For 10 years I worked for huge organizations. I was part of matrixed teams partnered with global clients, navigating complex political and cultural systems on a daily basis. And yet, AND YET, I managed to return emails to colleagues, vendors, and my network and, for the most part, they did the same.
Since becoming an independent consultant the lack of responsiveness in the business world has been astonishing. I’m not referring to folks I’m trying to pitch, as rejection is expected in some of those interactions. This is a more general trend. Without the informal monitoring of a large organization, people don’t respond when they should. Even in an 80,000 person iBank, one might worry about garnering a reputation for being “inaccessible;” free agents have no such stick. Which begs the question, do we need big brother just to force us to show up?
A couple of illustrative examples since I started working on my own nearly a year ago…
A former colleague forwarded an email from a headhunter seeking a specific skillset for a contract position and looking for referrals. I searched my LinkedIn, called a viable contact to discuss her interest, and provided her information back to the headhunter. And in return? Nada! Not a one word “thanks.” This moron doesn’t know whether I might be looking for contract roles for myself ($ for him, if he places me), looking for contractors for my clients ($ for him, if he places there), or looking for sub-contractors to share my client portfolio (more $ for him). His lack of acknowledgement tells me he isn’t someone I’d help out again.
During conversation with a CEO last summer, who does a version of the consulting I do, he expressed an interest in me working as a sub-contractor on his team. I provided a resume, he asked me to set aside some dates for an upcoming engagement and said that a couple of his colleagues would speak with me. Then, silence. I followed up a couple of weeks later, he said he was disappointed no one had contacted me and would chase to get meetings set up. I followed up again after a few more weeks and he didn’t respond at all. For someone who literally wrote a book on teambuilding and networking practice, this = major fail.
I was trying to source fractional financial support for one of my clients. I found a firm locally that had an interesting model and read their website. There was only one contact email address, which was “info@,” no phone number. I sent a detailed note outlining the requirements my client had and asking if we could set up a call to discuss working together. Never heard back. I’m sure I could have tracked an individual through LinkedIn that was employed there, but why would I do that? If that firm isn’t “on it” enough to manage a potential client – even to say they’re not accepting new business – I’m not referring a client there.
The result of these interactions isn’t just that I’m frustrated with individuals. Its that I don’t respect them. To me, someone who loses control over his communications, must apologize when he sees me for something he should have sent, is generally overwhelmed and frazzled, isn’t someone that I am likely to think much of professionally. If you don’t have the discipline to control your email (not hard!), why would I assume you can stay on top of something complex like a client relationship or a project? The argument could be made that these people are merely focused on more important tasks and are effectively prioritizing; I counter that what they are doing can not be deemed effective if its doing them reputational damage.
In contrast, a coach/speaker/expert who is hugely respected in our field always returns emails within 24 hours. This person and I are acquaintances – he is not my mentor and we’ve only worked together on one occasion. And yet he is generous with his time and gracious in our interactions. I think more of him based on these interactions than because of his success, or the bestsellers he’s published. And you know who recommends his material to every CEO she works with? She’s got two thumbs and is typing this blog post right now.
I like interacting with people I admire. Those I have something to learn from, think are smart and talented. But, increasingly, I’m giving more weight to courtesy and the organizational wherewithal to actually respond. I’ll make the argument here: you can be somewhat less than in all categories than a competitor and win by showing up. If your cheeks are flushed right now, go to your laptop, devise a system for managing the deluge, and stick to it.
I have to go. I have emails to return.