Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Follow Through

As a young kid growing up in a small town, one of the very few things to do was join a bowling league.  My father, who has been bowling his entire life, used to coach me about the importance of following through your shot.  In a nutshell, the idea is that you aren't finished once you let go of the bowling ball and it's the act of continuing with the swing of your arm that increases the consistency of the shot and ultimately the score of your game.

Professionally, the same is true.  Recently, I met the EVP of Corporate Strategy for CA Technologies, Jacob Lamm, for the first time in an executive briefing for one of our customers.  I introduced myself, and we chatted briefly.  In essence, I let go of the proverbial bowling ball.  And, following my father's advice, I sent him an email the moment he finished speaking and left the room.  In that email I described how I had been recommended by another executive for a position in his organization recently and, if he had a few moments, I'd love to sit down with him over coffee or tea to just chat. Because I had just met him, he remembered me easily and replied the following morning with an offer to do just that.  I now have a 30 minute timeslot in mid-October to talk with him.

(Incidentally, I met the other executive in much the same way.  He was conducting an internal webinar; I asked a question during the Q&A that resulted in some good discussion; and I followed through with an email as soon as the call was finished.)

Will I "just chat?"  Last month, there was a great article in Business Insider about an intern who scored a meeting with CEO Jeff Weiner.  As the story goes, VP Steve Johnson had said in a speaker series to a group of interns that you need to be prepared with a question you'd like a CEO to answer in the event that you ever get a meeting.  Similarly, I intend to be prepared before I walk in Jacob's office.  I will be reaching out to the other executive that I named in that email to see if Jacob reached out to him.  I will be looking into his background to see where my experience and skills mesh with his.  If I cannot find some overlap in our professional backgrounds or some similar reason to want to speak with him then those 30 minutes will be quite awkward.

This same type of activity applies whether you are simply trying to expand your network or doing other things like look for a new job.  I introduced a friend of mine, recently unemployed due to a Reduction In Force at her previous job that resulted in several management positions (including hers) being eliminated, to several executives that would benefit from having a conversation with her at the very least.  To her credit, she did not want to pester them by emailing them just because they didn't respond immediately.  I had to point out, however, that executives are busy and if you do not follow through then you run the risk of either that introduction getting lost in the busy-ness of each day or they would think you weren't interested.

In the interest of contrast (and at the risk of sounding condescending, which is quite the opposite of my intention), I received my first job out of college in the most prestigious place to work at that time for Computer Science graduates (according to a poll of graduate students at the top Computer Science school in the country at that time, Carnegie Mellon University) because of follow through.  As it happens, I was looking for a place to work while at college in SC and reached out to my future boss (based in NY).  His intention was to fly me up for an interview to see if I would be a good fit, but after several emails back and forth he told me that his request for expense reimbursement to pay for the trip was finally rejected.

However, he said that he was quite impressed with my determination and my refusal to let something go on its own and offered me the job anyway.  That is why I mentioned the ranking of that IBM location - getting a job there should have been impossible but you can make the impossible possible!  (To this day, he still says that my tenacity and intention to follow through to completion is the quality that he remembers most.)

People remember you for the impression you leave.  If that impression is that you left no impression, people will forget or, worse, remember that you left no impression.  "Luck favors the prepared," it is true, but if you don't have a reason to be prepared in the first place then there's no luck to be found.  Instead, you have to make your own luck by seizing opportunities as they present themselves even if they don't appear to be an opportunity to begin with.

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