Teach your employees to say no (by saying yes)

Learning how to manage demands is an essential skill for employees and leaders in today’s working world. Suzy Levy, managing director of consultancy The Red Plate, says learning to say no by saying yes can deliver a more productive and engaged workforce.

4293286116_333b9a2fb4_oLife work balance is a term which often suggests a perfect point in time where a nirvana-type balance is achieved. As if once you achieve it, that’s it. Job done. Balance achieved. The reality is, our lives, and the demands upon them, are dynamic. In this modern working world our ability to achieve balance will be tested monthly, weekly, daily and even hourly. One moment we may feel in balance, and the next, totally overwhelmed. From jobs which are enormous in scope and size, to too many priorities, too many emails and a marketplace which requires constant evolution to survive, demands on employees and leaders will only keep coming.

Unfortunately most leaders and employees don’t have the right skills to manage the demands placed upon them. A strong and high-performing employee is often one who has grown in their career on their ability to get things done – and by saying ‘Yes’. Yes, I can. Yes, I will. Yes, of course. Unfortunately, saying yes will only get you so far in an organisation and having too many leaders who grew up with yes as their instant reaction can be detrimental to an organisation’s ability to deliver.

Why is ‘yes,’ the answer to ‘no’?

So how do you teach employees how to say no? And if you do, will it affect your company’s ability to deliver to your customers? The first answer is simple. Employees at all levels need tools and skills to navigate and negotiate their workload and to achieve the balance they desire.

Start first with a basic training course on how to use ‘Yes, but…’ as a delivery negotiation tool. The course can be taught by any experienced and trusted leader in your organisation and it follows a very simple format. Essentially, the entire course is a set of negotiation techniques where you take employees through the equation of ‘Yes, I can do that for you, but, there are implications around time, prioritisation, skills/money/resources, quality and employee engagement’. Not only is it a great tool for supporting life-work balance it’s an excellent tool to teach good business to your employees.

A quick summary of how the training can be taught:

Negotiation of Timing:

  • Yes, I can but not today/tonight/this minute/this week.

Negotiation of Priorities:

  • Yes, I can, but not without dropping something else, can we talk about what takes priority?

Negotiation of Resources, Skills and Money:

  • Yes, I can, but not without some help from Paul on X, freeing Shipra up to do Y or some additional money for Z.

Negotiation of Quality:

  • Yes, I can, but it won’t be at the quality I would want it to be. Perhaps we could start with a rough version, and then after we deliver X, we can dedicate more time to bring this up to the quality we both would want. Is that ok?

And, perhaps most importantly, it can help bring employee engagement into the conversation:

  • Yes, I can, but if we can’t budge on time, other priorities, resources or quality, it will have an impact on the team’s engagement. That’s not something I am comfortable with long term.

This memorable technique is not only simple, it helps employees who desperately want to so say yes, do so, but with the right detailed conversations attached to the Yes to help make both themselves and the organisation better from the negotiations. Think of it as a guilt-free way to say no.

If my employees start saying no all the time, will it affect my ability to deliver to my customers?

Saying yes all the time is in no-one’s best interest. It can lead to poor quality, late delivery, and a thoroughly exhausted employee who is stressed about their ability to deliver what’s on their plate.

Through carefully constructing skill development on the subject of life and work balance, you can bring the right conversations to the forefront, and support employees in managing their own balance. In addition the skills related to ‘Yes, but’ are excellent project skills to help ensure conversation any project you take on is set up for success. Balancing time, resources, quality, cost and employee engagement is critical to balancing life and work. It can also ensure a project is holistically reviewed before launching, and help your organisation make active decisions around delivery for your clients – bringing issues to the forefront before they snowball into something bigger. By having the right conversations up front you can avoid employee absence due to stress, the cost of poor quality delivery, missed deadline and disengaged employees.

Outside of the classroom

Whilst the course itself is very simple, there are two critical components to making the skills, and the cultural change behind them stick. First, it’s important to choose the right leader to deliver the course. Who makes a good leader to deliver the course? Someone who is trusted, visible, and honest. They need to be open that life-work-balance is a challenge for everyone, and they too have moments of being overwhelmed. That kind of open and honest conversation can form a turning point for your organisation in embracing the need to be transparent around the ‘cost’ of saying yes.

Second, the course needs to be part of a broader engagement plan where employees are encouraged to have conversations relating to workload, stress, and their own desired work style and workload. Employees need to see that courses like this aren’t rhetoric, but part of the organisation adapting to the new norms and new demands of the modern working world.  Those organisations who do embrace it, will be rewarded by employee advocacy for their progressive thinking.

Photo©John Cassidy The Headshot Guy®www.theheadshotguy.co.uk07768 401009The Red Plate is a boutique consultancy focused on making extraordinary ambitions happen. @susannahlevy

Main image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dorkymum/

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  1. Nuggets of Knowledge: August 2015 - Mack Web

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