Plenty is hard about managing people, but it at least comes with the advantage of having the authority to assign work when you need others’ help on a project. But what about when you need the help of people who don’t report to you? Here’s how to get coworkers to help out with your projects, even when they don’t have to.
(It’s also worth noting that even when you’re assigning work to people who you do have authority over, this approach can make you a more effective manager and get your staff more bought-in to their work!)
Where possible, develop relationships ahead of time. Good coworkers will help out when they can regardless of whether or not you have a strong relationship, but putting some effort into relationship-building before you need to call on other people’s assistance can be the extra factor that motivates someone to stay late to help you or otherwise go out of their way for you.
Explain why you’re asking this person in particular. For example, are they the only person with the knowledge that you need? Did they impress you with their work on something similar in the past? Have you heard that they’re incredibly good at the skill you’re seeking? Tell them! People are often more interested in helping when they understand why you’ve sought them out instead of someone else, and when they feel like they have something particularly valuable to contribute.
Explain why the work matters. Someone who’s busy with other work is more likely to find the time to help you out if you explain the larger context and why what you’re asking is important. For example: “We’ve been asked to present at a panel where we’ll be able to get our message in front of 40 legislators” or “I know it’s a tight deadline, but if we get this to print by the end of the week, we can include it in the spring promotion, but otherwise we’d need to wait months to get it in front of clients.” Even “Jane is out sick and I’m having a tough time keeping things moving” can be compelling, just because you’re explaining where you’re coming from.
Be clear about when you need the help by. This one might sound obvious, but sometimes people ask coworkers for help without explaining relevant time constraints - often because they feel uncomfortable giving a deadline to someone they don’t have authority over. As a result, the coworker ends up not realizing that there’s urgency around something, the deadline gets jeopardized, and everyone ends up stressed out. So if you need the person’s help by a certain time, say so up-front – don’t limit their ability to help you by making things so informal that the person doesn’t even realize a looming deadline is about to be missed.
Thank people afterwards. Express sincere appreciation for people’s help, and you’re more likely to get it again in the future. Better yet, don’t just stick to a simple “thank you” but tell the person specifically how their work helped you (“the client loved your framing” or “I was able to get everything in the mail by the deadline because of how quickly you did that”) and where appropriate, recognize their contributions publicly.