The Help Me, Help Us Conversation Is Two-Way

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Oct 10, 2019

In “Help Me, Help You, Help Us: 5 Keys to Help Set Employees Up For Success” a very different kind of conversation between supervisors and their direct reports was described.

Help me help you help us conversations provide supervisors with the information they need to prevent turnover, improve engagement, and increase productivity because they enable supervisors to:

Find out what obstacles prevent their employees from performing at their best — This is one of the most important jobs of a supervisor. Also, by communicating a willingness to work with employees to reduce unnecessary obstacles — rather than adopting a “It is what it is, so just deal with it” attitude — supervisors minimize the chances of fostering apathy and learned helplessness, enemies of engagement and initiative.
Identify each employee’s unique “employee engagement recipe.” — Using a one-size-fits-all approach supervising prevents a supervisor — and their employer — from getting the greatest value from an employee’s talents, strengths, and skills. Each person has their own “engagement recipe,” the set of drivers and conditions that motivate them to perform at their best, and what management approaches they respond best to.
Build a stronger, more productive relationship with each employee — Having these conversations communicates “I care about my impact on you enough to want to get your input and feedback.” This display of concern, along with the humility it conveys can’t help but engender respect, trust, and reciprocated concern.
Help employees understand clearly how they can best contribute to their employer’s strategic goals and initiatives and overall plan
— Creating a clear line of sight between employee actions and the big picture is one of THE biggest areas in need of improvement for most managers. Research by Harris Interactive, reported in Stephen Covey’s 2005 book The 8th Habit, revealed that only 20% of employees understood how their job contributed to their employer’s goals; only 1 in 5 had line of sight. When employees have a clear line of sight, they are able to focus their attention on doing the things that provide the most value and make the biggest contribution.

When I’ve written about, and spoken on help me help you help us conversations, I’ve focused on the supervisor’s side of the conversation: What questions to ask and how they can create psychological safety so their direct reports are willing to speak candidly.

Viewing “Help me help you help us” conversations from the supervisor’s perspective acknowledges that the direct report is one of the supervisor’s customers (along with the employer), and the employer is a customer of both the supervisor and the employee.

Two-way conversation

Help me help you help us conversations aren’t a one-way fact finding interview.

They are a two-way dialogue.

In this dialogue the supervisor’s job is to find out how they can help their direct report have the best work experience possible, perform at their best, and make the biggest contribution possible.

It’s also the employee’s responsibility to make sure they are making the biggest contribution possible. It’s also the employee’s responsibility — especially if they want to grow professionally and advance their career — to make sure they are satisfying the needs of their “customers”– their supervisor and their employer.

Thus, the help me help you help us conversation from the employee’s side has a different set of questions.

Initiating the conversation

Employees don’t have to wait for their supervisor to initiate these conversations, though. In this article, we’ll examine how employees at all levels of the organization can initiate such conversations with their supervisor.

Engaging one’s supervisor in a “help me help you help us” conversation is one of the best things someone can do to set themselves up for a promotion, accelerate their career trajectory, and make the biggest, most powerful contribution to their employer.

Asking to have this conversation will also will also be music to any supervisor’s ears. Two of the things supervisors most long for from their direct reports are:

  1. A “How can I help you?” attitude versus “What can you do for me?”
  2. A willingness to hear feedback on how they can improve.

Help me help you help us conversations enable any employee to satisfy both those desires.

To make bringing up this conversation as easy and natural as possible, an employee can either share this article with their supervisor and say something like: “I want to make sure I am focusing on the activities that make the biggest contribution to your goals and the company’s goals. Can we set up some time to go over this?”

Questions to ask

  1. What organizational goals have the biggest impact on our team’s work and where we as a team need to put our attention?
  2. What is most important to you for our team to accomplish this year? (Alternately you could ask “Related to your goals for us this year, am I correct in thinking that what’s most important to you this year are _______?”
  3. I want to make sure I’m focusing my attention on the things that are most important to you and your goals. My understanding is that the things I can be doing to make the biggest contribution are (state your understanding). Am I on track or do I need to shift my priorities?”
  4. What’s one thing you would like to see me start doing that would make the biggest difference in my ability to be helpful to you?
  5. What’s the one thing you would like to see me STOP doing that would make the biggest difference in my ability to be helpful to you?
  6. What’s the one thing that you really like that I do, that you would like to have me do more of?
  7. Is there something that I’m not doing that you would really like me to do?

It’s an ongoing conversation

Engaging one’s supervisor in help me help you help us conversations can be a game-changer both in terms of an employee’s ability to provide maximum value and to advance their career.

After getting the information from their supervisor, the employee would be wise to create a game plan — or at the very least, a list – -to keep them focused on what has been identified as their most valuable activities, and make sure they are allocating their time and energy accordingly.

If the personal feedback an employee receives from their supervisor involves developing new, more productive habits, or the development of new skills, they should work together with their supervisor to create a professional development plan to help them address those areas and stay on track.

Then, the employee can continue to show initiative by checking in every now and then for updates on these questions, and updated feedback on their progress.

Doing this will create a huge win/win/win situation where the employee gets what they need to perform at their best, supervisors get the best quality and greatest quantity of work from each employee, and the employer gets the greatest return on its human capital investment.

Furthermore, because the employee gets what they need to perform at their best and make the biggest possible contribution, they become more and more of a VIP at work: Valuable, Influential, and Promotable.

Thus, whether initiated by the supervisor or the direct report, help me help you help us conversations provide tremendous value to the employee, their supervisor, and to their employer.

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