Nancy Dixon and Tom Gilmore have an interesting entry on the idea of help, When is Help Helpful?: The Capacity to Make Use of Help
In this post we explore the ability of the receiver to make use of the help being offered. Particularly in today’s context, we are often too overloaded or lack the requisite competences to absorb or metabolize the help. Three studies help us examine this issue.
They recount three stories or variations on how help looks good on the surface but doesn't work due to missed connections between the helper and the helpee. It's not just the classic communication issue of the expert not being able to communicate in a way that the novice could understand, it is things like (excerpted)
- Absorptive capacity: Does the person being helped have the time or energy to absorb the suggestions?
- Context 1: Does the helper truly understand and sense what is happening with their charges? Are they swimming in the same frigid, cold waters?
- Context 2: Why is the help coming? Was it requested by the helpee, or is a third party being "helpful" by sending in someone else? (The classic "coaching" paid by the company to address "performance" issues.)
- Timing: Are the people involved ready for the help? Do they want it?
There is a bunch more to the article, including a reference to the likely problem behind a lot of well-meaning corporate programs. If the people affected by the program doesn't see the problem or believe that there is a problem, then why would they be interested in its success? Incentives only get you so far: from their perspective it looks like "flavor of the week."
No wonder "helpful" programs don't always succeed.