Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Asking for help the right way

Kendell Brown
Associate Director of Professional Development in
Graduate Career Services
Working with alumni in career services, I talk with a lot of people at the start of their careers.

This is an exciting time for most; people are finally doing what they’ve been studying and training to do. However, despite all the time preparing, there will inevitably be moments when someone gets stuck. They’re analyzing unusual data and cannot calculate a key metric. Or they’ve come to a project crossroad and simply don’t know which path to pursue, or some other similarly befuddling scenario. What to do?

Any good employee is going to take some time to dig deep and figure things out on her own. And if she can get the issue resolved–great! But I guarantee that there are going to be those times when the good ol’ college try won’t work.

Consider this scenario: Bob needs to figure out what’s driving the East Coast volume decline and recommend a corrective plan of action by Friday. It’s Tuesday morning and Bob spent the entirety of Monday digging into the volume decline issue. Bob knows he can’t continue spinning his wheels, so he decides to get some help from his manager, Mary.

Asking for help at this juncture is both common and appropriate. So what’s the big deal?

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many situations when someone asked for help and came across as, at best, insecure, at worst, incompetent. So what’s a smart way for Bob to get the help he needs?

Here’s what Bob shouldn’t do:

Bob: Mary, do you have a few minutes?  I’m working on this volume decline issue and I’m stuck. So do you have any thoughts on what I should do?

Mary: Bob, this is a hectic week for me. I won’t have time to fully digest the issue until Thursday. How about you set up a meeting for Thursday afternoon?

Mary’s perception of Bob has just taken a nose dive. Bob’s brand is now:
- Lazy
- Overwhelmed
- Not up for the challenge

So what should Bob do instead?

Bob: Mary, do you have a few minutes?  I’m working on this volume decline issue and I’m stuck. I did some analysis and learned we haven’t devoted any resources to support volume growth on the East Coast. I’m basing this conclusion on a review of 1st and 2nd quarter promotions that we did on the West Coast that weren’t duplicated out East. I’m thinking of reviewing our budget to see if we could devote some funds to the East Coast.  But I wanted to get your thoughts prior to going too far along this path.

Now what’s Mary’s perception of Bob is:
- Resourceful
- A problem solver

So what accounts for the difference?  In the latter scenario, Bob did the following:

- Started with the facts he knew
- Explained his assessment
- Highlighted his rationale
- Got feedback and either buy-in or revised direction

So what’s the lesson? Asking for help can be an opportunity to show off your resourcefulness and impress those around you. Just be sure to do it the right way.

Kendell Brown is the Associate Director of Professional Development at the Kelley School of Business in Graduate Career Services. Kendell and her team meet and coach hundreds of students, alumni, and corporate partners on tried and true recruiting methods, interviewing tactics, and career management strategies, while staying in tune to how these areas are changing and evolving. Email Kendell at kendbrow@indiana.edu

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