team?

[00:02:39] Tamara Hall: So, we are about 40 employees across 12 different states.

[00:02:45] Kim Ades: Okay, great. Amazing. And they are all involved in the delivery of service and data analytics to your client base. Yes?

[00:02:56] Tamara Hall: That is correct.

[00:02:57] Kim Ades: Okay, amazing. And how long have you been running your company for?

[00:03:05] Tamara Hall: So, I have had the company since 2007. So if we're into 2022, that's we're going up on our 15th year and we've been in the federal government, I would say for about a decade. Prior to that, we worked in the private sector, and really worked for a lot of international customers. In fact, I incorporated, and we worked internationally. We worked in west Africa for some banks for some time and we actually beat a lot of larger companies that are some top 4 consulting names, and we beat them based on our commitment to hire locally and to build capacity.

So, we weren't just a consulting firm that was going in and doing the work and leaving. We actually built capacity. And so, therefore locally, they would have personnel that continue and integrate within the bank, for instance.

[00:03:58] Kim Ades: Very, very interesting. Yeah. So tell us, what is your greatest challenge? Let's talk about that.

[00:04:05] Tamara Hall: Yeah. So, my greatest challenge right now is the fact that because we have so many employees across so many different locations, I mean, right now everyone's working remotely because of COVID. But even before COVID, many people, some of them had work schedules where they could work from home for a couple of days and then had to go to the customer site.

And so, for me, my biggest challenge is this kind of culture-- well, we have a great culture, but having the same, or as close to feel when people would go into an office all together. And, you know, we have so many different events, employee of the month, we celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, in the unfortunate situation someone passes away, we'll donate to an organization or we will help with the repass. We have team leads, we give bonuses, we have great benefits.

But there's still this, you know, kind of do your work and being isolated, particularly for the one employee that might be in Florida or the two that are in California. And then we have a number who are in the DMV area and a number who are in Atlanta, Georgia. But there are some locations where we might only have one or two, and right now everybody's working from home. So, really trying to build that, that culture where people kind of have the same comradery among everyone.

[00:05:29] Kim Ades: Yes. So, let me ask you a question. You're trying to, not recreate, but create an environment that's similar virtually to the environment that you would have in person. Yes?

[00:05:43] Tamara Hall: That's correct. The water cooler talk and all of that, yeah.

[00:05:46] Kim Ades: So, I want you to describe it a little bit. What do you after exactly? Define it. You said, "well, water cooler talk", but what happens at the water cooler? What's happening in person that isn't happening out there? I'm just trying to define it a little bit more so that we can understand what you're feeling is missing.

[00:06:07] Tamara Hall: Right. I feel, you know, whenever you're in person, there are some personal conversations that take place, there's a lingering, there is laughter [laughs], it's kind of like this house with furniture in it versus a house with furniture and people in it. You know, that's kind of where I was like, you think about are, if you have a parent who, you know, they play with their children and all that until the certain age, then they become teenagers when they go to their rooms, right?

And they might congregate a little bit for dinner. But then as soon as dinner is over, they kind of go into their rooms. So, it's kind of like that family camaraderie, let's do more than just business, let's get together and just kind of have small talk so that people feel like they're a part of a family.

And people say that they're a part of the team TLN, and I understand that there's a lot going on and so much tragedy with COVID, but it's kind of an intangible feeling and it might be maybe I'm overthinking this and it's just a CEO Tamara thing, but it's kind of that family warm, fuzzy feeling...

[00:07:21] Kim Ades: Yep.

[00:07:22] Tamara Hall: ...that I would like to have.

[00:07:25] Kim Ades: Okay. And I think I understand that you've tried everything, is that right? Everyone's giving you all kinds of advice and all kinds of ideas to try, but it seems to still be missing. Is that accurate?

[00:07:38] Tamara Hall: Yes. I've asked a lot of people, I've read a lot of books, I've talked to people who are experts and everyone says, "oh, I have the thing", and it's not that we've tried it, we're doing it. Like, no one can give me something that we're not doing.

[00:07:50] Kim Ades: Okay. So, I'm going to share with you something, and I don't know that this is the answer, but I'll just share with you something that's really, really interesting in my world, and we're going to see if we can transfer it to your world. Okay?

So, I run a coaching company and I run a different kind of coaching company, like, philosophically it's different, because I view the client-coach relationship very differently than most other coaching entities. Okay? And so, one of our primary values, like, we have five core values and one of them is intimacy. And that's what you're talking about. You're talking about intimacy.

[00:08:30] Tamara Hall: Yes.

