Know When to Say No as a New Manager


It Is Not Always Easy to Know When to Say No as a New Manager
Most individual contributors are promoted to management because of their high performance standards, their desire to say “Yes” to  projects, and their ability to get “everything” done.  That does not make it easy to change course when you are promoted to a leadership role.

Have You Learned How and When to Say “No”?
With all the new manager training available today, it is hard to find any that teach new managers how to say “No.”  In fact, most rising individual contributors are rewarded for always saying “Yes.”

Why People Have a Hard Time Saying “No”
While we intellectually know that not all tasks are of equal priority, most people do not find it easy to say “No” to their boss or to their teams. If requests make teams’ and managers’ workload unbearable, they often just ask for more resources or work overtime.  Even if people are getting burnt out, many report being afraid to speak up at work to those with more power, experience, or influence.

It Can Be Especially Difficult to Say “No” as a New Manager
Most new managers are trying to navigate new relationships, understand new expectations, and overcome new obstacles to succeed in their new leadership role. New leaders want to prove they are up for the challenge. But new leaders also need to know how to draw the line if they want to succeed long-term.

Why It Is Important to Say “No” as a New Manager
Effective leaders know that prioritization is the key to success in today’s 24/7 work world.  You cannot be all things to all people and expect to sustain success over the long haul.  Sure, you can be a superstar for a short period of time, but eventually something will give – your performance, your health, or your personal and professional relationships.

Oddly enough, saying “No” at work (the right way) tends to earn respect.  Done right, setting boundaries shows that you have a clear line of sight to what is important to you, your team, and the company.  It shows you know how to differentiate between “nice-to-have” and “must-have.”

Saying “No” the Right Way at the Right Time Has Many Benefits
Saying “No” is a management skill.  And saying “No” the right way at the right time helps you excel at what you decide to say “Yes” to, increases your ability to meet commitments, improves your chances to work on what matters most, and raises your level of employee engagement.

The Inherent Danger of Being Afraid to Say “No”
The inherent danger in a culture where we take on whatever is asked of us is that we miss opportunities to take on revolutionary and game changing projects and ideas. It is part of your job as a new manager to distinguish between the two — for your success and for the success of your team.

How New Managers Know When to Say “No”
Here, for our own new manager training, are some tips on a process that can help you separate the wheat from the chaff — the so-so ideas from the truly great ones — and save you and your employees from unnecessary overload.

1.  Use Pilot Programs and Learn
Every idea — good or bad — follows a similar path:  first conception, then design, then implementation. Our advice is to try a bit of experimentation before you launch into full execution. Try it out first on a small scale.

For example, pilot projects are a good way to say “Yes” and reserve the right to say “No”.  They allow you to test an initiative or idea before fulling committing or investing. There may be simple adjustments to be made before launch company-wide or you may see some yellow flags.

Perhaps the target audience is not ready.  Perhaps the changes are facing more obstacles than you imagined. Pay attention to the warning signs and switch gears.

2.  Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
Not all requests should be rated equally. Some will provide far more value than others. What you and your team need is some kind of rating system so you can prioritize where you invest both time and resources.

Set up criteria that make sense for your business and your culture. Do not worry about having the perfect formula.  Rather, worry about the overarching principles, guidelines, and criteria you use to determine what makes sense to the business, your boss, you, and your team.

Then apply some discipline and monitor your performance.

3.  Make it Culturally OK to Say “No”
It may take some time to change a “Yes” culture to one where it’s OK to take a pass. The key is to be able to focus on the things that truly matter most.  The clearer the strategy, the easier this becomes.  If the strategy is unclear, then make some key assumptions about what matters most and why — and move forward.

Remember, you are not just trying to keep your head above the water of project-after-project but actually have a chance to think of better ways to do things. You want quality and impact over quantity and thank you’s.

The Bottom Line
As you begin your journey as a new manager, be ruthless about the tasks you commit yourself and your team to. Leave some room for planning, thinking, and brainstorming. You, and your team, will be glad you did.

If you want to learn more about improving your leadership skills as a new manager, download How Strategic Clarity Distinguishes High Performing Leaders – The Elite 6%


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