Monday, May 20, 2013

Do You Know How to Help? Do You Know How to Ask for Help?

I am constantly carting around a toddler and a stroller full of stuff and possibly a bag or two on my shoulder.  Getting on and off the bus is the worst.  Many times, someone will grab something to "help" and not realize that they are making it harder (that bag you just grabbed is hooked to my stroller and now the stroller is being pulled out of my arms while I am trying to hold the baby and scan my card to pay for the bus ride).  The other day, when I got off the bus stop, there were two military men who  watched me get off the bus, open the stroller with one hand (if you are buying a stroller this is a MUST requirement), and put the baby in.  Afterwards, they laughed and said they were going to help but realized I had it under control.  I actually knew from the minute I saw them stop talking and look up that if I needed help I could ask, but the fact that they waited to see if I needed them or not meant more to me.

That is not to say, do not help people in need - just ask them what you can do to help rather than jumping in and doing what you feel they need done.

And that brings us to employee development.  How often do we look at an employee and map out their career, assign tasks and projects based on that map, and steer them in the direction we think they should go?  (Put them in a box, label it, and file it.)  Or do we ask them where they want to go, what skills they want to develop, and what we can do to help?  Obviously, if an employee is lacking a key skill for the job they are in, they need directive/managerial support.  But more often, especially with high performers, they need listeners who will coach them and give them opportunities to expand their skills.

Quite frankly, if you haven't heard what your employees' long-term goals are from them, their plans probably do not include you and maybe not even your organization.  If this is a high-performer, you are at a high risk of losing them.

I often hear people say, but if I help that person get "there" I won't have anyone to do what they do now.  How about helping them develop those "developing others" skills by sharing their institutional knowledge?  Especially if you know they are tired of doing what they do now.  (Hint, if they are applying for every job that comes open in your organization even if it is not a promotion, this is an indication that they are tired of what they are doing now.)

Again, this is not to say do not help your employees develop themselves.  Just make sure you are doing so in a collaborative way, not a directive way.  Make sure your actions are based on the employee's goals as aligned with the organization's needs rather than your idea of what the employee should do next.

If you are lucky enough, as I am, to regularly have development discussions and feedback with your boss, you know there are often times when you need to make a change, you are working on making a change, but you need your own time and space to do so.  You need to be able to acknowledge the desired change and articulate what you are doing to move toward that goal.  Change is hard and others understand that.  But they need to see results when you have said you want change or they may try to "help" you in ways that aren't what you need.  Reflect on what is holding you back and what you need.  Have an open discussion about that and find a common ground.  In other words, if you want others to honor what you need, you need to learn to ask for help when you truly need it.

Which part do you find easier, giving or asking for help?  Why?