[00:08:31] Kim Ades: And so, the question becomes, how do we create intimacy virtually? Right? That's your question.

[00:08:37] Tamara Hall: Yeah.

[00:08:37] Kim Ades: And so, in the coaching world, from my perspective, the relationship between the coach and the client is what we are trying to create, that intimacy, and when that relationship is intimate, the client travels very, very far in a short period of time. So, what are the elements of intimacy? What creates intimacy? And again, I'm just sharing what we do and I want to see if we can pick through and translate it to you.

So, one of the things we do is we have a call every week and we record the calls. And part of the reason we record the calls is we want our clients to listen to the recordings so that they could get a double dose of coaching, but they could also start to hear themselves and how they show up. So, I'm just going to lay it out and then we're going to find things from this that we can recreate. Okay?

So, number one, we record the calls. Number two is we ask our clients to journal with their coach in a private insecure online journal, every single day. So they go onto this platform, they pick a journaling prompt, or they don't pick, we give them a journaling prompts, and then they journal. And every time they journal their coach reads and responds to their journal, so they're in contact with their coach, every single day. Even on the weekends, no days off.

So there's frequency of contact, there's depth. So they're talking about deep things, right? We're asking them about their past, about their history, about the way they operate, the way they think about things, about their relationships, all the deep stuff.

But one of the things that we do with our coaches is we ask them to also be present. So when I'm coaching someone, they have an impact on me. It's not just that I'm impacting them, they are impacting me, and I share how they're impacting me.

So, let's kind of step back from all of this and identify some of the interesting pieces because honestly, one of the foundations of our coaching program is that family feel, that intimacy, that banter you're after, between coach and client.

And so, very often our coach will reach out with a joke or a funny text or something like that. But they've created the environment for that to happen. Does that make sense?

[00:11:01] Tamara Hall: Very much.

[00:11:02] Kim Ades: Okay. So now the question becomes, how do we create that environment for you? What are the pieces that we need to have in place? And so, you know, you could definitely, and we can help you with that, you can definitely create a journaling environment where people are exploring their own personal stuff with each other. Right?

So, you might ask a journaling question and it could be something as simple as "when you were young, what was the song that your parents use to put you to sleep?" And everybody chimes in. Right? Because that's not what we're talking about at work, that's not what we're talking about in these meetings, but there's a journaling space and it gives us an opportunity to learn about each other. But that means you have to chime in too, you have to participate. I'm just giving you something off the top of my head that you can use.

The other piece is to capture moments that are interesting, funny, intimate, storytelling through video and send it back out to them so that they can relive those moments. Right? I have five kids and one of the most amazing things is when we're not looking, they're videotaping us. So that when they think their parents are being funny, they're capturing it on video, and what do you know, a year later they're sending it back to us. "Oh, remember when mom and dad did this?" Right?

[00:12:22] Tamara Hall: Yeah.

[00:12:22] Kim Ades: And so, what you want to do is capture those moments and share it back with them. So, what we're really trying to do is create an environment where there's frequency of contact, discussion of things that are not work-related, and the capturing of those magical moments to replay them. What do you think about that?

[00:12:46] Tamara Hall: No, I do like that. I mean, we do have a-- if I had to think about your kind of coach scenario. We do have a service delivery manager that reaches out to them, but it's mostly about... Other than birthdays and some of these life events, it's mostly about work. And if there was some way to do it among themselves and not just him to them, but them to them, that would be very, very helpful. And I do like the whole idea of storytelling.

[00:13:18] Kim Ades: So, one of the things that, and I'm happy to do this off the podcast, but sharing with you how we get people to journal together to create that environment, that sharing community. Right? Where they're sharing things. And it doesn't have to be so like deep, dark, and, you know, we don't have to like bring up everybody's baggage, but it could be fun, it could be light, it could be really playful.

But it gives people insight to one another and allows people to have something to talk about, something to have fun with, something to laugh about, right?

[00:13:50] Tamara Hall: Right.

[00:13:50] Kim Ades: So, we can create that and, again, capturing those experiences. So, when you have a Christmas party, you're replaying those funny conversations, those stories, those jokes, those moments, those funny quotes that somebody is saying, and that's how you're building the culture.

[00:14:07] Tamara Hall: I like that.

[00:14:09] Kim Ades: You see, part of what we think as leaders is "it's my job to build culture, so I have to do all these things to build the culture". And what we really need to do is create an environment and invite people to the table. And very often the environment isn't quite right. It's kind of like gardening, right? Like, if your soil isn't right, if your environment isn't right, your flowers aren't going to bloom. And so, you need to create the right environment. And that's really the recommendation for you.

