Modern manners and the new “professionalism” – Reliability or flexibility?

Posted on: March 7, 2013

Imagine the situation. You have committed to meet someone to discuss a potentially valuable initiative. It is likely that the person you are meeting has arranged their diary to fit your meeting into their busy schedule. You are very busy with a variety of client and internal projects. Do you honour your commitment and proceed with the meeting as planned – or do you cancel or postpone the meeting at short notice as part of a prioritisation exercise?

There will be those who would honour such a commitment at all costs. There are those who wouldn’t think twice about postponing the meeting. And there are many others who will fall somewhere in between.

Professionalism means being trusted and reliable. And integrity is in there too. This would suggest that you do your utmost – bar totally impossible weather conditions or ill health – to attend that meeting. Yet modern life requires us to be flexible and adaptable – to juggle ever-changing priorities and to constantly appraise and revise priorities.

So what’s it to be?

Now let’s put some different angles on the scenario. You are focused entirely on serving your clients. The meeting is with a client. OK. The meeting stays.

But what if it’s a conflict between two clients? Then you’re going to send a signal about who is most important, and that is a challenge as you have no idea where a particular client is going to end up tomorrow or next week – chase the short term cash cow or follow the longer term potential profit winner? So many professionals have lost business by treating the ‘little’ client poorly only to find out that they’ve then moved into a role of great influence – with their memories of mistreatment intact.

But what if the meeting is one with a potential referrer, business partner or supplier? Seems more reasonable to postpone?

Now let’s consider that you requested the meeting and the person has put themselves out somewhat to accommodate you? Is it different if they contacted you and requested the meeting? Is it different if there is no crushing rush for the meeting but that the person has provided you with a number of valuable referrals in the past?

These are the things that we grapple with every moment of every day.

But from my perspective, we are witnessing a slipping of standards. There is an increasing “flakiness” around professionals who seem to be so out of control that they think nothing of cancelling meetings – even those that they have requested – at short notice for no other good reason that they cannot get a grip on their lives. And worse still, they leave it to an assistant make their excuses.

It is becoming the ‘new normal’. And the more people that do it, the more that others will do it and think nothing of it. As a colleague says “It’s like a kind of moral race to the bottom”. He goes on to say: “The behaviour is redolent of revenue-chasing, of fire-fighting and not picking and choosing the work you do; in other words, a total failure to appropriately manage your time. People shouldn’t say ‘yes’ to a meeting unless they’re going to follow through”.

Would you feel comfortable referring someone to a professional who constantly postpones or cancels confirmed appointments at the last minute? Would you refer people to a professional who thinks nothing of showing disrespect and wasting the time of other professionals by last minute cancellations? Would you refer someone to a professional who makes up some lame excuse for cancelling the meeting? And gets their assistant to do it?  I don’t think so.

The solution is really rather easy. Your diary is solid, there are all sorts of new emergencies and priorities and you have a non-essential meeting in your diary. Plan ahead – keep an eye on your diary at least three or four days ahead. Then pick up the phone. Say something along the lines of “We are due to meet and I want to see you and I have every intention of attending the meeting. But I just wondered how you were fixed and whether it would suit you better if we might agree a different time? It’s no problem if we keep it as it is, I just thought it was worth asking”.

Keep it professional. And keep it personal. Please.

 

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