The concept of knowing when to say no to a new idea reminds me of an experience I had years ago when working with a client to draft their business plan. I was meeting with the senior management team when the sales manager blurted out, “Let’s just double sales next year and stop messing around with incremental growth.” The startled look on the faces of the owner and other managers conveyed their concern.

The operations manager didn’t think he could hire, equip, and train people fast enough. The accountant was wondering where the bucket of money was hiding that would fund all that growth. And the HR person just shook her head. Fortunately, the owner served as his own Chief No Officer, bringing his level thinking to the discussion.

A considerably more measured growth strategy was agreed on by all, but the lesson was learned. Any suggestion or decision, regardless of size, should be tested against the company’s current strategy, capacity, and alignment.

Strategy.  A basic Google search defines business strategy as “an outline of the actions and decisions a company plans to take to reach its goals and objectives. A business strategy defines what the company needs to do to reach its goals, which can help guide the decision-making process for hiring as well as resource allocation.”

Business strategies can and should change over time as markets and business climates demand. But these are not usually annual or even monthly events.

Capacity. Does the company have the capacity to take on and accomplish whatever the new project is in addition to the projects people are already working on? Does it have the equipment, capital, technology, and technical know-how to succeed at the new endeavor? Entrepreneurs are famous for thinking big and thinking their projects can be completed much faster and with less difficulty than they actually can.

An argument could be made that any initiative that merits disrupting a company’s current plan will require a significant investment of time and resources—sometimes more than the company can manage at that time, but this is an area that must be considered.

Alignment. Does this new endeavor align with the company’s core values, mission, and vision? Just because we want to do something doesn’t mean we should. Any new venture a company wants to undertake should be weighed against what the company stands for. While an owner might be inclined to blur the company’s values for the sake of more sales, the workers and customers who bought into those values might disagree.

The position of CNO is ideally suited for people who prefer direct, concise conversations, because they will only have one word to master—no. If a new idea doesn’t pass the three-question test, then the answer is no. It doesn’t require deep thinking or protracted conversations. Just one word—no. Begging, pleading, and groveling on the part of the supplicant are futile against the steely resolve of a seasoned CNO.

In my opinion every small business could use a good CNO. I think the money companies would save by not chasing dead ends, “ideas du jour,” or going down rabbit holes in pursuit of the latest fancy could more than pay for their salaries, not to mention reduce workers’ stress and anxiety caused by shifting directions and added priorities.

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