For the past week, I have been working on a business project. Because I own my own business, I don’t often think about corporate culture as a moving force to clients. This is what I experienced, and it made me think about how often this must happen.
- I turned in paperwork and the over-worked employee pushed it aside, swamped in other work. My questions went unanswered.
- With a trip coming up, I notified the employee that I would be gone a week, and would not be able to work on the project during that time. No word back. The first day I was gone, three emails with tasks were in my inbox. The employee told me that delay on my part might be a deal-breaker.
- Hoops. Fiery hoops I had to jump through. Silly questions, invasive probing. I didn’t want to answer, but the only reply I got was a veiled threat. Don’t answer the question, deal falls apart.
What was missing all along the way was a feeling of partnership–working with someone. The fastest way to solve this would have been to explain why certain processes had to be followed. What my part was in the big picture. I realized how seldom we get careful explanations. No one expects you to ask, “Why?” In fact, asking “why” makes people defensive and pull out whatever power they have.
What we get instead is a lot of rules, power plays and a display of control. My days fell apart as I got last minute notices with “if I don’t have this in 20 minutes . . . ” This deal was important to me (and I’ll explain it at a later date) so I dropped my own work, worked during vacation, lost sleep, but got the work done.
Unless others understand what we know, they can’t do their part competently. Explaining why something needs to be done, why the deadlines are tight, what acronyms mean–all make cooperation possible. Knowing what the big picture is helps the people who are contributing to the big picture create a focused portion that fits together better than if everyone makes up stuff or fights against the rules.
If you have a big project and are working with clients, explain the steps. Define deadlines, even if (particularly if) they change. Ask if the other person has questions. Answer them simply. Don’t assume everyone knows as much about the topic as you do. Don’t tell them the whole story, just enough to take a well-planned step. And don’t whine if you are making demands on a client. They won’t want to help.
—Quinn McDonald has jumped through hoops. She’s tired, but happy.