Reagan, Follow-Up and My First Disinvitation

Here’s the story…with the names changed to protect the guilty!

Earlier this year I was working on a search for the chief US economist for a Canadian bank.  The position was located in Manhattan.  I contacted academics and Federal Reserve economists to see if anyone had any nominations.  One of the persons whom I contacted at City University of New York, Annie, wrote to me some time later inviting me to participate in a conference in the spring of 2011 and to be “one of our speakers, hosting the workshop on the ‘State of the job market in NYC.'”  I thanked her and accepted.  Ten days later she wrote that they, the planners, were in “intense planning stages” and that she would not be able to call me for a few days.  A few days later she sent me an e-mail giving me the name of the event planning company and informing me that the website would be up in “a week or two with all the details.”

That was the last time I heard from her.  I thought it strange.  Two months with no communications.  Just before Thanksgiving I sent her an e-mail, wishing her a happy holiday and asking for an update on the conference.  I received no reply.  On Wednesday, two days ago, I sent her another e-mail asking for an update.  When I did not hear back from her, Thursday morning I decided to call the hotel where she said the event would take place.  I left a message with the director responsible for reserving rooms for events.  She called me back.  No doubt she has scores, if not hundreds, of bookings past, present and future to remember.  She remembered Annie.  She told me that Annie was supposed to have gotten back to her with a signed contract, but never did.  There was no event booked at the hotel.  When you disappoint, you become memorable!

Later on I did receive an e-mail from Annie.  While she did not make any mention of a change in venue, she did say that the panel I was supposed to be on had been changed to “Working with headhunters.”  I responded by asking her to clear up my confusion.  Her response to my having contacted the hotel was to rebuke me for having done so, and to tell me that she was “going to tell me that we were negotiating a much larger venue.”  Because “I am not very trusting of our structure,” she then disinvited me which, despite what Spell Check says, is a word!

To summarize, she did not follow-up as promised with a phone call, did not send me the website, did not return my e-mails in a timely fashion, did not keep me updated on events and, as I have subsequently discovered, was not being totally honest when she wrote that she was going to tell me about the negotiations for a larger venue.  They have the venue and the website is up.  She chose not to tell me.  She did not follow-up with me, and she did not follow-up with the hotel events director.  When it happens to one person it is an incident.  When the behavior is repeated, it’s a pattern.

Now juxtapose this situation with my experiences with The Learning Annex.  This Sunday I will be participating in a panel for their “Career Day.”  Since first contacted I have been regularly informed, via timely e-mails, of the details of the event.  They were even kind enough to offer anyone who registers through my website a $10 discount.  (You can still register.  Use coupon code ANNEXWINTER to receive the discount.  The program is from 10 AM to 1 PM at the Hilton Manhattan East, 304 East 42nd Street.) The organizers followed-up on all promises and anticipated my questions.  Truly a professional operation.

But what of Annie?   Follow-up is perhaps the most important value a professional can have.  There is nothing worse, short of lying or committing an actual crime, than creating an anticipation and not seeing it through.  I can remember, as a fundraiser, telling some volunteers or donors that I would do something for them.  When it became clear that I would not succeed, I called them, told them and apologized.  They were always appreciative and understanding.  No one is perfect and no one can deliver all the time.  But when you don’t communicate on a regular basis with persons with whom you are involved, and when you don’t follow-up with them, they may, as I did, get suspicious and follow President Reagan’s advice, “Trust but verify.”  Or worse, they may just dismiss you out of hand.