How To Say No
Sean: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Operations, the show where we look under the hood of companies in hypergrowth. My name is Sean inaudible. So, here's the thing, we're all busy. New projects come up, a pandemic completely upends your perfectly crafted forecast, some tool you rely on breaks. And the truth of the matter is that many of you probably have more work on your plate than you should. Nod your head if you're with me so far. And with all the swirl that can come with being in operations, there's this magical arrow that every ops person should have in their quiver, one that when used effectively can be the difference between inevitable burnout and enduring success, the difference between a never- ending game of whack- a- mole and finding that strategic lever in your business that moves the needle for the better. That arrow that you should have in your quiver? Saying no. Saying no. Ops people, myself included, are enablers by nature. Our roles are literally created to provide value to others, so our default answer to requests is yes. But I'm here to tell you that, from experience, that's not the right way. That's not the path to success. And, to be honest, you're probably doing your company a disservice if you are saying yes to everything. Only yeses doesn't mean you're some kind of superhero that everyone can rely on. It more likely means that you're not being strategic or thoughtful or disciplined about the work you're doing. And, look, I get it. This is hardly a new idea. Steve Jobs famously said," It's only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important." And in the book, The One Thing, something we hand out to every new employee at Drift, Gary Keller writes," When you give your one thing your most emphatic yes and vigorously say no to the rest, extraordinary results become possible." And I also get that these things are much easier said or written about than done. So, on today's episode, I want to give you three specific strategies for how you can say no in a way that will be both beneficial and productive for you as an individual and for your company as a whole. All right? So here we go. Number one, saying no starts with having clearly documented goals. If you're going to say no to something that comes your way, you need to have a reason to back up why, otherwise you don't have a leg to stand on. So on whatever cadence makes sense for you and for your team, you should be documenting, getting feedback on, and publishing your goals. For us at Drift, we happen to do it quarterly. The feedback step of that is crucial because you and your internal customers should be aligned on the goals that you're going to work on. There's likely going to be some trade- offs about what different stakeholders want, but at the end of the day, everyone should be on the same page about the goals that your ops team is signing up for and you're going to tell the whole company that you're going to work on. There's a sales coach that I really admire. His name's Craig Wartman. And Craig taught me this concept called a purpose benefit check. Now, normally this is a practice used for sales meetings, but I found it to be helpful really in any meeting, and it extends to this goal setting process as well. Essentially what you're doing is declaring to a group the purpose why you've brought them together, the expected benefit for the group that they are going to get out of coming together, and checking to make sure everyone is aligned around those things. So here's an example. The purpose of me recording this episode is to offer specific examples of how operators can more effectively say no so that they can then bring those lessons back in order to use in their own jobs. Is everyone listening and on board with that? To me, the check at the end of the purpose benefit check is the most important part. If everyone acknowledges that they're there for the same reason, then that gives you permission later on to gently bring everyone back to the core purpose and benefit when somebody inevitably starts to sidetrack your discussion. The same thing can be said for clearly documented goals. Your purposes and your benefits are transparent to all of your internal stakeholders. And as long, as you did that check at the beginning, as long as you've got that feedback and that buy- in, that gives you license to bring everyone back to those goals and say no to things outside of them. Okay, so that's number one, clearly documented goals. Number two, tie all of your goals back to a specific business result. I hear from ops teams all the time about the challenge of measuring the impact and the efficacy of their teams and the work that they do. I agree with you that this is challenging, but it's not impossible. The key is to tie the seemingly immeasurable stuff, the processes you build, the new systems or tools you implement, the reporting you create back to something that is very tangible and very measurable. Here's an example. Earlier this year, our ops team at Drift reworked nearly every aspect of how we deliver leads to the sales team. And a lot of the stuff that goes into that, new triggers, new distribution rules, new views on dashboards, may seem pretty tough to assign a number to. So let's pull on that thread and take a look at that work a little bit further. First, you need all of your systems that you're setting up not to fail. So one goal could be reduce the number of distribution errors to below X percent every single day. Super clear. Next, when those leads do get delivered properly, the whole point is that the team can get to them as quickly as possible. So