Part of being a leader is knowing when to ask for help
I wish everything could be solved in house. There is something satisfying about getting the job done inside the team. If you can pull it off, it’s cheaper too. At work here at MB&A over time we’ve pulled creative design work and some other things we originally outsourced, simply because we needed to have the skill in house. At home, I’ve gone the other direction with a few things including hanging up my tool belt for projects I just can’t do as well as the pros. Knowing when you have moved into an area where you need outside help to succeed is a skill that both individuals and organizations should learn if they want to be successful. I’ve come up with five questions I ask myself about projects I undertake at work or at home to help ensure I get the outside help I need, when I need it.
- Have I done this before? This is probably the toughest one because it’s not so much about asking the question. Most of us are aware that we are trying something new. The skill is in ensuring that when you are about to attempt something new, that you take the time to ask yourself the rest of these questions. Just jumping in can have disastrous consequences. I learned to ask the rest of these questions because I lived the results of not asking. Take the time to think things through.
- How good does it have to be? What are the consequences of failure? I think the easiest example here is legal. I’ve had some fairly dire consequences from playing amateur lawyer and not understanding how to protect my interests. If its important enough that you think you might need a lawyer, you probably do. I’ve also destroyed a MacBook Pro trying to swap out a hard drive. The point is that not getting outside help can cost money too. I’ve probably saved more money by being honest about how hard something is to do and how bad the consequences are than from any other single thing.
- Are there people who do this for a living? Most people have done some home improvement in their lives. I’ve painted and tiled a lot of places in my time. I don’t do it anymore. Not because I can’t. I now have a few of the skills and all of the tools (Home Depot is my friend). I don’t do it because as a weekend warrior home improvement guy, I’ve never been able to get it as good as the pros. This was fine before I knew just how good and fast they are at doing it. I’m still proud of some of the work I’ve done, but I know it simply isn’t as good as someone who does it for a living.
- Is this something I will do again? How often? If its something I’m going to have to do regularly it may be worth learning how to do. If it’s something I only do a few times a year or every few years, it may be worth leaving to the experts. My Dad used to always say about plumbing that it is pretty simple—basically water runs downhill, but you usually had just about forgotten everything else you knew about it by the next time you needed to know it.
- Can I learn this? Do I have time? Even simple things take time to learn. I’m sure I could over time develop into a pretty good painter or tile guy. Unfortunately, at the rate of one bathroom every five years I’m not likely to get the time invested that I need to get to a high level of skill. See my post “5 keys to mastering anything,” for more on why repetition plays a role. For the purpose of this post I would say that anything you don’t do pretty regularly is a candidate for outsourcing. There is only so much you can be good at.
How do you make the decisions to do it yourself or hire outside help?
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