Lessons learned from working with a British customer

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For past two years, I was working closely with British customer and, let’s be honest, my company which originated in the United Kingdom. Over this time period, I realized that I’ve learned something important. Something that made me a calmer person, more friendly person, more open-minded person… I decided to take a look at my past and see what is different.

Solutions above emotions

I believe that we could make “throwing the blame” a Polish national sport. When something fails sometimes we focus too much on who tested it, who broke it, who is responsible for this part of software – and if You broke it, You fix it. Even when this is not the most efficient way of doing it.

It took me a while to realise that four our British customer there is no such thing as blaming. Even questions like “Did you test it?” or “Who tested it?” after a failure is not a search for a guilty person, but gathering information e.g. did it work previously and it is failing just now due to some changes? I’ve learned it the hard way when sometimes I needed to provide the answer “No, it was not tested” or “I was the one testing it”. Right then I realized that nothing bad happened because fixing the problem was much more important.

Another thing that was hard for me to understand was that our customer only cares about ownership in terms “who will fix it”, not “who broke it”. It took me a long time to accept that sometimes we must adjust and fix problems introduced by another supplier instead of throwing “they broke it, they should fix it”.

Right now I also try to focus on working towards a solution instead of an emotion-driven response.

People in the centre

Imagine spending almost one month on site in customer office in the United Kingdom. Some see this as scary experience and I saw this as the amazing opportunity. The thing is that there I feel surrounded by friends, not strangers including bosses, managers and other experts. I feel there respected and welcomed. And why? Because people relations are very important by default.

At first, I made a lot of fun about “small talks” – not only in conversation but even in emails! But then I realized there is amazing value in it. We share personal stories and since the start of a conversation, we feel closer to each other. I am bad in people skills, so I really enjoy when sharing is part of the culture. In Poland, most people share personal information only with friends and ‘friend’ definition varies. This makes me often excluded from discussions.

But I am working on this. The main message I have in my head to follow is: be friendly, respect others and do your job.

Honesty brings true success

Another thing that walks hand to hand with the focus on a solution is being honest. Once I asked a friend for advice in working with British people. She said “Remember to be honest. If You do not know something – say it, but do not try to lie that You know.”. And I follow this advice. Not that I was ever tempted to lie about knowing stuff – I just pay more attention to my answers. Often I give the answer, but then I underline that I am not 100% of this answer and a) they need to give me more time to investigate or b) they need to ask someone else.

This goes further than admitting not knowing stuff – this also includes taking responsibility for overlooking something, reporting failures and always giving a full picture.

Importance of health and family

This lesson I’ve learned by bad example. I can see that many people working in the United Kingdom who sacrificed both their health and family for our current project. Working overtime, high load of suppressed stress can really destroy a person’s life. This makes me realise how much I love my company, which allows me to have healthy work-life balance.

Now I pay more attention to what is happening at home. I try to make more time to spend with family and moreover – clear my mind from work-related stuff when I am with them. Last year I also paid a high price for ignoring medical conditions, so health is also at the beginning of my priority list.

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