Getting Face Time with an Executive

Gerwig 2016-06-06

On Saturday, we went to another show on Broadway, Aladdin. It was great! Our seats were good, the weather was decent, the performance was stellar and our dining experience before and after the show was enjoyable. It wasn’t a cheap day, but it was fun! We’ve tried to squeeze in a few shows in New York City before our daughter heads off to college. She’ll be at a university several thousand miles away so we’re trying to make the most of the time we have left. The last few months have been full of weekend trips to Boston, New York City, Newport, and DC. We’ve attended plays, toured museums and seen national landmarks from New England to the mid-Atlantic. It’s been an amazing few months!

And to pull this off, we’ve had to carefully coordinate a variety of calendars. We’ve had to manage my professional and personal calendars, my daughter’s school and personal calendars, and my wife’s personal calendar. As you probably already know, coordinating the calendars of multiple people is a complex and, at time, difficult task. But it’s a required action if you want to see Aladdin in New York City.

The nice thing about your own calendar is that you own it. You can add or delete meetings and events at will, at least to a large degree. When it comes to another’s calendar, it’s much more difficult. Why? You don’t own or control their calendar. Want face time with an executive? You have to jump through many hoops and may never successfully get time on their calendar. Perhaps your organization uses a calendaring tool like Microsoft Outlook. If so, you’d think it would be easy, right?

Say you want time with the Executive VP. You jump onto Outlook and schedule a meeting. You show up at their office and they’re not there. Or their executive assistant tells you they’re in another meeting. What! What happened? Is getting face time with an executive really this hard?

Let me point out the obvious. At least it’s obvious to me. And hopefully it’s obvious to you as well. But I have to tell you, it’s not obvious to everyone. If you’re trying to get face time with an executive (or it could be phone time or chat time or video time), there’s generally a protocol (though it may be unwritten). For example, if a person “junior” to me schedules a meeting on my Outlook calendar without a prior conversation, rarely do I accept. If they talk with me or my assistant and I agree to meet with them, they can schedule the meeting via Outlook or ask my executive assistant to schedule the meeting. But I don’t allow other people to dictate my calendar. Do you?

It’s more complicated if you’re trying to get face time with an executive in another corporation. But let’s assume they’re in your organization. Here are a few tips:

  1. Communicate (i.e. ask) with them ahead of time. Ask them if it’s okay for you to schedule time on their calendar.
  2. If they agree, ask if they’re okay with you scheduling via Outlook (or other similar system) or if they prefer another option (e.g. work with their assistant).
  3. Set clear expectations for the meeting. Purpose and outcome.

I’ve observed that some folks believe if my Outlook calendar shows I’m “open” they have a “right” to schedule a meeting. Wrong. Some folks also believe that if they want to meet with me, I’ll make myself available. Wrong. While I’m generally accommodating, I require people to have a meeting purpose that I agree with. I also require communication ahead of time (could be an email, call, or in-person) asking if I’m okay meeting with them. I don’t care for presumptuous people. Asking goes a long way. Expecting, not so much.

Yes, I could “block” my calendar thus requiring others to go through my assistant (and preventing them from seeing my schedule). But I’m not really in that space, yet. I prefer to keep a calendar that can be seen by others. And if they ask me first, I often respond with something like, “Sure. I’m happy to meet with you for 30 minutes. Take a look on Friday afternoon and grab any time slot that’s available.”

Recently, I had someone schedule a meeting via Outlook without a prior conversation. They didn’t ask if I was willing to meet with them and they didn’t provide any context or purpose. I declined the meeting. They showed up anyways. I didn’t meet with them. But I did tell them I was willing to listen to their request. And that I needed the purpose and amount of time requested. They seemed put-off initially. In the end, I agreed to meet (the following week). Did I mention they were 3 levels lower in the organization and had not previously asked me if I’d meet with them?

Bonus: please don’t make the assumption that sending an email equals communication, especially if it’s critical and/or time-sensitive. I read or delete every email I receive every day (personal and professional email). But I’ve had people assume I read their email within 5 minutes of them sending it. Wrong! Please don’t make this mistake. If it’s timely or critical, please have a two-way communication (e.g. face-to-face or phone call) so that you can be certain the other person knows what’s going on (versus assuming everyone reads your emails or texts within minutes of being sent).

As always, I’d love to hear your experiences, stories or suggestions.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.

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