People love to give help. Some of the most active posts I see on Facebook are those that are tagged “asking for a recommendation.”
But, when it comes to our job, sometimes we can be hesitant to ask for help. This hesitancy can be caused by our own personal beliefs, or it can be caused by the culture that we are part of. We covered the personal beliefs about asking for help in Episode 77 and I encourage you to go back and give that episode a listen.
Today, we are going to talk about the cultural aspects of companies that can lead us to resist asking for help when we need it.
Asking Can Be a Roadblock at Work
A lot of times, someone who wouldn’t hesitate to ask for help on a personal matter – anybody got a plumber you would recommend? – will hesitate to ask for help in a work setting because we underestimate our coworker’s willingness to help.
Or, you may think to yourself – ‘why would they help, it isn’t their responsibility?’
I challenge you to think about it if the tables were turned when a coworker comes to you asking for help, how do you feel?
I almost always get a positive boost of energy from it. Either I’m happy to have been able to lighten someone else’s load, or a lot of times what they are asking for help with is something that falls within my strengths – within my happy place – so the time I spend helping them is really a welcome diversion.
Don’t bring your pre-conceived notions about their willingness to help with you. The worst thing they can do is say no, and you are in the same position you were already in.
We Feel Asking Makes Us Look Incapable
Sometimes we don’t ask for help because we fear looking like we aren’t capable. If I ask for help I look weak. Or, if I ask for help, I look like a slacker. The thing is – people are smart.
They know the underlying motivator for your request for help. If your motivation is learn and grow then they know that you are coming from a positive place and are not going to have negative thoughts about your capabilities.
If your motivation is to get somebody else to deal with it so you don’t have to – then to be honest, the reputation is likely well-deserved.
But, chances are, if you are hesitant to ask for help because you are concerned about your reputation, then the likelihood you are actually operating from a motivation that deserves that reputation is pretty low.
People do not jump to the conclusion that somebody is not capable just because they ask for help. Again, think about when someone asks you for help. Do you automatically make an assessment that they are incapable? I really doubt it.
Design a Culture of Asking
Sometimes, we are part of a culture designed without obvious mechanisms for asking. If there is no built-in way to ask questions – or to forces us to ask questions – we can just get into a routine where we don’t.
Software developers are really good at building in mechanisms that encourage asking for help. They created the concept of the daily stand up where the entire purpose of the meeting is to touch base every day and tell your team what you did yesterday, what you will do today, and where you are blocked. The 1st two items are about communicating status, but the 3rd makes it ok to ask for help.
It doesn’t just make it ok – it makes it mandatory.
It makes it normal.
It makes it just another part of the day.
Think about your department. Are there built in processes to make asking for help a regular part of the job? Could you add something to your existing process that would help trigger people to ask? It doesn’t have to be a daily stand -up. Lots of departments have some kind of team meeting already established. This could be added to the agenda: ‘Is there anything that anyone needs help with or is stuck on?’
A quick round-robin of the team would give everyone a chance to surface their issues.
Even if you aren’t in charge of the agenda for the meeting you can send a note to the owner of the meeting with a suggestion. You can totally blame it on me. Tell them that you list to the podcast and thought this was an idea that could benefit the whole team and you just wanted to offer the suggestion for improvement to help the team uncover areas where one person on the team is blocked and another person on the team might be able to help. The worst that could happen is they say thank you but no thank you.
Know What You are Asking For
Sometimes we don’t ask for help because we don’t know how to ask. The 1st part of knowing how to ask is to make sure you are clear about what it is you are asking for. That seems really obvious, but the reality is that sometimes we aren’t so sure ourselves.
Do you need help to think through a problem?
Do you need help for a certain skill set that isn’t in your wheelhouse?
Do you need help getting a specific task done?
Do you need advice?
Or a different perspective?
Do you need an editor?
Do you need someone to take ownership?
If you make your request for help too general, it makes it harder for the other person to assess whether they can help you.
We have a tendency to assign mind-reading skills to those around us. Rather than assuming someone else can read your mind and magically solve your problem, spend some time getting clear about what it is you need from them.
So, what I want you to take away from this week’s episode is that asking for help should be a normal part of your day. Don’t stress yourself out because you aren’t asking for help when you need it. Challenge those reasons in your head for not asking. Don’t assume what others may or may not be willing to do to help and don’t assume others are mind readers and should know what you need help with. Whether you are in a leadership position or not, you can create a culture of asking by becoming a person who asks.
I used to work with someone who never asked for help. I’m pretty sure she saw it as a strength. She felt like it was important to give off the impression that she could do it all and never need to ask for help.
