Vancouver, world class city? Maybe… World class business culture? Not so much…

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Today was my breaking point. What’s got me so riled up? The lack of basic business etiquette in Vancouver is quite simply appalling. What’s going on Vancouver? Phone messages go unanswered, emails unreturned, scheduled meetings missed, last minute cancellations and on and on. Let me share a few recent examples and see if you’ve experienced something similar:

  • A client no-show, not once but twice, despite acceptance of the electronic meeting invitation and watching the person enter the appointment in their mobile device.
  • A colleague traveled 70km to meet with a potential client and despite confirming the meeting via phone and email, the person was a no show at the appointed time.
  • A customized proposal sent to a potential client was met with a reply that I should familiarize myself with anti-spam legislation. My business proposal was addressed to the person by name with a potential reciprocal business offer that could have generated new business for their company.
  • At a business mentoring event to share insights into career options with 3rd and 4th year business students, I provided each student with my business card and offered that I’d be happy to speak to them anytime if they had questions. Although not expected, I was surprised that I didn’t receive a single email acknowledging the 2 hours I spent providing tailored career guidance, making personal introductions to people in their field who could be of assistance and suggesting specific companies they should contact  based on their area of interest.
  • An email introduction to an industry association peer about the potential for one of our members to present at a major conference still hasn’t been acknowledged, 8 weeks after sending. The lack of a response doesn’t just reflect poorly on my colleague who didn’t respond, it reflects badly on me too for making the introduction to someone who doesn’t follow-up.

I’ve lived, worked and traveled the globe and understand that business cultures vary and professional norms differ in every city. For example, while working in Hong Kong for three years, I learned firsthand that business people don’t just live the motto, ‘time is money’, it’s ingrained in the business culture. There is an expectation that if you say you’re going to do something, you’ll get it done fast and at a high quality. If you don’t, the client will find someone else who can. Clients know there are many vendors to choose from and if you fail to deliver, the one strike and you’re out rule applies. It may seem harsh but it makes you step up your business game knowing you’re always measured by the results of your last engagement.

Executives in Vancouver, especially in our hyper-growth tech sector, lament the fact they can’t find talented senior leadership to drive their growth. It’s possible we’re reaching out to you but you may not be returning our calls. One exception and special mention goes to an executive who set a record responding within 6 minutes of receiving my email. I tell everyone I know about this amazing executive, who despite having 100’s of things to do every day, recognized a potential opportunity and responded immediately.

When I share these experiences, the common refrain from colleagues is, “That’s just how Vancouver is.” What gives?

  • Are my expectations unrealistic? Are my standards too high?
  • Are we collectively prepared to accept such low standards of business etiquette?
  • Do we really hope to compete on a global scale when we can’t even extend simple courtesies to colleagues in our local business community?
  • Has technology, which was supposed to make our lives easier, actually had the opposite effect and made people weary?

I have a reputation for emailing within minutes of receiving an inquiry and personally calling people to say thank you when someone has assisted me on a personally or for my business. I’m often met with genuine surprise by the recipient who is appreciative of my acknowledgement. I tell my clients and colleagues, if you haven’t heard from me within 2 hours, you should pick up the phone because it means I haven’t received your inquiry.

We are truly fortunate to attract talented business immigrants to Vancouver. I’ve met many in recent months from France, UK, Mexico, China, and Korea who express surprise at the laissez faire attitude they experience in Vancouver. I graciously accept their insights while demonstrating my own commitment to professional standards. In the spirit of raising the bar for everyone, I offer three simple tips that would go a long way to helping Vancouver businesses compete globally:

  • Respect People’s Time: I get it, you’re busy and sometimes it’s unavoidable to be running late. Stuff happens! I have a 15 minute courtesy window and will always give someone the benefit of the doubt. If you’re behind schedule, let the person know and give them the option to reschedule. If you can’t make a meeting, 24 hour notice would be appreciated to demonstrate that you respect the person’s time.
  • Acknowledge Correspondence: Email is a blessing and a curse and you’re likely inundated with 100’s of email daily. A quick scan and a 5 second email saying, thanks but…I’m not interested….I’m too busy to meet now….or please follow up in 3 weeks would suffice. This small gesture shows you’re engaged and open to possibilities, rather than a black hole of silence which potentially undermines your credibility.
  • Send A Thank You Note: If someone contributes to your business in any way, send a thank you note/email. Most people want to be helpful however if our efforts go unnoticed, we’re unlikely to extend ourselves in the future on your behalf. I always ask people, “How will I know if I’ve met someone who would be your ideal client?” I offer my time willingly to anyone who I think I can help with an introduction or business insight that may be useful to their business. I’m keen to connect people and I think it’s reasonable to anticipate a brief note of acknowledgement.

We have wildly talented and creative people in Vancouver who are building industry leading companies. Think BuildDirect, Allocadia, Hootsuite, Vision Critical. There are many people who are at the top of their games professionally and do us proud internationally. In Vancouver, we have unlimited potential to drive business innovation; however, it can easily be undermined due to a lack of professionalism, business etiquette and sloppy communications. There are bright spots and every now and again, someone restores my faith with a lovely note, quick follow-up or advance notice of a meeting cancellation. I’m passionate about promoting Vancouver businesses to the world and encourage everyone to make a concerted effort to improve their own business etiquette.