The Power of Saying NO!

The Power of Saying NO!

I did not come up with this phrase; I read it many years ago in a Harvard Business Review paper and remember it well. Many of my colleagues have heard me mention it over the years.

I googled the term as I was writing this post and came up with more recent mentions of this phrase in Forbes which actually provides some good tips as to balancing private life and work.  I also found a post on Oprah’s website that is about dealing with our children.  Also a good post.

However I want to focus on the one from that HBR story: One mistake many young (and not so young) companies make is to try to please its customers and its prospective customers all the time and at any cost. They try and show that they are listening, that they care, of course that they can and are able to “perform” and probably most important: they simply want the revenue or prestige that comes with that potential new work whatever their business may be.  

It is worse when the request comes from a big or important customer (or prospect). How can you say no if IBM wants you to do a project for them or if Facebook asks you to do something for them?

Well, this is where the management team needs to carefully evaluate how close the request is to the company’s true core competency. How will it change what the (small) team is working on?  Is the reward big enough to change the course of work and disrupt development and product teams? How much work will it actually take?  Has the company considered what the after sale support requirements or concerns will be?

This is where you sometimes just need the power to say no!

The ability to turn down what might seem to be a no brainer is hard.  Analyzing the pros and cons is not easy.  Sometimes such a project can be great. It all depends on many factors. I leave you with some to consider:

  1. You did an analysis and you can do the project but what other projects will be delayed? In a small company, you may not have enough resources to delegate responsibilities. It is usually the principals who have to do the work.
  2. Is this project core to your company strategy?   Will it contribute to business growth or is it really just a one-off project that can bring in some nice revenue?
  3. How much of a distraction will it be for the team (not just the principals)?
  4. What will happen after the project is done? How much hand-holding and ongoing support will be needed?
  5. Is this actually a project that inspires something new that will positively change the company direction? 

Finally, if you click here and here you will find the original HBR articles.


Contributed by Ari Rabban, CEO of 

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