Late afternoon, I stood at Andesa’s front desk preparing to leave the office. I was dressed in a suit and tie (not my normal daily attire) and was chatting with our administrative assistant when a young, professionally-dressed woman approached our offices.
She introduced herself and inquired if our IT Operations Manager was available. “Hadn’t you called earlier, and didn’t I tell you that he was at a conference all week?” was our assistant’s reply. Not to be so easily dismissed, the sales rep deftly responded to the challenge, inquired if anyone else was available to whom she might address her inquiry and made certain her material and card would find its way to the intended target.
My ears had perked up. Andesa was planning to expand its marketing and sales team. Initially impressed with the tenacity and energy of this now potential candidate, I had high hopes that the flow of the universe had possibly walked our internal sales rep into our offices that afternoon.
Without revealing my position, I began to inquire as to who she represented, how long she had been selling, the history of her company, etc. She easily rattled off most of the answers, but she wasn’t able or willing to divulge the name of her CEO. I asked some more questions about her approach, how Andesa was on their radar, etc.
After a couple of minutes, she looked at me and asked: “Do you sell office equipment as well?” Our assistant laughed. By this time, our CFO joined the conversation and made quick dispatch of the sales rep with “You’re too late; we just renewed our leasing arrangements last month.” Dejected, my potential future sales rep said her goodbye and left the office, never knowing that she had just been interviewed and missed an opportunity to work at Andesa.
I was not upset that she thought I was a copier salesman; that might be a reasonable response from her given the nature of the questions I was asking. What sealed the deal for me was her not knowing the name of the CEO of her company. Knowing who she represented, I can’t imagine how one could work at a small, family-owned company, be engaged and not know that answer.
This sales rep encounter reminded me that as individuals, we are Always On, whether we know it or not. In our current technology-dependent culture, the term “Always On” generally refers to being connected and available constantly, a blurring of the business and private lives of most individuals. The expansion of social media options further clouds business, public and private persona of many individuals.
Like it or not, we are “always on.” What we do, what we say, how we say it, how we act when we don’t think we are on, what we post on-line are all a reflection of us as individuals. In today’s culture of personality – You are Your Brand. Individuals perceive words and actions through the prism of their experience, constantly making judgments. There was a day and age where one could act professionally at work and be different privately; but not today. Authenticity needs to be grounded in fact: an individual’s strengths, weaknesses, interests and pet peeves are on display and subject to interpretation with each encounter, email, post, interaction, etc.
If you were making a presentation to hundreds of professionals or peers, or if you were making a sales pitch to the C-suite, you would spend time planning the encounter. Your appearance, approach, cadence, how and what information to share would all go into your preparations. How do you accomplish that same level of readiness in a 24 x7, “always on” encounter mindset?
It is difficult to be objective when we think about ourselves, but here are a couple of suggestions for improving one’s self-awareness:
Engage in psychometric assessments: I wish I had been introduced to the Gallup Clifton StrengthsFinder personality assessment earlier in my career. The assessment provides a ranking of strength characteristics which, upon reflection, helps one better understand their interactions with others, how they approach problems, what makes them tick, etc.
Uncovering these strengths has provided me a stronger sense of confidence, a deeper awareness of who I am and how I fit in the world. It provided me a greater sense of self, which freed me to lead with more purpose, authenticity, openness and trust. It also helped me better come to terms with my weaknesses and take actions to counteract deficiencies.
Seek feedback and coaching from friends: Honest feedback from a trusted friend or colleague is invaluable to improvement. Seek a candid outsider opinion. Encourage a relationship of trust and safety in order to receive direct feedback. Share with a close friend a behavior you are trying to work on, and ask them to call you out privately when they see you behaving differently than desired.
Be Discrete: How do you want to be perceived? There are fine lines between confidence and arrogance, acceptable and tasteless, humor and insensitivity, determination and stubbornness. Written words do not have the benefit of tone or body language associated with the comments. I often point to posts on social media to educate my children about perceptions. Sony Pictures executives were embarrassed when their emails were exposed. Think before you hit post or send.
Please share additional tips for success in this “Always On” environment in which we are all now engaged.