I’ve been working in B2B technology sales for over two decades.  The past 22 years of my career have been based in Silicon Valley.  It can be truly exhilarating to work with twenty something year olds freshly minted with their college diplomas, chock full of enthusiasm and ready to build the next great company.  At the same time, it can also be utterly exhausting to deal with their complete lack of basic professionalism.

For a retrospective on this, I was once a twenty something newly employed as the 10th employee in a software startup in Boston.  We were a bunch of twenty something year olds that didn’t know what we didn’t know.  We were smart (present company excluded), passionate and worked our asses off for a pittance.

We really “believed” in our company, our product and making our customers successful.  We hated the competition, and I mean hated them.  As the 2nd sales rep in the company, I made it my mission in life to beat them in every deal possible and relished it when one of my competitor’s sales reps was fired because they weren’t winning against us enough.  Losing a deal to the competition was a fate worse than death, as I felt like I had let my everyone in our company down.

We became a family.  We did everything together…probably too much reflecting back on those days now:-)  But everything we did, we tried to do as professionally as possible.   Why?  Because we knew that we were representing this no name start-up software company selling software to the enterprise.  Every business interaction that we conducted was a reflection of our company and created an impression.  Our early days culture tended to weed out any bad apples quickly as they stood out like a sore thumb.  So we built an anchor team that embodied our culture and enabled us to grow successfully, finally culminating in a successful IPO.

To reiterate, I genuinely love working with most companies that have lots of twenty something year olds driving the growth of the business.  The energy, the fresh ideas and innovation are palpable.  These folks also tend to be sponges and eager for learning, coaching and developing their craft.

On the other hand, I detest working with the companies with lots of twenty something’s where the kids are in charge and anarchy rules!  By that I mean a complete lack of basic professionalism and business protocol.   Here are some handy rules to see if which profile your twenty something company culture fits:

  • Business meeting protocol
    • When you confirm that you will be attending, actually attend the meeting or call
    • Attend the meeting/call on time or even early
    • Come prepared
    • Stop talking over people
    • Have thoughtful questions or don’t ask any questions at all
    • If it’s your meeting, come prepared with an agenda and facilitate the call/meeting against that agenda
    • Recap action items, owners and due dates at end of call/meeting
    • Send a summary email with aforementioned action items, owners and due dates to all meeting/call participants
    • Hold people accountable for follow up tasks “agreed to”
  • Value people’s time
    • Demonstrate through your interactions that you respect and value every other persons time, not just yours
    • Check to see if others feel like you are valuing their time through your actions
    • Ask what else you could do to improve and grow, then do it
    • Don’t show up hung over to important calls or meetings, no one cares that your team was in the playoffs last night
    • Don’t show up ill prepared to important calls or meetings
    • When you say you are going to do something and make a commitment, then always follow through with it in the timeframe that you committed
  • Stop making excuses
    • Nobody likes excuses
    • Excuses are a dead giveaway signal that you are incredibly disorganized, most likely lazy and not trustworthy for important work
    • Apologize and acknowledge when you make a mistake….we’re all humans and make mistakes and the best way to defuse any frustration is to admit it and apologize
  • Learn and grow as a professional
    • You can’t teach experience, so stop pretending you know things you don’t and ask for help/guidance so you can learn what you need to
    • Don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over…again this is yet another dead giveaway signal that you are incredibly disorganized, most likely lazy and not trustworthy for important work
    • Think about what you don’t know and the experience that you don’t have but need to grow professionally and proactively find mentors and coaches who can help you gain that knowledge and experience
  • Think of others before yourself
    • That means placing your customers, your colleagues and your company ahead of yourself
    • Ask yourself if you authentically present yourself as someone who really gives a shit about your customers, your colleagues and your company
    • Learn how to you prove that actually care and have empathy for others
    • Look to learn from those that have proven themselves to model examples of empathy and caring within and outside of your company

The problem is that by the time most companies catch on to the fact that the kids are in charge and the culture is out of control and not professional…it’s probably too late. The truth is that bad news spreads exponentially faster than good news. And it’s a small world, even though I wouldn’t want to paint the fence:-)  By that, I mean that I have almost 2,000 people in my LinkedIn network and nary a day goes by without at least one inquiry or back door reference check on either a company or a professional employed at a certain company or someone applying for a new job. And I always give my honest opinion because I would want the same in return from trusted colleagues of mine.

So let’s get back to the basics in business professionalism! And stop making excuses or being “that cliché start-up that is changing the world”, but alienating everyone along their way without even realizing it.