In modern corporate life, you often need to get assistance from people who are colleagues, not direct reports. Here's how you can persuade them to help you, when they're outside your chain of command.
- Modern corporate life isn't quite so hierarchical anymore. Organizations these days like to be flat, and matrixed, and collaborate across silos. That's often great. There are plenty of benefits when it comes to innovation and breaking out of bureaucratic patterns. But one area where it gets complicated is delegation, because to do your job effectively, you often need to get assistance from people who are colleagues, not direct reports. So how can you persuade them to help you, even when they're outside your chain of command? Here are three questions to ask yourself to help the process along.
First, what's the appropriate protocol? This will vary by company and even by department, so there's not a fixed answer here, but it's important to think about. There might be a relatively junior employee whose help you need, so you grab them, and ask if they can assist. Of course, they say, no problem. But depending on a lot of factors, including your rank in the organization, they may honestly feel like they don't have a choice. Even if they are slammed beyond belief, they feel like they've received a command rather than a friendly request. So it's useful to ask yourself, is there a protocol I should be following to ask for someone's time? If it's a peer, you may simply be able to ask directly.
But especially when there's a power differential or there are standard procedures commonly followed in your company, it may not be a bad idea to check with that person's boss first to see if it's okay to ask for assistance. Sometimes the answer will be yes. Other times, they may be all in on another critical project, but the boss may suggest a different option. It's an important step to make sure you're not ruffling feathers inadvertently in your quest to delegate. Second, it's useful to think about whether they have a reason to want to help you. Sometimes it's simply loyalty.
They like you, so they want to help you, no matter what. Other times, helping you may actually have a professional benefit for them as well. For instance, they may stay late to help you prepare a big pitch because they know that if you land that client, they'll have an exciting new account to work on. If there's a concrete benefit they'd receive, it's worth pointing it out. Not in a heavy-handed way, but to emphasize that this is a team effort and you think of them as part of the team. Of course, sometimes unscrupulous operators phrase things this way just to milk some extra work out of people, so you should only talk like that if you mean it.
But if their help will benefit the entire company, including them, it gives their work an extra sense of mission if you can call that out. Finally, sometimes the project may not really benefit them. It may actually only benefit you. But that doesn't mean you can't ask for their help. It just means you have to be realistic about positioning it. You're asking for a favor, plain and simple. When someone asks for help and takes an entitled of course you're going to do this for me approach, it breeds resentment. But if you come to your colleague with humility and say, look, I'm in over my head here, this needs to get done by tomorrow, and I know I can't do it on my own; could I ask a favor? Would you be willing to stay a couple of hours after work to help me? People will often respond positively.
After all, we have all been there and there are times when we could use a favor. Knowing that you understand you're asking for something out of the ordinary and presumably will be willing to return that favor one day may well motivate them to assist you. In contemporary corporate life, you're often delegating to colleagues rather than employees. By asking yourself these questions, you make it far more likely you'll receive a positive response.