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Why saying no is often better than yes


One of the biggest barriers to organisational change is a collective unwillingess for people to say no. I’m not in any way suggesting that people should become militant and unhelpful, so let me clarify:

If you are asked to do something, it is in everyone’s interest for you to take a moment to establish whether
a. the request will lead to a consumate benefit;
b. whether you have the right skills, experience; and
c. whether you have the time to complete the task in the required time

You would be amazed at how often the task can be simplified, met in some other better way, even if you remain the best person to complete it.

You will also be very surprised at how often team members are happy to help you out and learn new skills/ gain new experience when you delegate to them. Especially if you take the time to make it clear that you have conducted a, b and c above.

Sure, people like the instant power and satisfaction of someone saying to them “yes, no problem, leave it with me etc.”, but the overall gain of a pause will generate a more sustainable satisfaction and respect for your part in a more efficient, more thoughtful business.


But what does it mean for me?!

The first thing that a person’s going to do, when they are told something’s going to happen to their work – whether it’s a new office, a change in seating plan, a new piece of software, phone, whatever – is ask themself “how is this going to affect me personally”. It really doesn’t matter how something is ‘sold’ to them, how it’s better for the business, it’s going to help make savings, be more competitive, make life easier… a person is going to continue being suspicious (until they are told) “but what does it mean for me”.  And it’s amazing how few people ask that question out loud to the right person, they frequently mull it over and water-cooler it…

Handled badly (not through malice, but from not recognising this unavoidable consequence of change – response), suspicion and a will for the project to fail will prevail. Logically, why would people embrace a new anything if they have no reason yet to believe it will not cause them harm. I work in IT at the moment – the team develop systems which are cost effective because they make processes streamlined, self- fullfilling and reduce paper-based / labour intensive tasks. So, it’s very possible that the software we roll out WILL make some of the day to day practices redundant this point ….tasks…..

It’s a perfect opportunity to inspire staff – e.g. ” when we make the repetitive, boring jobs automated, you’re going to have time to do those really challenging, career-progressing tasks that we keep talking about but somehow never find the time to arrange. How about we start thinking about those and getting you trained up?”  See how different that is from a person being expected to embrace the software that does the work they currently do most of the time? Suddenly, it’s not just the tasks which feel redundant…

In summary – projects, by definition,  bring about change, and change has the potential to be amazing. Failure to explain the change and fast-forward to the world where the change is in place and fill in the gaps for those at the receiving end of the change is not only insensitive, but is also bound to affect the enthusiasm with which projects are received.

Isn’t it better to plan for amazing rather than insensitivity and a lack of enthusiasm, surely? You’ve just got to fastforward a little and think like the end user thinks.

Pareto Principle and the law of diminishing returns

As with many of the my heroes, Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto, is an economist and a philosopher (See also Daniel Kahneman) and his simple idea resonates in today’s business as much as in his own day (early 20th Century). It’s a simple idea that states that, in general* you get your first 80% of benefit from your first 20% of effort. This could be the effect of a sales promotion, or a new staff incentive. It also applies in the sense that 20% of workers do 80% of the work etc.. his model was founded on  observations of his such as that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

For me, what it means is…. focus on the first 20% of effort, get lots of 20% effort events going on and come back to squeezing the last remnants of benefit out afterwards if you have that luxury of time. Obviously, if you are a nuclear scientist you will need to do thoe whole 100% no matter how painfully slow those last test, test, retest etc. are to generate results, but in business generally, it’s a rare person that hasn’t got something new lined up that should jsut be getting started to reap those easy rewards!

*normally distributed stats/ caveat emptor etc.

Meetings – the illusion of effectiveness

Meetings are such a common cause of complaint, such a timewaster, and such an easy thing to improve upon, yet people seem to accept this drain on their working world without actually doing anything to improve matters.

I love collaboration, love talking and involving people, it’s just that I believe that long drawn out, flabby meetings so often get in the way of genuine engagement. If you want to make your team impressed with your respect for their worth, here’s some meeting tips:

  1. Have 5 tiny catch ups if you can rather than 1 mammoth meeting if people are only needed for a specific section of it (think like a Venn diagram, join up the people who genuinely need to overlap)
  2. Circulate the meeting purpose (n.b. not what it’s about, but what it hopes to achieve) with the invite
  3. Give people the option to ask questions and prepare specific items before the meeting
  4. Give people a real opportunity to decline the invite if they don’t think they have anything to contribute
  5. Restate the purpose at the start of the meeting and ask if everyone knows why they are there. If they don’t know – tell them, or encourage them to go spend their time more wisely
  6. Thank people for coming – bring doughnuts, make coffee, take them somewhere interesting for the meeting, do something which tells them you value them
  7. Start on time
  8. Ask people for feedback on the meeting – could its objective have been met in a better way?
  9. Send notes/minutes/photos/whiteboard pics whatever as soon as possible after the meeting and make it clear what the next actions are
  10. Do your next actions and check progress on others before the next meeting

You will find that people start to take your meetings much more seriously, and respect that you value their input and time. Now you’ve read about it, just do it – and let me know how you get on : )

It’s our differences which make us amazing

Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) talks a lot about synergy. It’s a word that sounds so ‘buzzword bingo’ that people are afraid to use it when trying to work out how best to work as a team, and this is a real shame. If individuals in a team, especially if peers (say, managers working together on a business plan, or scenario planning, can find a way to agree to celebrate their individual skills, and approach shared problems in a ‘thank you, I couldn’t do it this well alone’ mindset, the creative juices start to flow and the results are (always, in my experience), amazing.  There is great potential in working with each other’s strengths to create a result that is only possible if you channel the differences, the unique problem solving responses. Too often, people bring fear and protectionist thinking “my team, my reputation, my budget etc.” and the goal seems to be solely to ‘prove my way is better’, talk louder to make sure my point  is put across most strongly and demonstrate what I am capable of.