[00:14:40] Tamara Hall: I like that.

[00:14:42] Kim Ades: Make it appropriate to be inappropriate. And by inappropriate I mean it's appropriate to talk about what you ate for lunch or the party you had on the weekend, as opposed to, it's not appropriate to talk about things that are not work-related. Do you know what I'm saying?

[00:14:59] Tamara Hall: Yeah. And we do have a lot of personal conversations, but it's around like the holiday party or the summer event or, you know, that have all turned virtual now, but I guess some of those moments in between would be helpful.

[00:15:14] Kim Ades: Well, and it's also asking questions that are not necessarily timely, if that makes any sense.

[00:15:21] Tamara Hall: Right.

[00:15:22] Kim Ades: Right? Because what we're asking about is "what'd you do last weekend? What are you planning for the holidays?" Those are all like your traditional kind of surface level questions. And perhaps you want to ask questions that come to them out of the blue, right?

[00:15:36] Tamara Hall: Right.

[00:15:37] Kim Ades: Like, how do you put your socks on? How do you put your socks and shoes on? Do you put one sock on at a time? Or one shoe, one sock? Well, one sock, one shoe.

[00:15:47] Tamara Hall: Oh yeah. [Laughs]

[00:15:48] Kim Ades: Silly questions, but it's easy for them to engage with that. Do you see what I'm saying?

[00:15:55] Tamara Hall: Right. And do you find that most people do this, like through some app or through their--

[00:16:00] Kim Ades: We can help you with that. We have a journaling platform that we use that we license out and white label to other organizations as well, so we can definitely help you with that. But even if you're not using that, you can create a private Facebook group or something or a Slack channel. It doesn't really matter. We can help you with that.

[00:16:18] Tamara Hall: Okay, awesome.

[00:16:20] Kim Ades: Yeah. That's the idea. How does that sound?

[00:16:22] Tamara Hall: Yeah, no, it's great. Thank you. Advice that we haven't even thought of.

[00:16:29] Kim Ades: Amazing. And here's the thing again, like you're saying, let them talk amongst themselves. Right? So let it be driven by them. Even find someone in the organization and say, "Hey, every day I want you to come up with a new question that I want you to ask everyone". It's your project. You can have a committee, you guys do it. "What question are you going to ask today?" And they're going to want to get it started and generated so it's a groundswell instead of from the top to the bottom.

[00:16:57] Tamara Hall: Right. Yeah, I like that.

[00:17:00] Kim Ades: So, thank you so much for asking the question. I think a lot of people are struggling with this, and I think it's very, very relevant for today and today's times and people working remotely is how do we connect with one another. And sometimes we need to connect through humor, through lighthearted conversation, and that lighthearted conversation will often lead to other more substantial stuff.

But it's that consistency, that frequency, and providing the environment or the platform to get people talking and together. And that's really what we're talking about. Thank you so much for being on the show. If people want to learn about your services, where do they go?

[00:17:41] Tamara Hall: Right. So, our website is www.theleadingniche.com. You can also catch us on all of the major social media platforms @theleadingniche or you can connect with me on LinkedIn Tamara Nall, or @iamtamaranall on Twitter, Instagram, and even TikTok. I'm actually TikTok's first federal contracting experts, so, catch me there for some humor and to learn.

[00:18:12] Kim Ades: Amazing. You know what? I just started a TikTok channel as well.

[00:18:16] Tamara Hall: Oh really?

[00:18:17] Kim Ades: Literally on December 31st, I just started. And to be honest, I'm asking those silly questions, so if you want go to my channel and pick up the questions and use them in your room.

[00:18:28] Tamara Hall: Oh, awesome. That's great.

[00:18:32] Kim Ades: For those of you are listening, thank you for listening. If you have a challenge you want to share on the podcast, please reach out to me. We're always looking for willing guests. My email address is Kim@frameofmindcoaching.com. And if you have a challenge that you want to share, but perhaps not so much on the podcast, reach out to me as well. Again, it's Kim@frameofmindcoaching.com.

And if you know, a young person in your life between the ages of 18, and let's say 35 and they could really use some coaching, please take a look at thejournalthattalksback.com. We have just launched a new coaching service for young professionals. It's incredible. It's based on our foundational coaching that we do at Frame of Mind Coaching. Please take a look. We'd love to hear what you think.

Again, thank you for listening. Thank you, Tamara for being on the podcast and we will see you next week. Have a great week!