I’ve never been that way myself. I’ve never felt life asking for help makes me look weak. For me, its quite the opposite. I feel that asking for help makes me better. If I don’t know the answer to something, asking someone who does expands my world. Asking for help means that I’m constantly learning something new. And, my experience has been that others respect me for it. Rather than seeing me as weak, they see me as curious, engaged, and collaborative.
It is similar when asking for help with tasks. It is easy to feel guilty asking someone to do something you are supposed to do. After all, it is your job to get it done. Asking someone else to do your job can seem like taking advantage. But again, my experience is that others don’t see it that way. They are happy to help.
The thing I think is key to this idea of asking for help is balance. When you ask for help in order to get out of work altogether, you are just pawing off your work. You are a slacker and your coworkers will eventually catch on. Or, if you are constantly asking others to help you solve problems but your motivation is to not learn, grow, or elevate the outcome, then again, you will be seen for what you are – pawing off your work.
So, at one extreme, if you ask too much with an underlying motivation of getting out of work, you will damage your relationships and your reputation.
At the other extreme, if you are like my old coworker and you never ask for help, you are likely to get a reputation as someone who doesn’t meet commitments. This coworker, I’ll call her Mary, spends a significant amount of time apologizing for her lack of meeting expectations.
So, at the other extreme, if you never ask for help, you will damage your relationships and your reputation because your coworkers will come to see you as unreliable. And, you’ll have to added impact of causing yourself an awful lot of stress.
The key to asking for help is to find balance. You need to be comfortable asking for help when you need it, but not so comfortable that you end up asking all the time.
In order to find that balance, the other part of the equation is to give help. The thing about asking for help is that it involves at least 2 people. Anytime you ask for help, someone else is giving help. You’ve created a kind of transaction between the two of you.
In order to achieve balance, you need to be willing to 1) ask for help when you need it and 2) give help when asked.
If you think of asking for help and giving help as a matrix with 4 quadrants, you can understand 4 different personas that Wayne Baker outlines in his book All You Have to Do is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success.
If you are a Scale My Skills subscriber, you’ve got the matrix and personas along with other resources in your inbox today. If you’d like to sign up for Scale My Skills, you can do so on our home page.
Overly Generous Giver
If you give help frequently, but ask for help rarely, you are an overly generous giver. Overly generous givers get a self esteem boost from helping others. They revel in the adrenalin boost they get from helping others purely for the sale of being helpful. If you are familiar with Enneagram, these are the Enneagram 2s. The issue is overly generous givers will eventually burn-out. And, they can be seen as unproductive because they spend so much time helping others that they don’t get their own stuff done.
If you ask for help infrequently and you give help infrequently, you are a lone wolf. Lone Wolves are big on self reliance. They see life as a race to the top, which means that their relationships take a hit. And, because success in life and especially in business, is heavily dependent on our relationships with others, they usually fall short in their race to the top.
If you ask for help frequently, and you give help infrequently, you are the Selfish Taker persona. The Selfish Taker rarely pays generosity back. In the short run, they may see their star rising because it looks like they are accomplishing so much. But, in the long run, those that they are taking advantage of figure out that they are just pawning off their work and will eventually stop helping.
If you ask for help frequently and give help frequently you are a Giver-Taker persona. Giver-Takers are very productive. When they ask for help, their motivation is to learn and grow. When they give help, they are creating space for the person who asked for help to also be productive. And because they have a reputation for helping, they generally have a wide circle of contacts who have a high level of respect for them.
This week, I challenge you to assess yourself on the asking for help continuum. Which of the personas are you? How can you move more toward the Giver-Taker persona?
We are introducing a new segment to the podcast called Career Day. In these episodes, I’ll be interviewing someone about their job with the goal of helping you learn:
Even if it isn’t a career you aren’t interested in for yourself, it is always helpful to have a better understanding of the roles that people around you may fill.
Today’s career is Project Management and I’m interviewing Chris Schain, who is an experienced project manager, now in a role where he is managing project managers. Chris brings a prospective that will help you understand what makes a successful project manager, and helps give an understanding of what a potential career path in project management may look like.
If you aren’t in accounting or finance, you may think that you don’t need to understand financial terms. After all, they are the experts, so what can you possibly gain by understanding your company’s financial numbers?
But, the thing is, everyone in your management chain is thinking about margin. And, your job is to make your manager’s life easier, so if you understand financial concepts, you better understand what is driving your management team’s decisions. And, when you understand why your management team is making the decisions they make, you put yourself in a better position to make their life easier.
