I’m writing this article thanks to comments I received from Rhumah slot (Rudolp) on my article Time is Money and David on my article The Art of Business English. Rudolph asked about journal-type articles (sharing personal experiences) and David was curious as to the source / origins of my articles.
How, you may ask, are these related? Well…
The source of my article The Art of Business English, and most of my articles really, is hard won personal experience. For those who have read the ‘About‘ section of my website, you’d know that I’ve worked for some of the largest international telecommunications corporations in the world, and so, the opinions I share in my articles are from actual lessons learned in the world of business. That being said and going against my usual rule of not sharing personal experiences (another business lesson learned: only use relevant facts), I thought I’d do so just this once, in the hopes that it would provide clarity and reference to my opinions on Business English.
When the first Telecommunications company I worked for in South Africa (Marconi Communications – Italian) was taken over (Ericsson – Swedish), I was moved from a relatively small, personal local office into an enormous multinational one.
The Ericsson (Market Unit Sub-Saharan Africa / MUSA) branch I worked for at that time, had sub-offices in 43 African countries, all reporting into it. So suddenly, after working with just a few people I now had to work with hundreds, I also had to learn a new position, as well as the ways and expectations of a new boss and company. Talk about a culture shock! Ericsson and other similarly large organisations, work very differently to smaller businesses. But one thing in business we all know is that you have to be adaptable and get comfortable with change because you will have loads of it.
Being the newly appointed Demand Manager, by the end of my first month I’d been sent to Manila (Philippines, to learn how the Global Shared Services Centre / GSSC) and to Madrid (Spain, to learn how the Regional Shared Services Centre / RSSC worked) because I was to manage the services they provided.
It was also the first time that I’d experienced acronyms, e.g. GSSC, on mass. In fact, there were so many of them that I had to create a spreadsheet, just to keep up with a conversation (over 600 in total by the end of my time in Ericsson), as every sentence in every email, presentation and discussion was full of them, so understanding them was literally the only way to understand and be understood. It was also the first time I’d travelled internationally for business and so I had also needed to learn all about business travel bookings and travel claims, etc. though that is another story entirely. Back to this particular lesson learned …
Upon my return to South Africa and having only had one other conversation with my boss up to that point, he requested that I provide him with a travel report.
Naturally eager to impress him, I’d spent the next few hours writing him a three page email providing a highly detailed account of everyone I’d met, exactly what we’d discussed and my impressions of it all. Goodness, I even scanned and attached my written notes from every meeting I’d had during those 21 days out of the office. I took it as my mission to be fully transparent and to give him everything he could possibly need to know about my trips. The email ended up being so large that it nearly crashed the server when I had sent it and it must have taken him around 15 minutes just to download!
When he had walked past my desk the next day, I’m sure I must have looked up proudly expecting him to thank me for keeping him so very well informed. Only, he gave me a kindly smile and simply said, ‘Thanks for the very thorough report Lyn. Next time, perhaps you could condense it into just 5 bullet points?’
My world nearly came crashing down at that moment, as I realised that I may have overdone it, just a bit. I suddenly understood that I’d wasted his precious time and that he did not have the time to micro manage me (look over my shoulder and check on every bit of my work, as my other bosses had done), he had more than enough of his own work to complete. Instead, he trusted that I’d do my work and so had not needed a blow-by-blow account of everything. In fact, all he had really wanted and needed from me was a heads-up on any potential issues and risks, that he could assist me in resolving before they became an actual problem for him and his department.
Remember the adage (general truth): K-I-S / Keep it simple? That is as applicable in business, as in life.
The surprising thing is that, in the beginning, it was more difficult and it took me longer to create those short bullet points than it had to create the 3 page email, full of detail because I first had to learn:
- What my boss actually expected from me and not what I thought he needed (know your audience)?
- What my boss needed from me to be able to do his job (managing the risks in his department)?
- How I could make my bosses life easier (not wasting his time, doing things he needed done so that he did not need to do them, etc.)?
- What I really needed my boss to help me with, which actually wasn’t a lot in the end?
- What was really important and what could potentially blow up that he needed to know about to be able to avert disaster?
The great Albert Einstein put it so eloquently, ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’ If you are able to be brief and to the point, then you have achieved success because you have at last fully understood something. You cannot summarise something you don’t understand, so it is a vital skill to be able to have and share.
That being said, though it was more difficult for a while, it was also incredibly liberating (freeing) to have a boss who trusted me to do my job and who gave me the space I needed to shine. It also gave me the push I needed to ‘step up’ and become an asset (someone who saved him time and effort), rather than a liability (someone who cost him time and effort). Of course, not all bosses are that way but most are in large corporations, so it is important to recognise them and to then, keep it simple.
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