On Being More Helpful

The only way that you are going to become more helpful is if you truly can empathize with the people whom you are helping.

A lot of businesses today talk about providing their customers with value. You’ve probably even read my posts which talk about value. You have to understand that value is in the eye of the beholder. If someone looks at you and doesn’t think that what you have to offer is valuable, then it’s not. The great thing is, you don’t have to be worthwhile to everyone. You just have to make sure that when you are giving something, the people who like it genuinely appreciate it.

In your everyday life, or in a project that you are working on, don’t try to please everyone. Focus on the most important group, and give them more benefits than they ever expected. The benefit specific to the group is why it is so important to define your expected results and what you will measure before you start your project. If you know what will change because of your project, and you have a way that you will count the change, you will know exactly which group of people you need to focus on to make the project a success.

An Example – Know Who You Are Helping, and What You Are Measuring

What if you had to design a spreadsheet that is used for submitting your monthly expenses? Creating an expense claim form is a time-limited project that has a beginning and an end. When you start the project, you might talk to all of the people involved: accounting, the managers, salespeople who will be filling out the forms, your auditor. What often happens in a project is that you have a meeting with all of the stakeholders listed, and then you go away and design a form that meets the requirements that everyone has given you. Usually, the result is a product that everyone hates.

The right way to start is to figure out what the change is intended to be, and how you will measure the results.

  • If you want to reduce the amount of time that it takes accounting to process expense claims, then focus on what they need. You will know you are successful when you can show that your accounting department can process more claims in a shorter time.
  • Maybe you want to make life easier for your managers, or salespeople who are filling out the form. In that case, measure their satisfaction, or the number of mistakes they make. Maybe you could even measure the number of expense claims that are submitted on time after you change the process. If it is easier, you would expect that more people would submit it.
  • If you want it to be easier for managers to approve, count the number of days between when a manager receives the expense claim, and they approve it.

If you start with a mish-mash of what everyone says is a requirement, you are treating a lot of symptoms, but you won’t be treating the heart of the matter. If you don’t measure what your expected success, then no-one will know you are successful.

What If They Want Everything Plus the Kitchen Sink?

It’s easy for me to tell you to focus on one metric and one outcome. Your boss probably wants you to do it all, and immediately. If you do need to satisfy each group, address each group as a separate project. First, make the form faster for accounting, and start to measure processing times. Then make the form easier for salespeople and measure success rates. Finally, make the form easier to approve, and measure lead time. Focus each group only on the success of their group. If you measure each process separately, you know when to make tweaks on an individual process.

To become more helpful you must truly understand and feel what your target group is feeling. Focus your project on the results that they need and give them feedback specific to their needs.