You don’t have to be an expert – I agree – leave that to the accounting department. But, if you have an understanding of the basic concepts, you will be more successful in your career. You will also be able to make better decisions for yourself because you will be able to anticipate what your management team will do next.
The concept we are going to cover this week is margin. Margin is the amount of money left after you pay for all the cost.
Revenue minus cost equals margin.
In personal terms, we call it savings. Your revenue – your hourly wage or salary – minus your costs – taxes, rent, food, ballet lessons, orthodontist bills, car payment, and that Amazon Prime fee. What remains is your margin, or savings. For companies, it is the same. They take in revenue through sales and they have expenses. What is left over is margin.
And, as you can probably guess, the goal of every management team is to have the highest possible margin. So, as your management team makes decisions part of their decision involves understanding the impact on margin. I don’t mean to give the impression that it is the only factor, or the most important factor. Every business and every leadership team is different, so how your management team makes decisions will be unique. But, they are considering margin, so if you can understand this aspect of your company, you will be better able to understand one of the levers in your management team’s arsenal.
Margin, on the surface is a fairly easy concept to understand, but I’ve found over the course of my career that people really struggle with it. I think it is because there are so many factors that influence it. It is absolutely relative to the specific situation, so you must always understand the larger context of the business in order to understand the impact on margin.
To help paint a picture for you, I’m going to use a familiar example that we can all relate to. We are going to assume the roll of a hamburger fast food restaurant. Now, our restaurant has a standard burger that is made up of a bun, meat patty, lettuce, pickle, tomato & ketchup.
When a customer walks into the restaurant, they can see the price of this burger up on the board. They pay $2.99 for the burger and that $2.99 becomes our revenue.
We have a cost associated with delivering this burger to them. 1st, there is the cost of the ingredients. The bun, the meat patty, the pickle, tomatoes, lettuce, and ketchup. The accounting department tells us that the cost of these ingredients is 75 cents. So, we take in $2.99 in revenue and we spent 75 cents on the ingredients. You might think that the margin is 2.99 minus 75 cents. But, keep in mind that we also paid someone to make the burger. We also paid for the electricity to operate the grill. We paid rent on the building. We paid the manager to oversee the person who made the burger.
So, you have to include all of these costs. For our burger joint, let’s say all of these costs add up to $2.50. So, we sell the burger to our customers for $2.99 – which is our revenue. And it costs us $2.50, which means our profit is 49 cents.
Again, margin is what is left over when you subtract cost from revenue.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the ways margin can be impacted. Let’s say a customer comes in with a coupon for 50 cents off their burger. This means that our revenue is going to go down from $2.99 to $2.49. But, our cost didn’t change. It still costs us $2.50 to produce and deliver the burger. Now, the margin is $2.49 minus $.50, or negative 1 penny. So, when revenue goes down but costs remain the same, margin also goes down.
Think about ways that might happen at your company. What are the scenarios where revenue might decrease without costs changing? What is the equivalent of a 50 cent off coupon for your business?
Let’s look at another example. A customer comes in and orders a burger and asks or extra pickles. They don’t have a coupon, so they are paying $2.99 for the burger. This means that our revenue is $2.99. But, they asked for extra pickles. The cost of adding extra pickles to the burger is 5 cents. Now, the total cost has gone up from $2.50 to $2.55. So, even though our revenue stayed the same, our cost increased. This makes our margin 44 cents. $2.99 revenue minus $2.55 cost is 44 cents. Our margin has decreased from 49 cents to 44 cents.
Think about ways that might happen at your company. What are the scenarios where costs might increase? What is the equivalent of extra pickles for your business?
What if a customer walks in and orders a burger and tells you to hold the pickles? Sine we know it costs 5 cents to add pickles, we know that it saves 5 cents to hold the pickles. So, the cost of the burger goes from $2.50 to $2.45. Margin is now 54 cents. $2.99 in revenue less the reduced cost of $2.45 gives us a bigger margin of $2.54.
Think about ways that might happen at your company. What are the scenarios where costs might decrease? What is the equivalent of holding the pickles for your business?
Understanding the different levers that impact margin for your company helps you understand how healthy the business is. It may also help you understand ways that you can help impact margin by either improving revenue or reducing cost so that margin is increased.
There are a lot of various factors that can influence margin, and if you’d like to explore the topic more, I encourage you to check out our financial acumen curriculum, which is a collection of all of our episodes that explore the topic of company financials.
So, your homework this week is to spend some time thinking about your company’s margin. What are the things, like coupons, that impact revenue? What are the things, like extra pickles that impact the cost? Can you see how your management team is making decisions to move these levers in order to help improve margin for your company?
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