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It’s Not All About The Ivory Tower
By Lonnie Pacelli

One of my jobs at Microsoft was running Microsoft’s Corporate Procurement Group. This group was responsible for managing and influencing several billion dollars in purchases ranging from personal computers to marketing materials to outsourced services. My organization had about 30 procurement managers who resided at headquarters and worked with various organizations around Microsoft to help get better value for our purchases. To better expand our global influence, we started working with procurement organizations in Microsoft subsidiaries around the world to understand their purchases and to find areas where we could partner. What we learned was more than what we had anticipated; not necessarily about their purchases, but about how they worked and the importance of urgency versus importance in their jobs. For example, in some of the smaller subsidiaries the person responsible for procurement was also responsible for facilities management; meaning if the toilets didn’t flush it was his responsibility to get them fixed. Given the choice between working on a global procurement contract and getting the toilets fixed, he would focus on tending to the toilets first (rightly so). Getting this exposure into the subsidiaries taught me a very important lesson about working with organizations outside of headquarters: it’s not all about the ivory tower.

Understanding communication expectations is very important to establishing an effective transfer of information between you and your colleague. When it comes to communicating across organization or culture, understanding what other people do, what their priorities are, and what is important to them also contributes to getting your point across effectively. Now, I’m not saying that if you’re going to have a conversation with one person you need to research his job and priorities. I am referring to situations where you are going to be communicating with a colleague on a regular basis in order to get something done together.

When faced with regular communication with a colleague in another organization or culture, pave the way using some of these techniques:

  1. Understand your colleague’s job responsibilities – Just as in my example above, you may have a colleague who has a similar job title to yours but could have a radically different set of responsibilities. Assume little about job titles; get an understanding from your colleague on what they are responsible for.
  2. Understand what your colleague’s priorities are – In addition to responsibilities, understand your colleague’s relative priorities. The fact that he or she has three primary responsibilities doesn’t mean that equal time is spent on the priorities, or that priorities don’t change. Understanding his or her priorities will help set your expectations for when he or she can respond to you and when he or she can’t.

  3. Tailor your communication to what is important to your colleague – Communicating with your colleague is great, but he or she may not have the same degree of interest or need for the things you see as important in your job. Understanding what is important to him will help ensure your communication is more targeted and that your colleague will read what you send him or her.

Lonnie Pacelli is an internationally recognized project management and leadership author and consultant with over 20 years experience at Microsoft, Accenture and his own company, Leading on the Edge International. Read more about Lonnie, subscribe to his newsletter, see his books and articles, and get lots of free self-study seminars, webcasts and resources.

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