True story: When my daughter arrived at her summer internship at a large financial institution, she discovered that she was known as “the girl who wrote the note.” No, they weren’t mocking her. It was actually a good thing. The note she had written was a “thank you” note to the people who interviewed her months earlier. Apparently, this simple and traditional practice of grace and courtesy made her stand out in an overcrowded sea of clipped, non-grammatical electronic communications.
Fascinating isn’t it? Or is it tragic, since writing a thank you note after an interview should be the most basic principle of business etiquette? As I learned recently when speaking to a group of young professionals in Stamford (Business Council
of Fairfield County), this and other simple rules for business success seem to have either been forgotten or not “handed down” to the next generation.
Either way, in a world where the unemployment rate for those 20 to 24 is 8.7 percent compared with a national unemployment rate of about 5.5 percent, it might behoove up-and-comers to consider adding some “old school” tricks to their repertoire of “new school” technologies.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the feedback I received from this group of Connecticut professionals when I shared some of the basic principles that have guided my career. Some even validated my comments by stating that “ Gee, our bosses said the same thing.” Mostly we spoke about the human element of business since that is almost always where businesses fail. Systems can be programmed, and jobs can be replaced by robots, but it is in handling the basics and the human element where businesses so often have their downfall.
Lest we forget …
For those just starting out of starting a new job
- Being the boss takes time. Be patient! Last I checked none of the young employees at our company received a college degree in Vice President-ology.
I am really good at what I do — and it didn’t just happen that way — from mail opening to inventory management, from vendor management to product distribution. Editing, circulation management, business planning, market research … the list goes on and on. I started young and through the decades, I developed a matrix of skills that now allows me to be a far more effective leader and mentor to those who work for me.
- Learn first, talk later. I tell new employees to ask all their questions up front, no matter how basic or dumb they think they are. When you’re new, everyone expects you to ask “dumb” questions. They want you to ask questions. Six months later, if you don’t understand a basic concept that you should have previously inquired about, then you will look like the fool you feared you would be.Corollary: When you join an organization, even if at a senior level, absorb before you speak. It is tempting to either think that you have all the answers because it always looks “easy” from the outside or you feel pressured to have the answers because isn’t that why they hired you? It never is as easy as it seems. Learn. Absorb. Ask. Then talk.
- Details matter. I joke that I was promoted in advertising because as low man on the totem pole, I knew what food and beverages each person in a meeting preferred and ordered what they liked. This wasn’t about brown-nosing; it was just one of the many places where I paid attention to the little details to improve the outcome. In my future roles in operations, the smallest error in set-up could “blow” a million-dollar marketing campaign. Details mattered. Ask a rocket scientist or brain surgeon. Details matter.
- Have fun. You are going to be there for eight or more hours every day. Make sure you enjoy yourself. If the job truly is tedious or unpleasant and you can’t make a change, make up your own challenges. I challenged my daughter when she was in middle school to get the “grumpy lunch ladies” to smile at her. Not only did she get them to smile — by the end of the year, the ladies knew her name and were giving her free cookies. Get your grumpy co-workers to smile if not literally then figuratively.
Congratulations — you’ve been promoted
- It’s not about you. My top priority every day is to be sure that the people under me don’t have hurdles keeping them from meeting their goals. So it is at every stage of management. No longer is it about the pounds of work you put out, it is now about the pounds of work your team puts out. Be sure they have the tools, resources and “clear air” to get the job done.
- Delegation is not renunciation. Just because something isn’t on your plate any more, doesn’t mean you’re no longer responsible for it. If it’s coming out of your team, then you are ultimately responsible.
- Speak. In a land of texting and email, I can’t stress enough the importance of talking. Call. Stop by an office door. Have a conversation. That is how ideas grow and miscommunications are avoided. Just as we live in a world where knowledge acquired is driven by a “Google search,” too many business interactions are abbreviated series of questions and answers. Have a discussion and see what grows.
- Know your people. There are people in my life where we are in sync and can accomplish a lot very quickly. We can have a 30-minute conversation in three minutes. Bing, bang, done. On the other hand, there are those who pace very differently, and a three-minute conversation takes 30 minutes! Requires patience? Yes. Worth the wait? Generally, yes, because these are very thoughtful people. If I can adjust my listening to their pace at the end of that 30 minutes, a gem comes out and I have learned something new.
It is critical to understand the communication styles of those around you. Talk to them at their level and at their pace. If presenting to a group, give examples they can connect to. Effective communication is as much about being heard as it is about stating your ideas. If you don’t connect to them, they won’t hear you.
View from the top
There is no shortage of advice for business leaders. I have one simple nugget that I believe to cut across all of it: You can’t lead people to a goal if you don’t believe in it. As the leader, it’s about pointing the finger in a direction and inspiring people to follow you.
Believe in your mission. Make sure they know it.
After that, you can “blink,” “lean in” and swim to “blue oceans.”