The natural tendency of anyone brought up in the services industry is to say yes. Yes, to helping a customer with something “just a little” beyond scope. Yes, to meeting marketing’s seemingly endless requests for showcase account examples. And yes, to bailing out a salesperson who promised a ridiculous date on a client go-live. In fact, yes is often the first word that comes out of a services professional’s, services manager’s, or services leader’s mouth.
In many situations, it is the right thing to do--suck it up for the good of the client, your colleagues, and the company. A little extra effort on your part can do a lot of good. It is worth it.
Yet, there are some very negative aspects of saying yes too often. Based upon your agreeable past behavior, you set an unrealistic expectation with the people you deal with, as they assume you will always say yes to any request. So when the customer or the salesperson or the marketer comes to you with a truly outrageous request and you refuse, he looks at you with disbelief and mutters phrases such as “I wonder what has gotten in to him! or “she must be having a really bad day.”
Furthermore (and, of course, it was not your intent), you establish a perception that you are a pushover. This will never be stated, but most cultures (especially Western ones) don’t respect people who “don’t stand up for themselves” or who “lack backbone.” So your attempts at being a good team player backfire, and you are seen as being a weak manager.
So what is the answer? If you have fallen into the “pattern of yes” described above, you can’t just start saying no anytime you feel justified, or you’ll get the reaction described earlier--it is too abrupt a change. You have to earn the right to say no. You accomplish this by making a “just say no” personal strategy. Do your homework up front by defining appropriate boundaries of what you will do and what you will not do to make your services organization successful while supporting the overall business. Involve senior management in the process to gain agreement on how to handle all the special requests that you know from experience will occur, and get their commitment on how they will be handled. By involving other executives, and by having fair plans on what is acceptable and what is not, not only can you “do the right thing” for the business, you can build and maintain your own personal credibility.
Say yes when it counts, but just say no when it doesn’t.