How IT Leaders Avoid Yes/No Battles

Use this preemptive strategy to funnel business requests.

Being able to say “no” diplomatically is essential for leaders to ensure that they can make space to say “yes” to the most important things. Often, IT leaders are reticent to say no because their IT organizations are still on a journey from a service provider to a partner.

As a service provider, the answer to every question is a yes, and you’re not supposed to say no, said Tina Nunno, vice president and research fellow at Gartner, in her session at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2016 in Orlando. But saying no is a skill and just like any other skill in the workplace, it takes technique and practice. “The mechanics of saying no are often the challenge,” she said.

Nunno presented CIOs and IT leaders with the “collective no funnel” as a preemptive strategy.  With this approach, “All potential yes-no battles go into the ‘collective no funnel’ and fewer yes-no battles come out,” she said.

The Collective No Funnel

Tina Nunno Collective No Funnel for CIOs

The conditional no adjusts the systems and processes in place to collectively say no in a healthy way. For example, begin treating internal requests from business units the same way as requests from vendors and external parties. Estimate the time and materials for every request, and with that information, most projects will say no to themselves.

The questioning no comes into play when requests are deemed urgent or non negotiable, which can quickly become aggressive and combative. Take the conversation back into collective mode with a series of questions , (i.e. What happens if it is not delivered when requested? Are you willing to pay a premium for the rush?) This allows your team to diffuse the situation while still pushing back on the request.

The paint the big picture no is when you put the request into the larger context of the business. The person may only be asking for what they consider a small request, but when viewed in the broader picture of other projects, portfolios and requests, it can be easier to see why they’re hearing no.

The toy store no is the smart approach when taking children to a toy store. Instead of giving a child free reign to fill up a cart with toys and then removing them at the cash register, it’s best to set parameters before entering the store. In the business content, this means setting a budget and rules for selecting technology. Tell business units (BUs) how much money they have to spend, instead of asking for their top fifteen priorities (when you can only accomplish a few.) By setting expectations ahead of time, BUs will have to think carefully about what they really need versus what would be nice to have.

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Remember, there is no one-size-fits all technique for saying “no” and when, why and how you say it is an integral part of your reputation as a leader, Ms. Nunno added. “Whenever possible, get to an assertive ‘no’ with empathy, for the best outcomes.”

Facebook Live 
Learn how to say no diplomatically. Watch Tina’s Facebook Live.

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