Recently, I’ve had a few executive clients express frustration that, even though I’ve offered confidential support and help at no additional charge, employees are not contacting me to assist them in taking the key points of programs, meetings, or individual sessions and applying them back on the job. I was asked “How do you get people to ask for help?”
I think about this a lot. It is hard to ask for help in an environment that expects (and sometimes demands) self-sufficiency. Asking for help can cause people to feel ashamed, fear the loss of control, and worry that they will appear “less than” in the eyes of those who matter (and who hold the keys to the next promotion). What they often DON’T see if that self-sufficiency without achieving the goals or improving performance actually reflects poorly on them. When organizations provide resources and people don’t use them, it makes the C-Suite wonder why they should bother providing support.
However, if your organization has no one at the top that models the behaviors they request of others (like asking for input from someone else or getting support), the message gets muddled and lost. So what can executives and managers do to model the behavior they seek in others?
- Talk about help you have asked for, how you asked for it, what you learned, and how it made a difference in the outcome.
- Ask, “What stops you from using this resource?”
- Be direct – “I’d like you to connect with Mrs. Cleaver and see what ideas/strategies/skills she can help you develop.”
- Notice – “I’m glad you’re reaching out and using Mrs. Cleaver as a sounding board. I have noticed the improvement in your _______________.”
- Follow-Up – “Tell me how using this resource made a difference for you?”
If you want people to ask for help, tell them you hope they will, then follow up and ask them if they have. Then tell them why you think it’s important if they haven’t, and ask them what’s stopping them, and then ask them again.
As for the folks at the top who might think that using consultants is only for people who can’t do their job and need remedial help – I asked one COO if he saw the doctor when he was sick. He assured me that when he was ill (usually waiting until he was really, REALLY sick) he’d make an appointment to see his doctor. I then asked him if he ever went to get a routine physical. He told me that he got an annual physical. Sometimes it was standard and boring. Sometimes he had the chance to ask questions about things he had noticed and get some good information, and twice his doctor caught something early that would have developed into a bigger problem. Getting help when you need and support when you can use it makes a lot of sense.
Asking for help may go against everything employees have been told about career development. But using resources designed to make them more effective is essential to it!