Has this ever happened to you?
Manager: “Can you get me those reports by end of day?”
Employee: “Sorry, I can’t.”
Not likely. But can hearing “no” actually be a good sign about the health of your team and the effectiveness of your leadership?
As CEO of a growing startup I often delegate out a variety of tasks to a team that is willing to put in the extra effort. I have learned over time that a lukewarm “yes” can hurt more than a polite, but firm “no”.
A hurried acceptance of a project will often lead to a hurried execution. It pays to listen and accept that you can’t do it all and shouldn’t expect other people to either.
For some people, saying “yes” is more of a nervous tick than an actual consideration — the feel-good rush of stepping up to the plate and being the dependable one.
These are the unseen dangers of saying “yes” all the time:
Accepting meetings, side projects, countless revisions, demanding clients — whatever your poison — will lead to a jam-packed schedule and endless juggling.
Employees that perpetually say yes put their own important tasks on the bottom of their priority list. Adequate sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition fall to the wayside, and social/family time are diminished. All the excess work eats into a balanced lifestyle, increasing stress and the likelihood for employee burnout.
When employees commit to do something but only have enough time to approach the project haphazardly, they run the risk of setting a negative impression about the quality of their work. And since you relied on them to deliver by a deadline, it would have been better to hear no than to be left hanging at the last minute with a sub-par work product.
As Peter Drucker once said, “efficiency is doing the thing right; effectiveness is doing the right things”. Do you help your team establish clear goals and objectives? How will they know the relevant and critical from the filler?
Always establish a handful of company-wide objectives each quarter and goals for each employee that are aligned with those objectives. Once everyone on the team knows what is important, they can make informed decisions about when to say yes to extra work.
When you have an effective team member working side by side with an efficient but overwhelmed colleague, morale is more likely to go down than up. Half your staff are on the edge of burnout, and the other half fear that the “yes” person is more crucial to the team since they do more. This can drive up stress about job security in the rest of the team.
A stressed out employee helps no one. The resulting burnout can lead to a disruption in productivity at the most critical of times. Nip these issues in the bud when you see people taking on too much or if you notice quality of work beginning to suffer.
Saying “no” does not make someone lazy. It exemplifies an awareness that:
a) the employee cannot take on more and still achieve their key objectives
b) they are not blindly managing their time, and
c) they might actually highlight for you where more support is required.
This can help leaders decide on which way to scale their business through hiring, new processes or software solutions.
Being able to say “no” with grace is no easy feat for employees. You can help them help you by regularly asking questions about their goals and priorities, and their overall experience at work. When you provide feedback so that people know what is expected of them, they can confidently choose “yes” or “no” in a way that serves their roles and the company’s best interests.
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