“My project is going to be delayed by one month,” Richard said to Jeroen, my co-founder and VP Engineering, in our weekly engineering review meeting.
Jeroen went through the usual list of technical questions to understand what was causing the delay, and how likely it was that the project was only going to be delayed by four weeks. Richard gave Jeroen the information. Everything seemed to check out.
Now, we had our engineering review meetings every Thursday at 10 AM. I tried to go, especially in the early days of our company, to every meeting. I had missed the previous week’s meeting, so I asked Richard the following question:
“When did you know the project was going to be delayed?”
“Uh, I knew a few weeks ago,” Richard responded.
I was pissed, but I tried my best not to show it.
There’s nothing worse as a CEO or a manager then when your team presents you with a Hobson’s choice.
If you’re not familiar with a Hobson’s choice, it refers to a fellow named Thomas Hobson.
Hobson owned a stable in late 16th century England. He allowed his customers to take only the horse closest to the door. In other words, you had no choice.
That’s what Richard had done by not informing Jeroen earlier about his problem. Now there was nothing we could do to improve the projects schedule.
All that was left was making Richard’s problem a teachable moment for the rest of the team.
You give your team, your manager, and your CEO no choice if you ask for help too late, or you don’t ask for help at all.
We are trained, from our early days in school, that we aren’t supposed to ask for help. Somehow, asking for help is deemed a sign of weakness.
That’s dead wrong.
You are showing strength when you ask for help.
One of the most interesting dynamics I've noticed managing teams is that the strongest people on the team are ones that are the most comfortable asking for advice. They also are the ones that are the most comfortable receiving constructive feedback.
In my world of Analog Integrated Circuits, before your design is released to the fabrication facility, you have to defend your design to your peers. Done right, the process is rigorous and designed to find any potential flaws in the design.
The stakes are too high not to have a rigorous review process because a flawed design can cost you over $1 million and months of redesign.
The best designers I ever worked with (and these were guru level engineers that were some of the best in the world) wanted to be pushed. These great designers knew they could make mistakes, so they wanted a rigorous design review process.
And, these great designers also routinely asked for help from their fellow engineers.
As CEO, you want to encourage your team to ask for help.
It’s tough to get your team to ask for help. For years, your employees (in school and in business) have been led to believe that asking for help is wrong.
You have to create an environment where asking for help is encouraged. And conversely, you have to create an environment where not asking for help is discouraged.
Of all the things that drove me crazy as a CEO (and there were many), employees not asking for help or asking for help too late was at the top of my list.
Back to the engineering review meeting with Richard.
There was nothing we could about Richard not telling us earlier. However, you have to explain how you want your team to team to properly communicate.
So, I said, “Next time, you need to ask for help sooner. Yes, I want you to try and solve the problem on your own.
“But ask for help as soon as you realize you can’t solve the problem.”
You need a strong team to create a culture where asking for help is the norm.
I was fortunate that our executive staff all came Maxim Integrated Products and Linear Technology. These were two companies that encouraged their employees to ask for help. We all were naturally preaching the message that asking for help was good, not bad.
Mr. Kroot, my high school chemistry teacher, had a saying that I really liked:
“He asks for help remains a fool for a short time. He who never asks for help remains a fool forever.”
It’s up to you. Do you want a team of fools, or do you want a team that pushes each other to success? If you work really hard, you can develop a culture where asking for help is looked on as a strength, not a weakness.