I like to call what we do ‘help’. Some might call it consulting, training, coaching, supporting, delivering etc etc, but I really like help. 

Why? well i think that’s what people are after isn’t it?

The more time I have spent in and around water companies, the more ‘helpers’ I have seen around, me included. I’m not convinced that we are all, always helping though. I believe there is more than one way to look at this too and its not the obvious one you may all be thinking about.

Learning how to ask for help is the biggest challenge

If you are leading a department, function or even the whole business, you will have most probably gone outside of your immediate scope of resource and asked for help. That will have been from either an internal team that’s there to support or an external provider of the type of help you are looking for.

How you frame the ask for this help is a pivotal moment in this whole process. Have a look at these questions:

What is it that you ask for?

Do you ask for the solution that you know you need? How do you know?

Do you ask for a skill or a specific person? Why? How do you know?

How much do you really understand about the problem you are asking for guidance around and do you admit this?

Do you point at a measure and ask for it to be improved?

How rigid or emergent is your ask?

All of these types of questions can help you think about how you are going at the critical step of asking for help. I’m not sure this is always done well and it can lead to a lot of wasted time and money. 

A focus on a single metric is a bit dangerous

It seems obvious but we still do it to this day. It’s not exclusive to water companies by the way, its everywhere. Pick a KPI such as leakage and work on improving that. This seems logical. Of course it does, but its so much more complex than that.

What behaviours does this measure drive and if we start working on improving it what else will we get?

How does improving this one affect the other ones as we may be back here next time just with a different measure?

What if the measure itself isn’t good enough to tell us how good we are actually doing? We could be blind to reality and about to ask the wrong questions.

This is all important stuff in the space of asking for help. If you ask for help to improve a metric or achieve a specific outcome and your helper runs off towards that, leaving you worse off, is it their failure or yours for asking in the first place?

If you’re not sure if it’s the right thing, it makes absolute sense to look for help to determine how to frame the challenge and move from there.

Where is the helper on the selfless to selfish scale?

This will be contentious for some, but it’s true and I know because I’ve been at opposite ends of this scale both internally and externally. Help grounded in the needs of those that we are helping is different than help grounded in outcomes for self.

Of course, win-win scenarios are a thing to aspire to, but having helpers that aren’t wedded to their own win will bring more openness, honesty and maybe some things you don’t want to hear, but need to. Next time you are looking for help its worth thinking about where you believe the helper sits on this scale, as it might be the difference between great help and, well, some help.

So, as we head into the end of the year and you consider the help you need to navigate a number of difficult challenges, have a think about this conversation and give yourself the best chance of getting the right help.