Business transformation for the home: the subversive act of helping
Over the years, I have left radically different people mildly confused by asking them how I can help them. Colleagues, bosses, clients, staff members and tech entrepreneurs have often been stumped when I said “where are you, what do you need, how can I help you get it”.
Surprisingly few people jump at the opportunity to have a conversation that isn’t about “what am I selling, what are you buying”. Or maybe at the opportunity of not having to dance around their agenda, of being able to say: I need to find my blind spot, I am missing something I just don’t know what. Or “we need a reference client, we need to road test our product, we need a decision fast, we need support understanding how to mature our pricing, I need experience or exposure. I need help”. Whatever it is: department, business or individual need, some times it’s nice to not to have to take the long way there.
Most of us, however, hesitate when someone other than a shop assistant says “how can I help you”. And when it comes right down to it, in my experience, most folks actually wing it with varying results. We just don’t expect the offer. It’s not part of the script.
Having thoroughly prepared for the meeting, some will actually admit they didn’t expect the question.
Of all the things they anticipated and prepared for, being offered help wasn’t on the list.
Which says a lot about how we do business. It also raises the following eye brow: why would you enter any professional encounter (leaving life out of this for a second) not being clear what you want out of it? And if you are clear, why would you hesitate when asked?
The art of focus
Being stumped when someone asks you how they can help potentially reveals two internal struggles.
First of all you may lack focus.
Knowing how a specific someone can specifically help you requires focus. It requires knowing where your business is beyond a need for sales, hires or inventory. It requires an understanding of who the person in front of you is: whom they represent, who they are, what they care about and where their and their organisation’s values and interests may align with your needs and trajectories.
If you don’t spend time thinking where you are, where you want to go and how people and things you encounter can help you get there then you are missing a trick. If you don’t think about it all the time, thinking about everything in terms of your destination, you are missing a trick. If you think you are an island who needs nothing, then you are definitely missing a trick.
And you may be missing this trick because you are too afraid to ask. Too afraid of being perceived as selfish.
Which is the second potential problem. Whatever happens in the market that causes the loss of our ability to articulate what we need when someone offers, is a loss for all sides, not just the person who can’t leverage the help offered.
It’s a fallacy that to ask is selfish and self serving. It is rather honest and brave.
Plus it is helpful as it creates an opportunity for mutually beneficial activity.
And even if you don’t find the fertile ground for that after the first conversation, do you know what happens when you offer help and that offer is met with enthusiasm and clarity of purpose on the other side?
The greatest currency of them all, to be banked for future use.
This construct is heavily in play when meeting young entrepreneurs or when working with clients. But it also holds true inside your organisation. In fact, I have always thought that the greatest assets and the greatest rebels inside a corporate are those who offer help. It seems counter-intuitive, surely helping people is good, nothing rebellious about it… Who could possibly object?
And yet inside an industry where experts jealously guard their know-how and organisations reward individual efforts, laud solitary putter-outers-of-unnecessary-fires and rabbit-out-of-hat-pullers, taking time to help someone rather than solving the problem for them at the 11th hour and being hailed as a hero, is deeply subversive behaviour.
“Let me help you” is the badge of your organisation’s most useful anti-hero.
Why I always ask how I can help. And always help when I can.
I’ve been called up and dressed down for “wasting my time” helping out people who didn’t work in my business line, sharing ideas with people who didn’t sit in my department, letting juniors present the work I had been supervising them on. Too frequently, in multiple organisations, I have been told verbatim “why are you wasting time helping these people”. Told not actually asked. The “why” tends to be rhetorical. The implication was clear: stop.
And this is why.
Generosity is not selfless.
I offer help because I know it takes balls to ask for it. And I respect the courage, and I reward it because we will need it again, down the road. I also respond to it because I know I will need help tomorrow and I am banking my credits towards future reciprocity.
But there is more to this.
I am also offering help because it’s my way of inviting myself to the party. If I can help you, I get to play. When I ask you how I can help you, I am both testing you and getting myself a seat at the table: I am asking you to show me how focused you are, how well you know where you are and what you need and, all things being equal, I am asking you to show me the entry point into your conversation and world. Should I choose to enter, it is a smoother entry coming in where you have a need rather than where I have a want.
I also offer help because it helps me perfect the art of listening. And those who listen learn. And what I learn each day is that I will never learn enough and I will always need help along the way.
There is bravery and wisdom in knowing when you are not adequately brave and wise
We are an industry of experts.
You get promoted for what you know and what you’ve done. The uninterrupted and continuous longevity of tenure in a specific field is a badge of honour. Knowing is what makes you important. And not knowing is a challenge to that importance and hierarchy but it also goes against the cultural construct of the somber, decisive and precise decision makers which we would like to think populate our industry.
Admitting you don’t know, undermines this credibility.
It shows weakness.
Admitting you are unsure on top of not knowing is so deeply uncomfortable within the industry that it has come to be openly derided. I have repeatedly been mocked and challenged in my career for admitting I don’t know things I don’t know. For saying I am not sure what the right course of action is right now and until I am sure I will seek counsel and perspective.
It made for some very interesting performance reviews over the past 15 years. Especially as the issue was not the thing I didn’t know. But the admitting bit.
It was a struggle that felt personal until a couple of years ago Sam Maule (@SamMaule) told me one thing he learned serving as a submariner. A thing that I have cherished ever since – so Sam, if I’m mis-remembering, let me down gently here…
When considering hiring, partnering or doing business with someone push for the boundary of the things they don’t know. We all have those. If you push someone and they keep coming up with answers and reasons but never admit they don’t know the answer to something – and there is always something – then that person is a danger to your life inside a submarine. If they can’t admit they don’t know something, if they don’t know when they need help, the time will come when they may put your life at risk in the avoidance of looking weak or foolish.
You don’t want that guy on your team.
Asking for help shows humility and courage. It’s a mark of belonging to a small and mighty tribe. I call them the optimists, for they forever believe that there is good out there for the asking and opportunity at the far end of hard work.
Asking also demonstrates teachability.
You don’t know now. But as soon as you’ve asked for help and guidance, information and input, you are on the road to knowing. You will soon know. You have taken steps to fix whatever the gap was. Which is more than the guy winging it did.
In asking for help, you expose yourself, your agenda and vulnerabilities to everyone. How they respond exposes them back. And you will get more than just answers to your specific questions. You will get the measure of your team, colleagues, partners, clients and ecosystem.
How can I help: this is how revolutions start
Let me chuck some clichés at you: change is the new normal. What we do, how we do it and who we do it for is changing rapidly and shows no sign of settling. Change will remain a constant of our lives. Get the picture?
So what you know will only get you so far each time, until you find the next thing you don’t know. And there will always, always be something so it is not what you know but how you learn that will take you all the way. And realising you can’t and shouldn’t do it alone will not just find you folks to go the distance with you but rather take you places that were literally not on your radar until the optimists came along.
So when I see people asking for help or taking it when it is offered, when I see people offering help, I see generosity and humility, I see a mindset of cooperation and reciprocity, I see an active engagement of learning and exchange that leads to value generation faster than any other conversation. But I also see a tribal greeting. It’s a test. It’s how we recognise each other. And when the time comes, for the big push, the big idea, the grand transformation or the quiet rebellion, we know who we go to. Ours is an unusual tribe and this is how we find each other.
So. How can I help you?
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ new resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
Leda is a lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem, inhabiting both start-ups and banks over the years. She is a roaming banker and all-weather geek.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!