Among my first jobs out of college was as a third-party recruiter.
At that time, there was no LinkedIn, so your success depended on making cold calls. And, I’m not talking about a just a few—it was 50 to 100 calls a day.
In most cases, I was calling a company whose phone number I’d found in a phone book (remember those?), trying to make my way to someone qualified for the job I was trying to fill.
The art of these calls was first to get past the “gatekeeper” who answered the phone. Often, this was challenging because many gatekeepers were skilled at their job, namely minding the gate and keeping the riffraff (like recruiters) out.
If I was successful in getting past this hurdle, I then had to get the potential recruit to listen to me long enough to hear my pitch. Again, easier said than done. Who wants to be pitched by a stranger on anything?
These calls were hard. But my success as a recruiter depended on them.
I was always on the search for cold call tips and techniques. Of all the different things I tried, one proved far more effective than anything else.
Asking for help.
Regardless of who answered the phone, I opened the call with “Hi, my name is Jason Lauritsen and I am hoping you can help me.” In most cases, the person on the other end would reply with something like, “I’m happy to try.”
In recruiting, this was a tactic. But, I learned something powerful by using it.
People like to help. Most want to help you if given the opportunity.
And yet for some reason, we are reluctant to ask for help. Maybe we don’t want to impose on others. Or worse, we don’t want to look weak or unsure.
We’ve got it wrong.
Asking for help is a sign of strength and confidence. It shows an awareness that you rely on others to succeed (we all do). And it demonstrates both trust and respect for those you ask.
Asking for help builds relationship and community. It draws people to you. It’s a way of engaging with people in a meaningful way.
And, it’s a wildly underutilized management tool for building teams and creating a more engaging work experience.
One of the things that drove me crazy in my corporate HR days was the amount of time managers and leaders would spend in meetings talking about a group of employees without any input or participation from those employees.
Questions would come up like:
- Why are we losing so many people in that department?
- How do we get the performance up?
- Why are customer service scores declining in the group?
- How can we make this new scheduling challenge work?
Management would spend hours together speculating and debating, tossing around opinions about what to do. It never seemed to dawn on anyone in the room to go ask those who actually knew the answer.
Employees tend to want the same things that management and leadership does. They want to be successful. They want to perform well. They want customers to be happy. They want to be engaged.
But they are stuck, left confronting obstacles that they have no power to address or remove. If only someone would ask them how to make things better.
Ask your people for help.
When you declare your intentions and employees believe your intentions to be pure, they will be eager to help if you give them the chance.
- “I’d like to create a work experience for the team that feels energizing and that makes you want to come to work. But, I’m not sure how to do that. I need your help to make it happen.”
- “I want to be the best manager you’ve ever worked for, but I can’t do that without your help. I will need candid feedback and your partnership to pull it off.”
- “We need to figure out how to improve our output by 10% for the rest of the year if we are going to meet our goals and earn everyone their bonus. I clearly don’t have the answer, so I’m hoping you can help. What ideas do you have?”
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s an invitation to engage—to be part of something important. When you open yourself up honestly to your team and ask them to help, they will frequently surprise you.
When you listen to their suggestions and work with them in partnership, you will have already created a more engaging experience for your team.