Unleash the Potential of Your People With One Word
If you ask people to describe how they feel on a daily basis, it is amazing how many times the word that comes up is “overwhelmed”.
I remember visiting a Quick Serve Restaurant (QSR) with the COO of the brand when we happened by a bulletin board in the back room that had dozens of 8 ½ x11 sheets of paper attached to it. As a matter a fact, a number of the flyers were taped to the sheets above and reached down to the floor in two separate rows. It looked like some type of massive kite with tails. The COO asked, “What is this?” The restaurant manager replied the sheets were the initiatives and tasks that the restaurant received in just the last week from the various departments at corporate. The COO quickly asked, “How do you decide what to do?” She said, we tackle the items we think we would get in the most trouble for if we didn’t do them. It was clear that the restaurant team had reverted to playing the children’s game “whack a mole” with special points for the knocking down the moles from the most feared departments.
So in reality, the right answer to fully engaging the talent of you people may be “no”. No to more strategies, no to more initiatives, no to more directives, no to more priorities, and no to more urgent requests. Even the Wall Street Journal saw this topic so interesting they recently published a lead article on why this tiny word is so tough to say.
“No” is often seen as a rejection and most owners of strategies or initiatives don’t want to see their babies rejected. The challenge is that when we don’t say no by drawing the boundaries and frameworks for our people to execute, we inevitably compromise our impact and hugely frustrate our people. Here are a few ways leaders and managers can do a better job of saying no to create greater engagement and results.
1. Prioritize Integrate, and Simplify
Often management teams start with a focus on 5 to 7 key enterprise initiatives for growth. They commit to cutting the list to the top three or four. The next step is always fascinating as they end up cutting the 5 to 7 priorities to a list of 15 or 16. Nobody on the team wants their initiative to end up on the cutting room floor, so new horse trading practices emerge with robust conversations of lost opportunity or unaddressed threats.
When we don’t say no by drawing the boundaries and frameworks for our people to execute, we inevitably compromise our impact and hugely frustrate our people.
The most important action of the leadership team is to prioritize, simplify and integrate the initiatives before they go to the entire organization. This requires leaders to connect the initiative dots, eliminate conflicting priorities, to modify their appetite for stretching people beyond their comfort zones, and be realistic about the organization’s ability to digest and execute change. If you are not saying no to a significant number of the candidates for organizational initiatives, you are most likely setting the stage for frustration and failure in execution.
2. If You Add One, Take One Away
Possibly the weakest of all leadership routines is the practice of “stopping” what has been done in the past and creating capacity for people to execute the new. A number of senior leadership teams have adopted new disciplines and behaviors on this issue. They agree together if they launch a new initiative, they must also take one away. They recognize that as a team they are the bottleneck to people executing strategy when they keep piling on new demands without eliminating anything from the past.
3. Focus, Focus, Focus
Focus on follow up and follow through on the critical few, rather than be enticed by the new shiny object that appeals to the ADD in most leaders. Interestingly, this focus is most often lost when the critical few initiatives are not adequately resourced when we once again can’t say no to partial funding of topic we haven’t aligned on as a priory.
Few leadership actions can reduce the frustration of you people and step up your strategic initiative execution success like the practice of saying no.
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