Learning To Say No To Your Boss When It Makes Sense To

Saying No To Boss

Have you said no to your boss or another member of senior management while been part of the organisation? If not then why? Believe it or not but saying no sometimes is better than saying yes to everything.

I appreciate we live in a society where senior management are some type of ‘higher power’ gods who should be agreed with at all times. Well I’ve got news for you; these guys can sometimes be wrong, very wrong actually.

I sit back in horror sometimes watching people run around like a blue arsed fly trying to appease management for something which is not directly linked to their business objectives. Where is the rationale behind this?  I could also count around 100 situations where people have been dismayed by the work they’ve asked to do yet they have gone ahead and done it. If you do not believe something makes business sense why would you do this? It’s not always those who say yes who get the kudos; it’s the innovators, the risk takers and the decision makers at an executive level.

You know more than they do:

Those within executive roles or management within a specific area are hired for that reason alone, they are specialist in that specific area. This may be a controversial opinion but the strategy should come from those within the teams with the overall business strategy from senior management.

As a senior manager I would be concerned if I had to supply a specialist team with strategy ideas and vice versa. If I was part of a team and a senior manager was continuing to input to the intricate strategies then I would ultimately question my role within the organisation.

Senior managers are typically great business leaders and have an overall knowledge of the area you work in. They will also manage other areas of the business. You will however have specialist knowledge of the area you work in so you should be empowered to make a decision.

Use this knowledge to say no to strategies if they do not make business sense. You should be empowered, you have the knowledge. Senior management should be laying the overall strategy and providing the tools for you to get to the business goals not telling you what you should be doing in your role.

When you should say no:

Work not directly linked to your job role:

Personal favourite of mine. As a guy who works within Search engine optimisation which happens to be a web based skills set I am asked to do so much which is not directly related to my job role. I have been invited to numerous meetings which are just about the ‘web’ in general and not search engine optimisation. I was once invited to a senior meeting where I was asked to talk about our ‘web strategy’ in general just because I work on the web.  The meeting lasted four hours.

Another example was when I was asked to explore ecommerce platforms to use for an area of the business. Erm excuse me? I work in SEO and not web development.  I actually did the initial work as a good will gesture but this took up two days of my time, two days which could have been spent delivering the strategy which is PART of my objectives. This is not a rant by all means it’s just the productivity and strategy flaws which are clear within businesses. By been invited to meetings or looking at issues which do not directly cover your skills set you are potentially hurting the business too as you are not qualified to make these decisions.

By saying no in the beginning and offering an alternative you save your own time and help the business in the long run.

Short sighted strategies:
Short sighted strategies or ‘quick’ wins are the bain of my life. Most of the time these type of strategies do not work. Again I could count around 100 times when I’ve been asked ‘What could we do in SEO right now which would increase our revenue significantly?’

Now I’m not sure whether I should take offence to that question or not. If there was something out there which was possible with the current budget and head count then I’d question my role within the organisation if we weren’t doing it. Furthermore been asked to run a ‘quick win’ campaign takes you away from delivering what you are hired to do. You need to step up and say no.

There was a great example where within a business I worked within we had to think of a profitable quick strategy and the winner won a prize. EVERYBODY in the 90+ marketing team worked on a strategy and two were chosen. They had some revenue gain but nothing life changing. Furthermore you must question what was lost with 90+ people taking a day off their current role to work on a short sighted strategy.

Use that resource/time to work through strategic deliverables which will benefit the long term. By saying no to short sighted strategies you stay on task and deliver what you are supposed to deliver.

Not profitable:
Using the term profit people automatically assume ‘money’ but profitability can fall into financial, time and skills use bracket. Is the work been thrown your way a profitable use of your time? Is the work actually going to make the company money or is the work a good use of your skills set?

You will throughout your time within the corporate environment experience one of the three above. Most people will just go ahead and do the work but the best of us assess the task and question whether it’s a good use of your time. The skills set area is one of the main ones for me as there are times I am asked to do work which is well below my skills set. This is not me been arrogant this is just merely a sign of how sometimes it makes sense to say no. The organisation is paying you the money which equates to your four years experience and therefore they should use you for work which matches your skills set.

Furthermore having a job given to you which time and revenue wise doesn’t match up can also be a huge waste of your effort and worth saying no to. Assess the work given to you, formulate a rationale response as to why it doesn’t make sense for you to do it and knock back. You will be respected much more if you do this. Those who just say yes to everything are sheep. Companies appreciate those who say no but give a valid reason for saying no. Have faith in what you do and stick to your objectives and deliverables irrespective to who asks you to do insignificant jobs.

Time over return:
Time is a huge factor in business. The working day is typically 8 hours long and within that time you want to deliver. You are working through a really important piece of work which matches the objectives you were set when you receive a dreaded ‘red exclamation’ mark email. The email is a report which needs to be completed by the end of the day (why is everything so urgent?).

Is this a good use of your time when you are currently working on delivering something which is of benefit to your overall business objectives and strategy? Reporting is a prime example of a huge waste of time and impacts hugely on you completing work which will have a benefit to the business. Everything should be weighed with time/return. If the return it yields is not of benefit to your objectives and your deliverables then you are well within your right to say no.

Explain what you are currently working on, offer an alternative to the report and use your knowledge properly. You’re the expert, not the senior manager so make the decisions of how you should best use your time.

Any other reasons to say no to your boss?

Business is about employing the right people for the job at hand. Business also requires you to make some decisions which might not always be what senior management want. You are there to do the best job within your chosen field and it’s up to you as the ‘specialist’ to make sure you use your time and skills wisely, even if the most senior individual makes a left field request.

There are so many reasons which I haven’t explored but I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever said no to senior management after a request? How was this received?  If you have any other reasons please use the comments box below to express your opinions.

About the author

Ryan Gibson

Hey! I'm a 28 year old digital marketing guy residing in Leeds, England. My skill is in search marketing and I have gathered over 6 years experience of working on large multilingual campaigns for a number of FTSE 250 Organisations. After accepting a role with a business based in Singapore I began questioning traditional business practice and employee retention. This blog GenerationY.com was therefore born with focus on Y in the workplace. A millennial child at heart I aim to provide a voice for the 'misunderstood' generation and my goal is simply to change perception and corporate mind set on work/life attitudes; inspiring companies and individuals to seek change.


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