The 1 Simple Action Leaders Must Take to Reduce Stress and Improve Performance

It's so simple, it boggles the mind. / Shutterstock

Is your business strapped for resources?  Are people asked to do more with less? Solving this common problem might seem impossible but the solution is simple:  Ask for what you need and have others do the same.

Simple is not easy.  Most people find it hard to ask for what they need.  In All You Have To Do Is Ask, author Wayne Baker of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business writes that all too often, misguided beliefs about asking stand in the way of progress and success. 

To overcome these obstacles, he suggests we make strategic (SMART) requests, and use tools that establish a workplace culture of generosity in which people freely ask for, give, and receive help.

When people do ask for what they need, they find that most people are willing to help, offering information, ideas, referrals, materials, talent, and more.  As a result, research asserts that asking for what you need improves job performance and satisfaction, enables you to find talent, boosts creativity and innovation, reduces stress, and improves team performance.

Asking initiates the cycle of giving and receiving.  When asking, giving, and receiving become regular routines at work, you can find the resources you need.


Why we don’t ask 

Often, we don’t ask for what we need because we figure no one can help us. Baker shared with me studies that show that we routinely underestimate others’ ability and willingness to help, and therefore don’t bother to ask.  Most people are willing to help, notes Baker, but they can’t help you if they don’t know what you need.  

Another common assumption is that asking for help is a sign of incompetence.  Not so, according to research, as long as you make good requests.  When you do, people think you are more competent because you’re confident, know your limits, and don’t waste time working a problem that could be solved with help from others.


Make SMART Requests

Good requests are SMART:  Specific, Meaningful, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound.  (Note the difference between these SMART criteria, versus the usual definition of the acronym.)

Baker says that specific requests trigger others’ memories of what they know and who they know.  A meaningful request tells others why the request is important.  It’s the why that motivates others to respond.  A request should ask for an action to be taken.  A goal is not a request. A goal is a destination; a request is a means of getting there.  Finally, say when you need the action completed.   If it’s tomorrow, say so.  Just don’t be vague because a vague deadline won’t motivate people to act, explains Baker.


Use Team Tools

The daily standup makes requesting a regular routine.  The typical standup takes place every day at the same time.  One by one, each person describes what they worked on yesterday, what they’re working on today, and then makes a request for a resource they need.  “This practice provides a safe space to make requests, a forum where requests are welcomed — and expected — from everyone,” states Baker.

Other team tools include formal huddles (a regular weekly meeting in which people ask for and give help) and informal huddles called on an ad hoc basis when they are needed.


Tap Your External Networks

Everyone has a network that reaches outside the workplace and includes thousands of people.  Be sure to ask members of your external network.  “Who in your network can help?  Or, who can connect you to someone who can?” asks Baker.  And always consider external networks — in your standups, formal huddles, and informal huddles alike.


Be a ‘Giver-Requester’

“The most productive and esteemed people are those who generously help others and ask for what they need,” states Baker.  “By asking,” he adds, “you’ll discover the resources you need.  By giving, you’ll earn the privilege of asking for what you need.”

Are you a giver-requestor? Take this assessment on Baker’s website and see how you compare to others.


This article was originally published on Inc.