Our New York chapter of NGLCC is filled with individuals changing and shaping our world in important ways. Neil Cerbone's contributions may not be immediately known to you, but it is quite possible that you or your partner are one of the thousands who have benefited from his trailblazing and innovative approaches to improving integrity, commitment, and satisfaction in the workplace through Neil Cerbone Associates. Please read on to learn more about this ebullient, engaging, and inspiring leader of our community, and how he can bring more satisfaction, fulfillment, and "optimism" to your every day work.
Damon L. Jacobs: It is such an honor to speak with you and share more about the impact of your work. Tell us about Neil Cerbone Associates.
Neil Cerbone: We help employees become more effective, more engaged, and more committed to the work that they do, and recognizing the importance of the work they do. A lot of what we do is kindle and ignite that connection. Our approach to learning is a practical approach. All our work has been developed from experience with men and women working in corporate America. We do not take an academic approach to learning, it’s hands-on. Our programs are always tied to business results. People outside of this business often say, “If the employees enjoyed the program we were successful.” And while it always nice for people to enjoy a program, that is absolutely not a criteria that we put a lot of value on. What needs to happen is for them to be able to be more productive, to represent the firm, and we are the catalysts for that.
Damon L. Jacobs: Many people feel disconnected and alienated from their work these days. How do you help people find a connection to something they care little about?
Neil Cerbone: There is always something to care about. Where we put a great deal of our attention is to the skeptics in an organization. I think the skeptics are the great untapped fuel. In order to be a skeptic, you have to care. You cannot be an apathetic skeptic. Skeptics see incongruity. So the way to engage is to be clear, aligned, transparent, and candid. Hiding information from employees for their protection, or keeping them from things that might be seen as negative, turn people skeptical, and can turn people apathetic. If you ask people what the most important thing is about their job, most will say “money.” But what they really care about is feeling engaged and important.
Damon L. Jacobs: That sadly runs contradictory to the way I have seen most non-profits operate.
Neil Cerbone: I’ve heard that. The notion of learning in an organizational culture is often seen by them as superfluous and nothing they can spend their money on. But having a committed workforce requires more than just a cause. There are many things non-profits can do, and many do them, that recognize that their workforce needs nurturing beyond just the cause.
Damon L. Jacobs: How have changes in the economy affected the culture of the companies your serve?
Neil Cerbone: It affects them on several levels. Budgets have been slashed, so everyone is price conscious. That is a good thing for me, because we want to be hired because we produce business results. Every dollar is being scrutinized; companies have a much lower risk threshold. They are looking for us to be able to improve the return on their investment or at least have an evidence-based impact, i.e., a way you can see that an outcome would not have happened were the training not in place. From an employee point-of-view, they tell us they are hearing “do more with less, do more with less.” Part of what we do is to help them do more with less and see things as challenges instead of pessimism. Pessimism will not help, so we figure out where the optimism can be. “Optimism” meaning that we are strongly connected to finding the opportunity in what has just happened. When you ask the right questions, you find the right answers.
Damon L. Jacobs: How did you decide to get a Diverse Supplier Certification through the NGLCC?
Neil Cerbone: I really have to credit my clients for that. One large financial service organization called me from their head of procurement. She said, “Neil, why aren’t you guys certified?” I said, “I am sorry to admit this, but I don’t know what you mean!” So of course, because we are so client driven, I made the phone calls immediately, got in touch with the national chapter, and we became certified in about 30 days. Then we met Richard Oceguera, Thomas R. Koveleskie, and Robyn Streisand, and we decided to join and get involved with our local chamber NGLCCNY. People at both national and local levels are amazingly open as far as explaining, engaging, and listening. I began to understand the importance of Supplier Diversity. You asked me earlier about the changes to the economy. Another huge change I didn’t mention is that you used to make contacts directly through a business, and the next day we had to work. Now instead of getting to work, it has to go through procurement, and procurement goes through Supplier Diversity. So the timing was excellent. Procurement was taking on a huge new role in managing prices and budget.
