How to Level-Up With 1 Simple Capability

Yesterday I wrote about assets and capabilities and while I gave some examples I left off the one capability which has allowed me to consistently level-up over time: figuring out what people want.

Often this is as easy as just asking.  Other times it requires some deeper thought to analyze the available info, the options, and extrapolate potential outcomes.  This is the skill portion, but that’s not enough – you need to put it into action for it to turn into value.  That’s really what this post is about and where the “simple” part comes in.

Make a list of everyone you affect – direct reports, managers, peers, clients, even personal relationships if you like.  Next, put down what each of those people want – specifically from you, but feel free to think more generally for extra credit.  For example, your direct reports usually want things like a clear definition of success, feedback on what they’re doing, interesting work, money, and any number of other things like training, software, hardware, and dozens more.  Your manager wants to know how things are going and that the next milestone will be hit successfully – perhaps another thing or two.  Once you have the basics, you can drill into detail for the particular projects you’re working on.

This list is dynamic and needs to be updated frequently.  For people you manage, this might be daily as you look at specific tasks.  For your manager, weekly should do it.  As you get further out to clients, then monthly may be enough.

This should be a simple exercise – given a person you affect, write down what you know about what they want.  If you are unsure, then the next step is fill it in.

Once you know what people want, you have your playbook and it’s time to start providing it.

For a direct report, maybe they want to work with a new technology and you find budget to provide training.

For a manager, maybe it’s time to update the project plan or to start looking at the next release – before being asked.

For a client, are they struggling with something which keeps them from using what you typically offer them?  If so, that’s a prime opportunity to provide assistance above and beyond your typical offering.

While this entire process really is simple, it’s not easy – especially in the beginning.  You’ll feel like you don’t know what people want or you may even doubt your analysis.  That’s natural and don’t focus on it too much and instead work to validate your assumptions.  Also, the more you practice this the easier it is to identify opportunities to give people what they want as you’re talking to them.  You’ll start to make mental updates to your list (which can be turned into actual updates once the discussion is complete) and you can adjust what you provide accordingly.

Lastly, what do you want?  How can you make it easy for those who affect you to know that and provide it?  It works both ways, but it starts with you.

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