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Last week, while driving home from the airport, I began wondering how to enlist the help of others to overcome roadblocks that keep you from achieving your goals. In this post, I'll describe a framework for getting that help. The worksheet below will be useful as we walk through the framework.
One specific goal
First, you need to identify your goal. Close your eyes, set a timer, and spend three minutes thinking about it. Why is this goal important to you? How does it help you, your family or your friends? If you never achieve it, will you still feel good about the time you spent trying to achieve it? What will you learn along the way? After these few minutes, while it’s firmly in your mind, describe your goal in a single sentence. Write it down. Be specific.
Two ways to make it happen
You may already have a great plan you want to pursue. Go ahead and write it down. But then write down a second one that’s as good or better than the first.
Writing two plans forces you to look for alternatives and opportunities that will get you closer to your goal. Sometimes, you'll create a better plan, or think of a perfect "Plan B". If you’re having trouble with this, ask someone close to you how they would achieve your goal. Phrase your question in a way that allows them to own the problem. Say, for example, “If this were your goal, what would you do to accomplish it?” Even if their alternative plan isn’t dynamite, it might give you 80% of the benefit for only 20% of the effort. Ask yourself if it does.
Your original goal may be a promotion. An alternative to this could be increased responsibility – say, working on additional parts of the system or assuming some team leadership activities. In this way, and at the appropriate time, you’ll have legitimate grounds for requesting additional compensation instead of a new job title.
Now think about the obstacles, the things that are separating you from your goal. You may be tempted to describe a lack of something - not enough time, not a good enough idea, insufficient skills. And likely, those obstacles are real. But they aren’t the root cause of what’s preventing you from claiming your success. For example, if your obstacle is that you need more time to pursue your goal, then the root cause is poor prioritization. Every day, we choose how we will spend our time – those collective choices are prioritization. If your obstacle is a lack of skill or expertise, then you need to look deeper at what’s preventing you from developing the skill or finding people with that skill who will help you.
If you’re having trouble getting to the root obstacle, then start with the obvious ones. For each obstacle, ask “why” five times. Each successive response to the question will help you better understand what’s in your way. It may take more or less than five times, but keep at it until you get it.
Four resources you need
Next, fill in four resources you’ll need to make your plan or goal happen.
Don’t write down "money”. Money is simply a proxy or alternative for something else, such as time, ideas or skills. Instead, focus on things you can provide or that you need help from others to provide.
Using the earlier example, if your plan is a promotion, then one resource you’ll likely need are new skills that will broaden your contributions, such as new expertise in a subject or increased leadership experience. A second type of resource is recognition of your current contributions from your peers. A third might be new relationships beyond your immediate team or in other departments.
Five people who can help
Write down five people you know who can help you. This is likely your core group of friends and family. The people you seek most often when you need help. They’ve been your safety net in the past and will always be there for you. But if you’ve had this dream for a while, chances are they’ve already been involved with some of your thinking and ideas. So we’re going to broaden the group.
Now scratch off two names from the five who are either least likely to help or who have already been helping you with this goal. Explore your secondary network – acquaintances, and friends of your friends – and find two people whom you respect, or who have great resources, or who can offer sound advice.
Now you have five names again. Scratch off one of them and replace it with someone you don’t know personally but who’s a known in the area you want to explore. Perhaps it’s someone you listen to on a podcast, or a local business leader, or someone you’ve seen online who always spouts cool ideas.
Yes, it might seem silly to think of names only to scratch them off. But this process helps lets you continue to refine and prioritize your list until it’s the one you really need.
You should now have a list of five people: two from your core group, two from your secondary network, and one person you haven’t met (yet).
Moving past you
This is the fun part. Now you’re going to reach out to these five people and ask for their advice. You’re not going to ask them to help you with your goal, and nor will you ask them to provide you with any of your needed resources. Instead, you’re going to ask them to share their experience and thoughts. People are rarely motivated to offer direct assistance if they don’t know you, but often those same individuals will happily share their opinions or expertise.
Important: It’s possible (or even likely) that these people are also key resources for you. As a consequence, you may move more quickly to your goal than expected through your conversation with these people. Especially, if your goal is information or help, e.g. market insight.
Before you email or call the people on your list, first develop the main points of your conversation. Start by picking one person from your list. Then draw a line, working backwards until you make it to your original goal, passing through one item from each obstacle, necessary resource, and plan. This creates the foundation of your opening pitch.
For instance, let’s say your goal is to start a software gaming business. Beginning with Bill, who heads a successful iOS consulting team, you may have chosen the need for greater marketing help as the obstacle, time from an iOS game developer as a needed resource, and writing an iOS game as your plan. This “route” becomes your conversation-starter (often called your “pitch”):
“Bill, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Heidi suggested that you’d have great advice on marketing iOS apps and games. In my conversations with local game developers, a consistent theme that’s come up is the need to have a solid marketing plan. Would you be willing to share some experience and advice?”
In the first 30 seconds, this opening has established Bill as an expert, shared your need for help in building a marketing plan, subtly hinted that developers are needed to achieve this plan, and asked Bill to start sharing his experience and advice.
You’ll likely learn many important things during this conversation. You may come away with a full page of notes. (Always take notes!) As you review the conversation, identify the most important thing you learned - and write this down under Bill’s name. Then repeat this process for the rest of your contacts.
After the conversations
After your conversations, you should have five key “lessons learned”. Likely, you’ll have developed several ways to find your missing resources and overcome the obstacles you identified. You may have even discovered a better way to achieve your goal.
As a final step, identify one clear action you want to take based on what you’ve learned. You may have many fine ideas. You may feel compelled to do several of them right now. Instead, take the best one, and do that. Build a pattern of success by focusing on one thing and doing it with full purpose.
Now go make it happen!