Damon L. Jacobs: How has the Diverse Supplier Certification enhanced your business model?
Neil Cerbone: So many ways! One of the biggest ways is that we have access to several hundred of the largest firms in America. They know who we are. We have allies inside those firms who are helping to make connections, helping to make introductions. The most important thing is accessibility. Thanks to the Diverse Supplier Certification, people know who we are. Also, we have made many important partnerships with other organizers. They have brought to our firm a capacity that did not have prior to meeting them.
Damon L. Jacobs: What would you recommend to someone who might want go the route of becoming Certified?
Neil Cerbone: It’s like two parallel roads. The government is watching how all these companies spend their dollars. They are looking to make sure they are spending these dollars by employing diverse firms. Whether they are minority owned, women owned, LGBT owned. So for any company that is selling to larger companies, it is extremely important that they can see you are a Certified Diverse Firm. I can’t imagine why anyone would not do this.
Damon L. Jacobs: You were recently honored with the NGLCC’s first “Supplier of the Year” Award. What was that like for you?
Neil Cerbone: That was wildly exciting. When you’ve been around a long time, you hear about some awards, and even if you get one you have to buy it. This is nothing of that. You had to be nominated; the award is a crystal gorgeous thing. It was really meaningful to be acknowledged by the people in supplier diversity that I have come to know and care so much about over the past four years. It had to be voted on, it had to be approved, and it really was a show of support from people who I really do care tremendously about. I have to tell you, it was an emotional moment. I don’t work looking for recognition, it doesn’t occur to me. But when you take a pause and look out there...it was really something.
Damon L. Jacobs: So what keeps you motivated to come to work and inspire others year after year?
Neil Cerbone: I think its two things. The first is that my favorite thing to do is figure stuff out, especially around human interaction. After thirty-two years this never gets boring, it’s always unique. Figuring out exactly how to address a challenge, make a difference, and see a result, is something that remains ever intriguing and exciting. And the other thing is that I have always wanted to impact the life of others. Early in my life I thought about medicine. It didn’t take long to realize that I was not a good fit for medicine. So I went in to theater for a long time, almost ten years. But things in the theater were too transient, that was also not a good fit. I literally stumbled into this industry. I met somebody who said to me, “Hey, while you’re figuring out what you want to do, why you don’t take a look at this?” This seemed to be the way that I could make people’s lives better. We have so many people who take this information home, they use it to raise their children, it helps their relationships, and it helps their family. I’ve gotten a dozen letters from people who have changed careers because of something they learned in one of our programs, or being challenged in one of our programs. So if you ask me, “Why are you on this planet?” I’d say that anything I can do to make somebody’s life better is why I’m here.
Damon L. Jacobs: If someone is joining NGLCCNY as an individual, how would you advise them to make the most of the membership?
Neil Cerbone: I think there are two different answers. If you are an individual who works for a company, there is such tremendous camaraderie, there is such generosity of spirit. I have never been in an organization where the actual norm is to help make connections, write an email, and make a phone call. It is so atypical in my experience. It is truly a group that embraces new people. If you do own a company, and it’s a consumer company, you will be plugged into a network that is pretty significant. You have people from all walks of life in the New York and New Jersey area, and then from there are connected to affiliate chambers. You open your network exponentially. I don’t think there is another chapter with such commitment to supplier diversity as the New York chapter. "Networking" is one of those words that are really overused, and for many it is really intimidating. It has such negative associations. But there are people you are meeting who want to meet you. They are looking forward to meeting you. I have never had an experience that compares to that ever. There is no downside. I can’t think of one other thing that has no downside.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to grief and loss, HIV related concerns, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, addiction, ageism, bullying, caretaking fatigue, as well as couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To have him speak with your group, or to schedule a counseling visit, call 347-227-7707, or email at Shouldless@gmail.com. An initial complimentary consultation is offered to NGLCCNY members, or people who are referred by NGLCCNY members.