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CHIEF “NO” OFFICER, Part I

This is the time of year when many businesses begin to take stock of the things they’ve accomplished over the past year and turn their attention to the things they want to accomplish in the coming year. At VMA we see this firsthand as we help companies prepare for attending one of our annual Business Planning Retreats.

One of the things we notice is that regardless of how a company performed in the previous year, whether it fell short of expectations or wildly exceeded plans, the owner usually comes up with a very ambitious list of things they want to still do before the current year expires or to accomplish in the approaching year. As with so many other facets of business, this “goal enthusiasm” can be a double-edged sword.

Naturally, one of the objectives of most businesses is to grow. This is good, but along with that growth inevitably comes additional tasks, projects, and to-do items that someone in the organization is responsible to complete; something they didn’t already have on their list. In our quest for growth, too often we overlook the demands these additional burdens place on our people and other resources. So how can we manage this?

Businesses have all kinds of acronyms for their senior managers. It makes us feel good and helps us justify their salaries. CEO, CFO, CIO, and COO are just a few examples. I suggest we add another acronym to this already long and impressive list—CNO. It stands for Chief “No” Officer. This person is responsible for saying no to the latest project, initiative, task, shiny object, wild idea, or “must have” that the business owner feels is mission-critical but is nowhere to be found in the business plan.

In all fairness to business owners and other C-level executives who feel the need to launch new business projects or initiatives partway through the year, a lot can change in a short span of time and the plan drafted the previous fall might need to be updated or expanded. New threats or opportunities might have presented themselves and require immediate attention, sales might have increased or decreased significantly requiring adjustments, or a critical team member might have joined or left the organization requiring us to alter the original plan. But these events are usually the exception to the rule, not business as usual. This is where the CNO comes in.

To help bring structure to a CNO’s responsibilities, let me offer a simple test they can use to keep their efforts laser-focused on the long-term objectives of the company. It will help to keep the business owner from launching a new initiative after every convention they attend and prevent the CNO position from being dissolved.

This test involves running every new idea, decision, or project that’s being considered through three questions to see if it supports the company’s long-range plans or if it’s simply a want that will distract attention from things that are truly important.

  1. Does the idea support the company’s current strategies?
  2. Does the company have the capacity to accomplish the idea?
  3. Is the idea in alignment with the company’s mission and core values?

In Part II of this series, I’ll go into greater depth on these questions and offer some suggestions on how to help the CNO be successful.