Barbara's Blog

I Just Asked

Posted on 11/30/2016 by Barbara Blake in leadership executive coaching talent development

Your team is looking for opportunities to grow. They will ask for more responsibility, to learn new skills or increase exposure to other areas. Are you ready for that conversation? Get ready for the "Big Ask" with these six steps.

During a Thanksgiving weekend conversation with my sons, they shared how they were plotting out what was next for their careers. What struck me was when probed on how they were getting the opportunities, they both replied, “I just asked.” They expanded on their comments by saying they had done things to prove themselves ready for what was next. In each case, what was next was a stretch assignment.

This brought back memories of my early career when I asked the same question. Fortunately, they received a better response than I had. Their managers/professors were ready to discuss and were open to the asking. In my case, the response was an uncomfortable laugh and a “why would I even ask such a question….” 

As leaders, it is our job to develop the skills of those for whom we are responsible. How are you doing in this area? Are you ready for someone on your team to make “the Big Ask”? Have you given any thought as to what you would say? Are you prepared to ask them what’s next?

Get Ready for the Big Ask

There are 6 steps to prep for the Big Ask.

Make a list. This involves identifying what opportunities may be available in the three or four months ahead. (Anything farther out has less value and is likely not to happen.) In the absence of a special project on the horizon, you have the option of see if a colleague has some needs and may be willing to include a few of your team on their project.

Rethink your workload. It starts with making a list.  List out broad categories of what you do first. Your list may include items such as expense approvals, monthly reports, responding to emails, going to meetings and other running the business tasks. These seem to take up most of your day. Some can be delegated in full, other tasks can be broken down into smaller delegation-ready bits.

The tasks that are meant to move the business forward often fall to the back of the pile. This is an area with opportunities to respond to the Big Ask. Research, model building, customer interviews etc. have aspects that lend themselves to delegation. An added bonus to delegating is the new perspectives of the future from those who will eventually be leading the organization.

Flesh out the opportunities. It is best to have a general outline of opportunities with some specifics such as time frame, expectations and priorities.

Revisit your views on your team’s capabilities. Challenge your opinion of what makes each tick, what matters to them. What have you been missing that may be relevant to their growth? What would you delegate to whom and why? Will the new tasks push their comfort zone edges out? Lay out your match of individuals to opportunities. Take some risks, include someone who may not seem to be a “natural fit”.

Develop coaching questions. Whether asked for more or you challenge an individual, how can you tease out their preferences, what they would need to be successful or the reason they are asking for a particular challenge? Create your list of questions and reminders to pause and listen not only to what is being said, but also what is not said (body language cues).

Be ready for something completely different. Despite all your preparation, you may be surprised by what a team member asks for. Be ready for it. Don’t love your ideas too much. Research has shown the first ideas are not always the best ideas.

Answering the Big Ask may take several meetings. Revisit these steps as often as needed. Consider sharing these steps and encouraging your staff to work through them (modified for their situation) to enrich the conversation.

The Big Ask can come at any time.  Be ready.