Getting Things Done - The Art of Unreasonable Requests

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Your number one leadership task is to spread an exciting, motivational and profitable vision for your company. Number two, just as important, is to insure execution. Whether employees, contractors, partners, even vendors, it makes no difference - all execution begins with you asking someone to do something. When viewed in this light, "asking" may be the most fundamental element aspect of your daily work, so you'd better get good at it.

According to Philosopher John Searle, all action begins with someone asking another for something. In his book Speech Acts he calls it "making requests."

A request expresses a desire for the addressee to do a certain thing and normally aims for the addressee to intend to and, indeed, actually do that thing. A promise expresses the speaker's firm intention to do something, together with the belief that by his utterance he is obligated to do it, and normally aims further for the addressee to expect, and to feel entitled to expect, the speaker to do it.

Sure, Searle's wording is a little dense, but follow his logic. Does anyone do anything meaningful without being asked, and without in return, promising to do so? (Even the self-motivated, ask things of themselves.) Making requests causes your people to carry on the business of the company. Want something done? Just ask. Of course, when you are the ranking executive people automatically say yes, and that thing is done. That's called power. But requests carry their own little problem.

Most of us, even leaders, hate rejection. So when we make requests they are typically for small things, easy-to-do things, even wimpy things. It is rare that we ask for what we really hope someone will accomplish-or even agree to. We cut back our expectations. Our scaled-down requests make it easy for others to agree, but those requests bring us results far below what we really want. Over time, repeatedly accepting that we can't ask too much from people, our expectations drop permanently.

Here's a secret that can up-shift your results. Linguistically, a request differs from an order or a demand. Searle's "addressee" doesn't have to say "Yes, sir." She can as easily say "no" to your request. She can counter-propose, offering a different solution. Even if you are the big boss, leave your people free to say "No, it can't be done," or "No-at least, not now," or something like that. All promises are voluntary involving free will. The other party can evaluate the possibility of whatever it is you asked, and then decide.

Now, of course, people may think what you're asking is wildly "unreasonable" but decide to say yes anyway. That's their call. But once they do, it's your job to support them to succeed. Don't approach this frivolously.

"Ask, and it shall be given you; . . . knock, and it shall be opened unto you." If you're going to knock, don't be meek about it. Why ask for things that are reasonable and easy to deliver? Knock on the big doors. Knock loudly.

Back to John Searle for a moment. Nothing happens until you ask someone for something. And nothing big happens unless you ask for something big. If you have committed your company to a significant course of action, puny requests cannot get the job done. You have to ask people for a lot. Up the ante and make your requests unreasonable requests.

Big Requests Cost No More Than Small Ones
Large requests cost you no more than small ones, and since people can say "no" to either, ask for what you want. Ask for what you need. Ask people to do things you think you have no right to expect from them; ask for things to which you expect they'll say no. But ask anyway.

Here's the trick: expect them to say yes and don't worry about whether they do or they don't. Train your staff the same way. Imagine that your entire team is continually unreasonable in their requests, while confidently expecting those requests will be met. What do you think will happen? What if you made it a game whose object is to promise to deliver, no matter what? Would that rocket your project or your business forward? Of course, it would.

Just as making formal requests is not a normal activity for people in businesses, unreasonable requests are doubly abnormal. Making unreasonable requests takes guts. You'll shock some people. Others will get angry. Nevertheless, if your goals are important enough, shaking people up is likely to be a good thing. And once you have fully internalized the results you wish to produce, you'll make the kinds of requests that will deliver with aplomb.

Bump it up
To accelerate your results, bump it up. Whatever you were going to ask for, ask for more. Whenever you wanted it, request it sooner. Whatever you were willing to pay, ask for it free. You get the idea. Your business will move forward in direct proportion to the size of the requests, so go ahead: ask unreasonably. Amplify your requests. Set that knob to an eleven.

Take out a pad and draw a line down the middle. Title the left column, "Reasonable Requests I Was Going to Make," and the right, "Those Requests Made Unreasonable." For example, your reasonable request might be, "Bill, I need this by Friday." Your revised unreasonable version: "Bill, I need this tomorrow morning." Or, you may be planning on calling your banker, Yvonne, to ask for a 30-day extension. Your new unreasonable request could be, "Yvonne, I need to double my line of credit and extend the terms." You get the idea. Do the unreasonable: Ask for a lot.

Unreasonable Requests Motivate
Besides increasing productivity, big requests motivate. Would you rather do some difficult but glorious thing, or would you prefer some small task yielding results no one will ever hear of? If there's anyone on your team who chooses the latter, transfer him immediately.

People will still approach your challenge with fear and trembling. They may need a bit of courage to agree, but with that comes a feeling of heroism. People love to feel as if they're doing something meaningful, even daring. Perhaps they will be called upon to rescue the company. They are doubly motivated when what you've asked feels like life or death.

My first business partner repeatedly told our troops our company was in dire straits and that saving it-along with saving their own jobs-would require an act of huge commitment. Occasionally he exaggerated the depths of financial despair, but he always praised our employees' valor and called forth their willingness to help rescue the business. Even though this drama went on for years, they never tired of hearing about it, and they never failed to rise to the challenge.

To insure execution, you have to ask people to take action. Make those requests reasonable, and people will give you modest results. Make them big, splendid. Make them unreasonable, and you inspire your team to greatness. Be unreasonable. Ask for everything you need. Ask for the moon. You just might get it.

To find out more about getting more done by being unreasonable, contact business strategy expert Paul Lemberg, CEO of Axcelus: Advanced Business Acceleration for Entrepreneurs. Axcelus helps entrepreneurs increase revenues, profits and value in the shortest time possible using proven business strategy, time management, business plans, systems and expert advice. Find out more or contact Paul at Paul and the Axcelus team are available for speaking, conferences, and business consulting.

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