8 reasons to ask 5 whys
What are you doing? Lots of stuff, right?
It's easy to be seduced by action - doing all the whats of what we're doing.
I’m in the market for a little outside help – which leads to the question, how to choose good people?
Whether looking for lawyers, accountants, developers, consultants, or anyone else, finding the right kind of help can be a challenge.
It seems to me the problem breaks down into three parts:
- Deciding you actually need help in the first place
In my world, I look for outside help when I know I want something done but I don’t have the vital ingredients of time, talent or inclination to do it myself.
Time – like most people I’m pretty busy, there’s plenty of things I’m capable of but just can’t (or shouldn’t) prioritise the time to actually do.
Talent – which really stands for talent or training. Some things I can’t do, like design or programming, whilst others I’m not qualified to do, like drafting contracts.
Inclination – some things I could make time for and have the ability to do, but they’re just not high enough on my personal priority list. For example, B might need attention but all my focus is on A.
There are obvious grey areas around things I could squeeze in, things I can do but am not very good at, and things I feel like doing but am not wholly committed to. Sometimes I have to force myself to be realistic.
When I do decide to look for help the first port of call is always inside the organisation, there’s often someone looking for a challenge and who has the ingredients. But this article isn’t about them, so who?
- Choosing the right people
Two issues come to mind here – the right person to do what? and the right person? – that are often wrapped up together.
Wouldn’t it be great if every time I needed help I knew exactly what was needed, I’d lay out the brief and ask for quotes. How much for this? Sometimes that even works. More often than not, working out exactly what needs to be done is actually part of what I need help with. What should we do?
The harder the question, the more I have to rely on trust. Here’s my hit list in no particular order:
- A strong track record – can they point to their existing work or previous customers who can vouch for them?
- Informative – I like to work with people who know what they’re doing and can explain it in words I understand. This might mean a good web site or well written proposal but it certainly means someone who understands the why of what they do as well as the what.
- Attitude – will this person work in the trenches, getting elbow deep in mud if necessary?
- Focus – will they stay on point and get the job done, or would they rather be doing something else?
- Consistent – this is a catchall. Do they always turn up on time, sweat the small stuff, behave with courtesy and build their reputation in every meeting? In short, will they to continue to behave the way they did when we first met?
- Getting along
Having decided to get help, and then chosen the right help, it’s time to get specific and get the work done. Getting specific means deciding exactly what success looks like which normally happens after I’ve chosen my outsider and just before the actual work begins – it’s the final test. After that, it’s all about relationship and management.
The most common trap I’ve experienced is letting the project get off brief – both sides can be responsible.
Also, it’s easy to forget than even the most well paid, highly qualified and supremely confident person is still a person and likes to be told they’re doing a good job every now and again. If they’re not doing a good job, and they’re worth their salt, they like to know that too. In other words, managing an outsider is just like managing an insider.
There are certainly more robust ways of finding the right kind of help which are especially useful when making the most enormous decisions, but on the whole, the question that’s at the back of my mind whenever I’m sitting across the table from any kind of consultant is, “can I trust you?”
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