Learning how to say NO

Last July I wrote a post titled “No staff need to find ways to say yes“. In the post I argued that

“finding a way to have success and help departments accomplish their goals (finding a way to say yes) you gain lots of respect and have a positive impact on your campus”

Today I want to take a different spin on this idea and argue that Higher Education needs to learn how to say no. Especially at a small liberal arts college too often we say yes to everything. What does this accomplish but water down any strategic goals and projects that we have. Higher education needs to learn how to create a strategy and how to create and execute tactical plans aimed at accomplishing that strategy.

If there are 4 important areas on the web that need attention this year than that is where our focus should be. We should not spend time on “pet projects” but rather on supporting the strategic goals for the year. It does n0t mean that we don’t find ways to collaborate and create good partnerships on campus but we just do that with those top level goals in mind.


3 Responses to Learning how to say NO

  1. The “say yes to everything issue” isn’t confined to small liberal arts schools. Just sayin’ (from the “misery loves company” chorus). 😉

    We’re working on finding ways to say “no” to projects that don’t align with our strategic goals as a university. The trouble is, our strategic goals are so broad (pertaining to enrollment, retention, research, fundraising and “reputation”) that a savvy enough admin or department chair can argue that just about any pet project is vital to one or more of those broad goals.

    Time and again, it involves setting goals as a department that align with the university’s goals, prioritizing your work, allocating resources (usually human talent, since none of us has much money), and then practicing the art of compromise. We also need to build in some breathing room in our plans, knowing that issues will arise that we must deal with, even if they weren’t part of our strategy a year or even a month ago.

    On that last point, here’s a case study based on personal experience: In December, the president of the University of Missouri System announced that the university would sponsor two statewide “summits” to deal with critical issues — energy and life sciences. He appointed our chancellor to chair the energy summit. That event suddenly became a priority — and a very time-consuming one — for our chancellor and staff, our vice provost for research, several faculty members, and our communications staff. That wasn’t on my to-do list for the year, but it’s what I’ve spent at least 50 percent of my time on since January.

    So, while I agree that we do need to learn to say no, we do need to build flexibility into our scheduling and project management so that we can say “yes” to those command performances in which we really don’t have any alternative.

    Finally, your post reminds me of a /dorothy_parker/quotes”>Dorothy Parker quote that I believe is relevant in this instance: “That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can’t say No in any of them.”

  2. Good timing – I talked about this issue at the HighEdWeb Regional conference today at Cornell. I believe the video of my talk is available online somewhere and fits in with this thread. (BTW – I do believe that we need to learn to say no when appropriate.)

  3. Barb Dreger says:

    I’m with you both, Mark & Andrew. With limited resources, a lack of prioritization waters down efforts on strategic initiatives. The culture of most colleges is to say yes, collaborate and do one’s best to support requests. It’s sometimes a sad state of affairs to think what could be accomplished on key college strategic needs if we could better prioritize and sometimes say “no”. Or how about, “later”?

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