The Gift of a ‘No’
I joke with my clients that I give them my ‘yeses’ for free, but they pay me all their fees for my ‘no’s’. There is a lot of truth in this perspective. Ninety percent of my work is about helping businesses determine what needs to be done, assessing how to best do it then working with my clients and their staffs to execute. There are a variety of fluid business processes we follow to do this: assessments of different types to determine organizational needs, working with sponsors to discern requirements, project chartering, project planning methodologies, infrastructure building etc. All of these efforts are conducted in a straight forward, predictable way that has been proven again and again to put initiatives on track to accomplish goals in the minimal amount of time. Although there is tremendous value in this work, I believe that the times I have added the most value to a project have been times when I broke away from the forward momentum to say ‘no’ to something which threatened the objectives.
These moments have not been my most popular and they have taken courage. Yet, in these moments I have felt deeply that I was giving my clients my best work – far beyond the formal templates and graceful facilitation….sitting there, looking into the eyes of a manager who is not used to hearing ‘no’ and waiting until he or she lets the ‘no’ and the reasoning sink in – each second seems 20 minutes long to me as I wait – yet inevitably, a look crosses over his or her face and I get that he or she now sees the world with a new perspective – one which came from my willingness to take risks and to sit through those eternal moments.
Sometimes, the ‘no’ is shared with a manager and sometimes it is with line employees.
‘No’s in the Business World
Up to a certain stage in our careers, this approach serves us well. After a point, however, we are likely to encounter leadership who needs us to make early judgment calls which are honest. Whether one aspires to be a line manager or a consultant, this shift is a critical one – for it is the dividing line between those who are paid for how they think versus those who are paid only for what they do.
Developing Your Employees
This set of skills:
are all subtle but important skills to develop in your staff. Most managers are surrounded by people who are used to doing what they are told and not thinking about whether it is the best course of action. How much more could you achieve this year if the people around you could recognize early threats to success and address the issues effectively?
If the potential results are appealing, discuss this with your employees – either as a group on in your 1:1s. Ask them what they need from you to make it easier for them to say ‘no’ when they feel it is the right answer. Listen carefully to their replies. Be honest with them – that you will not always agree with or back their ‘no’s – but you want to hear all of them. Let them know that you will back all ‘no’s’ that you feel are appropriate – and you will be grateful to them for bringing you their best thinking, regardless of your decision.
When the ‘no’s start coming (assuming there is change in the types of ‘no’s’ you hear and/or the frequency of them) – remember to listen to the conversation on three levels: 1) assessing the issue at hand, 2) remembering to recognize the courage it took for this person to step up to giving you a ‘no’ and 3) verbally appreciating their ‘no’ regardless of whether you concur or not.
As a leader, you have the power to make significant shifts to the organizational culture by what you say, do and reinforce. If you want to receive early warning of things that need to be different, practice creating an environment where ‘no’s’ are recognized for the gift that they are.
©2005-2007 Nancy Dill Consulting