It has been a couple of weeks since I last made an entry. My life has been a bit of a rollercoaster lately, and I had to take a short break from writing to attend to other matters. Hopefully things will start to get back to normal though. I do have quite the list of blog topics, and I thought it was about time to add another piece in the “It’s not what you do, it’s what you don’t do” series.
If you haven’t already guessed, many things that I write about have happened in my life. Some stories are directly related to situations I’ve been through while others are from the perspective of a casual observer. Either way, it doesn’t change the importance of the message. Something I have noticed is that even when you are not an active participant in a situation, you can still learn from it. Let’s talk about a small snippet from a meeting I attended.
Random Manager has Joined the Meeting
Let me set the stage for you. I’m sitting on a conference call, where we have the sales rep (let’s call him John), engineer (we’ll call her Sally), and all the appropriate parties from the customer side (Acme Corp) present. This meeting was called explicitly to turn over a working lab environment (POC – Proof of Concept) to the customer, give them an explanation of what was set up for them, and make sure the guidelines they provided were met. This meeting would ensure that Acme Corp received a great hands on demonstration and that the product met their needs.
John: “Good morning. Today, we’ll talk about the following topics… Is there anything I’ve missed? Ok, sounds great. Let’s get started.”
Sally: “Thanks, John. On the screen, you should see the requirements document you supplied for this POC. I’ll walk you through the environment and how we met those requirements. Also, we’ll be giving you access to these labs so we will go over the logins and some general understanding so you can have a successful evaluation… *etc”
*Ding* A random manager from your company has joined the meeting.
Random Manager: “Hey, sorry I’m late. Sally, have you set up the lab environment for Acme Corp? I saw all the requirements, and I know you haven’t worked with half of the products they described in that document.”
You might be thinking, are you serious?!?! Did this really happen? There’s no way that someone would do this, IN REAL LIFE!!! I wish this was a joke, I really do. The manager was completely unprofessional and, from what I could tell, wanted to completely destroy their engineer’s reputation. Let’s analyze the situation.
Be On Time
The manager showed up late. While this may be a pet peeve of mine, it’s not uncommon. Being on time is probably the military background in me. So, even though I may consider this to be wrong, it’s not out of line. Technically, the manager may not even need to be at the meeting and showing up late isn’t an issue. In this scenario, the manager did not have a role; they were invited as an observer rather than a resource. So, the inappropriate part starts when they announced they were late rather than quietly joining and observing.
This scenario gives us an important thing to look at: if you are late to a meeting, and you aren’t an active or important member that people are waiting on, don’t announce your tardiness. If I could wave a magic wand, I would say, “Don’t be late to meetings.” But, I know that we live in a real world and sometimes being late to a meeting does happen. If you are late, and you’re a key player, it’s necessary to apologize. However, it’s much worse to bring attention to yourself, especially when you AREN’T a key player. Join quietly and take time to observe.
Communication is Key
Another critical issue we see here, besides the abrupt interruption, is immediately asking questions without gaining context. The manager realized they were late and did not take time to assess what had been discussed in the meeting prior to their arrival. Not only does that behavior set the person in a positive light, but it also hinders the overall view of your company. It immediately identified to Acme Corp that there was a lack of communication in the company. Is Acme Corp going to buy a product from a company that doesn’t communicate internally? I can’t answer that question with authority because I don’t know Acme Corp. What I do know is that they’ve just seen what you don’t do: communicate.
Was this a failure on the manager’s part? Was it up to John or Sally to communicate the intent of the meeting to the manager? Who is at fault here? Again, I can’t say with authority because it’s possible the manager wasn’t informed properly or it’s possible they were just ignorant. But again, don’t let these types of situations happen in front of a customer. We all hate meetings. However, if you know that you are dealing with someone who does not read emails, take the time to schedule a quick meeting to cover important details before getting in front of the customer.
There is one part of this scenario that I cannot ignore. The manager made an unforgivable mistake. Can you spot it? They announced, to the customer, that they felt their employee was incompetent. I genuinely don’t care if you like your teammates or if they drive you up a wall. What I do care about is that you show a united face to the customer. Don’t talk badly about your co-workers in front of the customer. While professional etiquette says that you shouldn’t speak badly about others, not everyone follows this philosophy. However, it is especially important that you establish a strong, unified message when talking to the customer.
If you have problems with your co-worker, challenging them in front of the customer is not the time to bring these concerns to light. I have been around people I don’t like. I have seen people who couldn’t do their job. You wouldn’t know I had issues with these people though. It’s not your place to know that I disagree with a co-worker. Do sports teams win championships by disagreeing with each other on the field or court? NO! A piece of advice for you: when you’re not in front of the customer, you can be co-workers; When you are in front of the customer, you are teammates. Act like it.
As we saw from the scenario, a lot of things went wrong. The good news, everything was preventable. The bad news, you can’t control what other people do. In all cases, we can ensure that we don’t personally make these mistakes. If you carry yourself with extreme professionalism, people will notice. Don’t fall into the trap of “acceptable” behavior; Be the standard! If you haven’t noticed by now, I expect that we will all work together to demo like a pro.