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Returning Calls and Replying to Emails

By Francis Wade

Woody Allen once said that “90% of success is just showing up.” In the competitive world of acting, this is good advice to aspiring actors who sometimes find it difficult to make auditions, rehearsals and even performances, for fear of failure.

I have a similar piece of advice for young Jamaican / Caribbean professionals that may be easier to apply: “90% of success is just returning calls, replying to emails and being where you should be on time.”

(The other 10% has to do with what I would simply call “staying in touch,” which will be the topic of next week’s article.)

I have come to think that we Caribbean professionals have come to accept standards of working with each other that are quite low by global standards. Basically, we expect that they have to be reminded, will only respond to emails after several reminders and to be late for every appointment.

To put it more bluntly, we treat others as if they are mediocre, weak and unable to meet the most basic demands of professional life.

The very best place to correct this problem is at the start of one’s career – which is good news for the young professional. There are some simple practices that, when practiced over a lifetime, add up to a powerful overall effect.

Returning Calls and Replying to Emails
As a young professional in the workplace, there are many reminders that, as a relative newcomer, you are a little minnow in a large pond. Other older and more established colleagues will do their best to remind you of that fact (perhaps subconsciously.)

They will not return your calls. They will ignore your voicemail. Your email will languish in their inbox, perhaps never to be returned.

At first it will feel as if you are some kind of leper to be avoided, and that they are merely avoiding contact because you are just not important enough in the larger scheme of things to be worth their trouble.

None of this is true, and it isn’t until much later in life that most realize that their lack of discipline is has more to do with their low standards, than anything else. Unfortunately, there is a powerful tendency for younger professionals to follow their leads, and simply copy their bad behaviour.

A much sounder strategy is to raise the bar early in one’s career.

The rule is simple: return each and every call or voicemail. Reply to every single email that is received. Leave every single person that wishes to communicate with you with the impression that the door to you is an open one, and that you respect the wishes of other people by being willing to be responsive.

Of course, no-one can be perfect in this area.

There will be emails that get lost in a spam filter. Voicemails will be eaten up by unreliable networks. Batteries will wear out on pagers. Text messages will be mistakenly deleted.

The fact is, we are living in tropical, third world countries where things happen unexpectedly.

However, that is no excuse to be a professional “harem-scarem” – with an Inbox of thousands of messages and a bottomless pile of mail.

Being Late
The most harem-scarem professionals among us have a permanent inability to be on time.

They leave for meetings starting at 10:00am at, well… 10:00am. They schedule activities on top of each other on a regular basis. They are known for never being on time, and are happy to advertise this fact to all who will listen.

Their routine is a simple one.

They depend on others to be more dependable than they are. They rely on them to wait for them to arrive. They know that others will take no public action, keeping their grouses to themselves. They come prepared with their well-rehearsed excuse.

They rely on other people to give them what they need (i.e. their timeliness,) while never giving anything back.

The really top-class professional is rarely late for anything, even though they also live in the tropics and are subject to the same vagaries as the rest of us.

A young professional can start their career by simply refusing to be late, even when others are unable or unwilling to change their bad habits. Once again, this is a small habit, but the effect it builds over time can be tremendous.

Constant Learning
Being able to consistently return calls, reply to emails and letters, respond to text messages and be on time does not come easily to any professional. In today’s world of numerous time demands, all Caribbean professionals must develop methods of managing themselves that are effective even when the tropical hurricanes are literally bearing down.

However, the set of skills that are needed are a moving target. As technology changes, and time demands increase with them, a professional must develop a system of time management that is flexible, and changes over time.

This requires constant learning and continuous research to define personal systems that work, and change so that they can work to function as life changes.

Undermining vs. Underlining Brilliance
I recall attending a meeting of about 20 people being chaired by a very bright, former Rhodes Scholar.

The meeting started some thirty minutes late due to the late arrival of the chairperson, but not before the attendees had a good opportunity to openly question whether the meeting was going to happen at all.

As the meeting got underway (without any sort of apology or mention of the lateness) I had the feeling that this would be the last meeting I would attend of this nature. Indeed it was.

In retrospect, it strikes that a young professional who fails to learn how to return calls, respond to emails and to be on time is undermining their own brilliance. After all, if they cannot be trusted to do the simplest of professional tasks, how can they be trusted with greater responsibility?

The young professional who learns these basic skills creates an opportunity to underline their brilliance, simply because they will be one of the few who are able to rise above the daily chaos that is Caribbean business-life.

The author is the owner of Framework Consulting, a firm specializing in conducting high stake interventions for Caribbean companies, and the author of FirstCuts monthly e-zine.
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