When you’re creating an Upfront Agreement to design how you and your team members will work together, one item you may choose to include is “Making Requests.”
First, make sure you each have the same definition of the word: a request is just a request; it’s not an order, dictate or command. There are no request police.
Next, review a person’s options after receiving a request: you can do it, not do it, or you can discuss it. Discussing a request might lead to proposed alternatives, compromises or other solutions, including better ideas than the original request. (None of these things are possible in response to a demand.)
Also, clarify that making requests is reciprocal — just like the Upfront Agreement. A request may come from either the leader or the team member. Making requests gives you and your people freedom of choice. It fosters ownership of the action to be taken. It also, not inconsequentially, eliminates the risk of controlling behavior on the part of the managing partner.
Here’s an example of a conversation between a managing partner and another partner in the firm. The managing partner uses a combination of open-ended questions and requests to encourage the partner to take responsibility for his own situation and development.
Managing Partner: “So what I’m hearing is that your discussion with the senior manager didn’t go as well as you’d like, even though you covered everything we discussed in our last accountability meeting. Is that correct?”
Partner: Yes, that’s mostly correct. I mean, I can’t say we covered every point that you and I discussed last time…
Managing Partner: What do you think might have been missing from the discussion?
Partner: Well, for one thing, we didn’t cover the part about asking for referrals that you and I had discussed.
Managing Partner: Can you say more about that?
Partner: To be honest, I’m not really all that clear on our firm’s system of asking for referrals, so I felt uncomfortable bringing it up.
Managing Partner: I’d like to make a request. Before our next accountability meeting, please go back and review the notes that Alan Dobzinski gave us after the session he led on the accountability system. Then come prepared to discuss any points that need clarification. That way, you’ll be in a better position to discuss this with the senior manager. Would you be willing to do that?
Partner: Yes, I can do that.
As a leader there will be times when you need to challenge your people’s thinking or convey something important or sensitive. Making requests can get you down the road a lot further and easier than making demands. You’ll keep your people engaged in the conversation, and show them that you care. After all, who likes being told what to do and how to do it. Do you?
You can use the sample conversation above as a template for your next accountability meeting. Ask yourself:
● Where could you replace a demand with a request?
● Are YOU open to requests from your team members – and do they know this?
● How do you keep track of the requests that were made?
● How will you follow through after a request is made?