Friday, December 18, 2009


When will it start? Our biggest winter storm in years is nearly upon us, they say. Will our expectations be met? If not, who will be disappointed? seems to have its goats in a row. When I order something, the email acknowledgment, sent instantly, tells me that the item is in stock and should arrive by X date. A day or two later, another email says the item has been shipped and I should expect it on X minus 1 or X minus 2 date. It arrives on X minus 1 minus 1 or X minus 2 minus 1 date.

I learned my most important business lessons soon after I began my new job in a bank's legal department. When I arrived on my first day, my boss was nowhere to be found. The other lawyer in the 3-lawyer office welcomed me and offered me some materials to read, to discover how things were done in the bank.

A few hours later, the boss entered my office and closed the door. "I've been fired," he began, "but I think your position is secure." As my mind raced, I felt anything but cozy by a warm hearth.

After the maintenance crew removed his personal effects, the remaining staff met in his ex-office. The desk looked like each of the tables in the office of my previous boss, piled high with stacks of paper, except clearly no one knew what the piles contained. "We need to take care of these," my new, new boss announced.

After arranging the papers in order of receipt, he handed me a bunch. "When you finish these, come back for more. First, call each sender and ask if the matter's been handled."

No more time for casually reading how things were done, I felt like the target of a firing squad. It was a great, fast way to get to know the business and its people. We gradually turned that destroyer into a kayak (at least a rowboat) and I like to think we earned a reputation for responsiveness.

My first lesson: by the end of each contact, be sure both parties know the next step. "I'll get back to you" was a killer. "I'll get back to you Monday" was all right. "I'll call you in three hours" was better, if the matter were urgent. Assuming I did.

The next lesson: allow yourself more time than you expect to need so you can beat your deadline. "I'm sorry, I said I'd get back to you now, but I need more time. Can you wait 'til tomorrow?" doesn't cut it. "Hi Jerry, I've got something for you. Do you have a minute?" a day early wins the prize.

"Of all the tradespeople I hired to work on my place, electrician Fred was the best," says Virginia, "not because of his work or his price, but because he always told me when he'd be here and he was. I remember only one time he was late, and that time he called me beforehand to let me know."

(By the way, a paragraph ago the winter storm began fulfilling our expectations.)

No comments:

Post a Comment