another goal could be reduce the average lead response time from X to Y, and again, you have another simple, easy to measure target. And third, hopefully the whole driving force behind a project like that is that you think that by making all of these different system and lead delivery changes, you're going to get a higher yield or a better conversion rate of leads to meetings. So lastly, increase your lead to meeting conversion rate from X to Y is the ultimate business result we were targeting. And so that's what we put in place for our goals. And you can keep going down the funnel with an example like this until you hit dollars in revenue. And that can and should be your north star when it comes to saying yes or no to a project. Here's a good test for you when you're creating your own goals. How easy is it going to be to measure whether or not you achieve that goal or not at the end of the quarter or end of the week or end of the month? Whatever you're doing. If the answer is unclear or you're not sure how you're going to measure it, chances are you need to go back to the drawing board on better articulating your goal. It should be super clear what is the dollar amount, what is the dollar impact of this work? That way, if someone else comes along with a new ask or a new project that isn't as clearly measured or doesn't impact your company's revenue or targets in a more meaningful way, again, you have the license to say no. So that's number two, tie your goals back to measurable business results. On to number three. Number three, use your routines and cadences to stay fluid and adaptable. I'm not going to rattle off all these strategies for saying no to things and expect people to go back inside of their hypergrowth companies and have everything be perfectly black and white. That's just not how hypergrowth companies work, right? Markets change, priorities shift, teams realign. What I don't want anyone to take away from this episode is the sense that you should lock in your priorities and be impervious to any sort of changing landscape around you. Instead, my third tip is to use the existing ones, routines and cadences as your opportunity to check in, provide updates, and if necessary, reprioritize on the fly. Now, there's a few important pieces to this one. To start, you have to have routines and cadences in the first place. For our team, we hold a weekly meeting with each of our go market leaders that we partner with at Drift. So sales ops holds a weekly meeting with sales leaders, marketing ops holds a weekly meeting with marketing leaders. You get the idea. In those meetings, we talk about the strategic initiatives of each function, how that team is growing and changing from a personnel standpoint and any of the truly tactical and operational changes that we're making. These meetings serve to keep everyone aligned and in the loop on what's taking place and it's our primary medium for communication about any important changes or open questions that have come up since the last time we got together. By the way, a nice side effect of this meeting is that it's not just for the leaders you're presenting to. It's for you, the ops teams, as well. You get practice at articulating your work clearly, you tie that work back to the goals that you previously agreed upon, and sometimes you even come across ways to use previously produced work over again. It's really easy to say yes or no to something with the knowledge of whether or not that work's already been done. But ultimately, when it comes to saying no, you can use this meeting or any routine or cadence that you have to be consistently prioritizing and reprioritizing the most impactful work in the business, so inevitably, when that big new thing comes up halfway through the quarter, that is the forum where you can openly talk about prioritizing that new thing, and, most importantly, which project is going to have to fall by the wayside as a result of this new priority. The project that is now the lower priority, that's the new thing you're saying no to. Then everyone involved knows exactly what the pros and cons of that trade- off are and there's no surprises later or missed set expectations or lack of communication. It's possible to be both adaptable and practice the discipline of saying no all at the same time. So let's recap. When it comes to the art of saying no, there are three keys to adding that special arrow to your quiver. Number one, clearly document your goals. Number two, tie those goals back to measurable business results. And number three, use existing routines and cadences to stay fluid, communicate and reprioritize those goals. As operators, we may be enablers by nature, but our strength comes from our discipline. At Drift this year, our mantra across the entire company is simplify, focus, repeat. Simplify, focus, repeat, which, at the end of the day, is all about what you're going to say yes and what you're going to say no to. It's easier said than done, but hopefully with some of these tools at your disposal, it can be just a little bit easier the next time around. If you enjoyed our show or found this episode to be helpful at all, please, please leave us a six star review wherever you get your podcasts, six star reviews only. Also, if you're listening to this, but you haven't subscribed to our show yet, what are you doing? Subscribe, help us out. We're going to bring you these lessons and lessons from some of the best operators in hypergrowth companies every other Friday. So if you hit subscribe, it'll just show up in your feed. Thanks so much for listening. That's going to do it for me. We'll see you next time.