top of page
  • Sam Decker

Say Yes to No! 12 Places to Say No

“No” seems like such a negative word. Usually we don’t want to use the word when correcting kids or when your colleague asks to borrow money for lunch.

Yet in business, as well as in our personal life, we want to say "no!"

Saying "no" is the most strategic decision we can make. By saying "no", we focus and improve quality of the ‘yes’ areas. We improve ourselves and our organization’s effectiveness.

"No" empowers people because it simplifies. Our companies succeed on the basis of what, where and how we say “no”. And “no” gets some life back into our lives!

We need to say "no", but achievers aren't good at it. Even worse at sustaining no. In business we give saying no other names… “prioritization” or "strategic planning". But then we get back to day-to-day, we forget what we prioritized and planned. We end up letting the “nos” slip back in.

Give "no" the strategic strength it deserves! Here are 12 areas to “Just Say No"...

1. What strategies, initiatives and activities will you say "no" to?

I once went through an ‘important / urgent’ exercise with my team where we outlined over 50 initiatives and activities in the coming quarter. At the end of the exercise we cut off 30% of our list. Ideas are abundant. Time and resources are not. There is great feeling focus, empowerment, and impact when everyone agrees on paper the activities that will not be done.

2. What measurements will you ignore?

If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know I’m a big believer in measurements. In my experience, most companies lack good measures. Nonetheless, what’s important is rigorously managing the business with the right measures. This may mean narrowing focus on reporting or analyzing certain measures. More importantly, pay close attention to the “killer metrics” — those key measurements that make a big difference in the P&L. They are usually related to customer satisfaction and the levers that directly drive growth, margin, operating expense and ROI. Delegate ownership and rigor on the smaller measures, which are levers towards the “killer metrics”.

3. What customers will you not target?

A friend of mine is a CEO coach who knows his ideal client– a company with revenues greater than $50M, at a point of transition, positioned for growth, and has a humble leader willing to take coaching. He gets requests to work with many other companies, but with limited time, he says "no" to many prospective clients.

Who is your ideal prospect, client or customer? If you haven’t identified them, you should. Then, articulate who you will not target. Finally, make decisions on segments of your customers that deserve "platinum” treatment, and those who don’t.

4. What relationships will you not keep?

People are the key to a company’s success. Therefore, people who aren’t working out are draining effectiveness and risking success. One of the biggest mistakes managers make is not moving quickly to get the right people off the bus, and get the right people on the bus in the right position (as Jim Collins states in Good to Great).

On a personal level, what company do you keep that makes an impact in your life (learning, career, fun)? Therefore, with whom can you spend less time with? Life is like 6 sides of a dice. There is no seventh side. You have to choose where, how and with whom you spend those 6 sides…and how much time you spend on each side.

5. What competitors will you not follow?

Most companies should only pay close attention to a couple of competitors. If you try to pay attention to the entire set of competitors in a large industry, you spend too little time focusing on the customer.

By choosing what competitors not to follow, you can better understand primary competitors who are rallying for your best customers’ attention. Also, it affords you time to pay attention to the customer…which is the primary focus necessary to succeed over all competitors!

6. What will you remove from your web site?

Web sites are magnets for content and pages that build up over time. Eventually, many of these pages get one visit per month. It’s often why large companies do a redesign every 2-3 years…sort of a ‘web site colonic’!

Have you looked at your page visits lately? What pages get little traffic and can be removed? What content on the remaining pages can be removed because it doesn’t make an impact? Get an outside perspective.

7. What money will you not spend?

Every dollar spent in an organization should be thought of as an investment towards greater operating income — even petty cash. With this in mind, what things, or even entire budget categories, will you not spend? Personally, what things did you spend last year that really made an impact in your life? Could you have done without 50% of them?

8. What meetings will you decline?

I once had to take an emergency business trip and my admin cancelled all my meetings for two days. As you might imagine, the meetings went fine without me…but they seem so important when they are set up, don’t they?!

Someone once told me that choosing meetings is a conscious decision every executive needs to make. The meetings should be used to make strategic decisions, where multiple functions are involved. Decline or delegate informational meetings. Cut back recurring meetings. When my team went through the important/urgent exercise, meetings were a major part of our ability to gain back some work/life balance.

9. What trips will you not make?

In 1998 I ran marketing for a web-based telecommunications company where we believed online meetings and conference calls would replace trips to customers. We were ahead of our time!

Travel is not going away. In fact, it’s starting to grow again. I can’t deny the power of ‘showing up’ in person. I once made a trip to a prestigious school in Boston to judge an ecommerce case study. Three hours later I walked away with two groups ready to do free research! I don’t like trips, but great things happen when I show up and interact with customers and colleagues.

Nonetheless, trips are very time consuming…even more so than company meetings. This may be a good year to consider how you can use technology to replace trips, and only travel when it can make a big impact towards your primary goals.

10. What slides will you not create?

I have thousands, actually tens of thousands, of slides that I (or my team) have created. Early in my career, I believed the audience should know as much as possible, so I included a lot of densely packed information (nicely laid out!) in 30 or so slides. Yet, the audience probably cared about the information that was on two slides. The “less is more” principle definitely applies to presentations.

Guy Kawasaki, in his recent best-selling book, Art of the Start, suggests entrepreneurs pitch presentation have no more than 15 slides. That’s 15 slides to describe a complex business venture and persuade VCs to invest millions of dollars!

For presentations, as in good writing, choose to edit. Then edit again. Then repeat. This should reduce the number of slides and the content in those slides. Think about creating a presentation the way press releases are created, and good web copy is written – inverted pyramid with most important information first. The rest becomes backup.

11. What will you not say?

I worked with a person who was respected by those who work for and with him because of what he does not say. He does not say things in a sarcastic manner, nor does he openly criticize others. He sticks with a principle of saying nothing that does not move the ‘agenda’ forward or uplift others. As such, he is someone who is in high regard, even from those he once had to fire.

We move so fast, sometimes what comes to mind flows directly to the lips. By consciously choosing 2 or 3 things not to say this year (or ways to say them), perhaps you can ironically discover what’s ‘missing’ from your leadership effectiveness.

12. What thoughts will you not entertain?

What does every self-help book teach? Think it, believe it, do it.

I’ve come to realize that everyone (even great leaders) have thoughts of inadequacy. It seems the great leaders choose to remove those thoughts when they appear. Don’t tolerate negative thoughts about yourself or others. If that doesn’t work, then as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do the act, and the attitude follows.”


bottom of page