In changing times, (and let’s face it, in this economy, at this time, I doubt there’s a single working person who isn’t experience an unprecedented amount of change in their workplace), we should call upon the experiences, insights, worries, skills and simple ideas of everyone we know, supporting each other to create a ‘middle way’ – not a compromised position, but a high point – like the seat on a stool, where the individuals are the legs, providing a unique core of strength and a wide spread of knowledge.

Yes, it Imagesounds clichéd, but if you can find away to trust your co-workers to pick up where you don’t excel, and in return, generously give of your strength to make magic out of their weak spots, you will both come away looking, feeling, and performing a class apart from the individuals who think they’ve got it all.

How do you know that?

With. once again, a reverent and grateful nod to the ever-inspiring Edward Tufte (@EdwardTufte) – The deepest and most probing question you can ask both yourself and others: “How do you know that?”

Asking this question, in my opinion, is the best possible way to slow yourself down and prevent yourself from jumping to conclusions without actually finding out the basis of an opinion. It can be tricky to ask this without sounding like you are challenging someone, but it so often the key to opening a subject up to proper scrutiny that it’s worth mastering!

For example, my team and I are in the middle of a very tricky programme of works at the moment, so many teams coming together for the first time to agree sensible approaches to achieve a lot in a tiny timeframe and it’s really quite something to see the amount of assuming that is going on. Not through arrogance, and definitely not through a lack of skill or intelligence, but seemingly through a need to answer a hard sum by making it an easy one and ignoring the tricky truths. This inevitably leads to problems later on in the project (sometimes too late) so by ensuring that everyone feels they have to properly examine everything they know (or think they know) you would be amazed how much more effort people make to be prepared and also to ask a stupid question.

Better to find out early on what you don’t know – and of course, what the other person has made up on the spot – before you come to rely on that knowledge.

Tackle the elephant in the room

The elephant in the room is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss) crops up everywhere (thank you Wikipedia).  

I personally love an elephant in the room with a new team as you can engage so many problem solving approaches to really help people to view problems from a new perspective.

Denial (it’ll be allright), blame (it’s not our problem), avoidance (we haven’t got time) are all examples of barriers to effectiveness, and are very common human responses to change and uncertainty. Working together boldly to chip away at the elephant in the room creates a real sense of trust and enthusiasm once the first wave of “can’t do it” passes. We’ve succesfully conquered 2 elephants by a mixture of 6 hats, asking Why, following every “we can’t” statement with an “UNLESS?” question and giving the most creative, random suggestions proper reflection with no shooting. Helping to contribute to a sense of “we did that impossible thing” is priceless, and that’s why I would encourage you to dig deep and find out where your own elephants are.

Show some respect

On Twitter today I found the most perfect illustration (courtesy of @amontalenti):

To me, this sums up why it’s not OK to assume you know someone else’s job. Nothing worse than being told “you just need to do this, it’s easy” by someone who has absolutely no idea what is required and has never done it, nor has any intention of learning the skill.

So, just don’t do it. And if you have found yourself doing it, find the recipient and apologise for treating them like an idiot. Next time, ask questions to understand the task, ask the specialist opinion of the person doing it, and work together to agree the best and quickest means to achieve the goal. Together.

Let your customers do your marketing

Social Media Week is just coming to a close – there’s so much amazing information posted about the opportunities available to you. I advise you to spend some time reading around it. But for me the simplest way to get involved is to find a way to get your customers talking about you – Facebook is as easy a toe in the water as any.

If you provide enough opportunities for your clients to talk about you you will reach a bigger market than you can afford. And you’ll end up with a few things:

1. Free market research. Your customers are always comparing you to the market – if they are particularly unhappy (or happy), it’s usually because of your service or products in comparison with the alternatives. Listen to them, act on their findings, and you’ve already got an advantage on your competition.

2. Free advertising. Your customers collectively know more people than you ever will. Remember, you’re only 6 degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon! Give them a reason to talk about you – what are you doing that’ll make them proud to talk about you. Promoting you tells a story about themselves too, so if you make them attractive to their friends, they’ll get your name out there.

3, Stickiness. Reward your customers for giving up their free time to bother to talk about you and you’ve made them feel good about themselves, and more loyal, so they’ll keep on talking about you. Reward can be as simple as a “thank you, I noticed”, or as generous as you like. It’s the recognition that’ll do it for you.

I was prompted to write this by #SMW, and it’s report on what Yelp’s been up to. Yelp – a nationwide review site has conducted research with it’s top ‘citizen-critics’ and this paritcular comment says it all for me:

“I don’t trust slick advertising,” said one panel member. “Not a lot of people do nowadays. I prefer personal experience. If someone has taken the time to do a review – for free – then what they have to say is important.”

Work Happiness

Apparently, there’s a word for this in Scandinavian countries. I was lucky enough to see Alexander Kjerulf making it seem so easy.

You might be wondering what that’s going to do with you, in business. Well, think about it. If YOU are happy in work, you gain yourself another 5 days a week of your life, and regain all the ones you spend wishing you didn’t have to go to work.

If your staff, or peers, are happy, you spend time in a positive environment. Simple.

And, to hear Alexander say it, it is simple. He had us shaking hands, smiling, making conversation, looking people in the eye, and we all, instantly felt happier! Try it now.

Top tips to be found at the best-named website you will ever come across: