Daniel Debow’s Helpful Hierarchy

I’m a firm believer that everyone enters an organization with the best intentions. They generally want to do good work. They want to grow. And they want to be helpful.

But many employees, especially those early in their career, don’t know what being helpful looks like. Let’s imagine it’s 4:30. You’ve had a long day, several meetings, and you’re hoping to wrap up one last outstanding to-do before heading home. Suddenly, a report comes up to you (or more likely, emails or chats you) to discuss a major issue with a customer account: “The sky is falling, just thought you should know!”

You’ve probably had members of your team do something similar and can relate to how immensely unhelpful this is. Suddenly, you have a problem on your plate. But let’s pause for a second — from your report’s perspective, they were being helpful. They were keeping you in the know.

Until told otherwise, your team will most likely assume that you have the answers, and they will default decision making to you. Thus, problems get dropped on your plate. Then, as you delegate, you cede autonomy and authority over certain tasks and decisions, which means your reports will come to you with questions and approval. Across this spectrum, providing your team an understanding of what is actually helpful to you as their supervisor creates context from which they can act. Fortunately, daniel debow, the CEO of Helpful.com, created the Helpful Hierarchy to do just that. It looks like this:

And here’s how it plays out:

Level 1 Helpful

Level 1 Helpful is when your report tells you there’s a problem, i.e. not very helpful.

Level 2 Helpful

Level 2 is when your report tells you they’ve found a problem, and some causes.

Level 3 Helpful

At Level 3, your report identifies the problem, some causes, and offers a few potential solutions.

Level 4 Helpful

Level 4 finds your report identifying the problems, causes, and a few solutions, then making a recommendation on which solution to pursue.

Level 5 Helpful

Finally, Level 5 Helpful finds your report coming to you saying they identified a problem and its causes, determined how to fix it, and fixed it.

Level 5 helpful won’t happen tomorrow, but by sharing this framework with your reports, you give them a tool to evaluate their actions. In one instance, I shared the Helpful Hierarchy with a new member of my team. After reviewing it together, I capped the number of questions the report could ask me on any given day to three. Within a week, the report was using one question a day on average, and appreciated the autonomy they had to complete tasks.

So enjoy the read, and may your team become level 5 helpful.

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Originally published at Manager Companion.