“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”   – Steve Job

Earlier in my life, I was the quintessential “yes” man.  By that, I mean I had a hard time saying no to anybody that asked something of me. This was true at home, at church and especially at work.

Over time, my good intentions of trying to be everything to everybody and covering every base all the time was practically drowning me in a sea of commitments. By saying yes to everyone, I found that instead of becoming really good at everything, I had actually watered myself down and become mediocre, at best. Not to mention the stress and hassle that goes with having so much on your plate.

In today’s strategic planning climate, most credit union professionals are disinclined to say no to any new ideas or projects that pop up at meetings, especially those that come from supervisors and others higher up the ladder. The general fear is – anything I say no to will eventually come back to haunt me, usually in the form of the person that answered yes. Haunting questions like “did that no cost me a raise/promotion?” and “did that no result in me getting downsized?” abound.

In strategic planning, saying no is tough. Saying no is hard. Saying no feels unnatural to most people.

But saying no, and learning the best times and places to do it, is also one of the best things you can do for your credit union’s strategic plan. You also must think about all the many items from past years’ plans that are still on the active burner.

Following are a few ideas to help improve your chances of saying no at your next strategic planning session.

  • Identifying your key goals and objectives. What is it you want to accomplish this quarter? Or this year? Or in the next three years? If you haven’t already, take the time to sit down and conduct a personal goals inventory. Whatever your credit union’s most dearly-held goals are, make them your priority and learn how to say no to other projects and requests that can detract from them. Learn to be selective in the things in which you choose to invest your time. Learn to say no to extraneous sub-goals.
  • Learn to stay out of other people’s objectives. Being a “people-pleaser” is just asking for it. Sure, there are times when others will ask for your help on strategic planning initiatives and you’ll be happy to oblige. But this can become overwhelming. You’re going to have to learn that saying no to others’ requests is not necessarily a selfish or rude thing. We’re all given the same 24 hours every day with which to work. Help others when you can – then use the rest of that time to achieve the goals we talked about above. Learn to say no to people-pleasing.
  • Drop the unnecessary distractions during your strategic planning meeting. In simpler terms: put down your darn phone. Our mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets) are enticing modern miracles of technology. They can help us do and achieve great things. They can also help us waste enormous amounts of time that detract from the overall strategic planning process. Just as they can facilitate and enhance communication, smart devices can also detract from it. Learn when to put that smart phone or tablet down and when to pick it up. As with alcohol, drugs and any other vice — technology makes a wonderful servant but a terrible master. If it is detracting from your ability to focus on your key strategic goals and objectives, eliminate it. Learn to say no to technology.

Learning to say no does not come naturally. Learning to say no is a learned response, requiring practice, courage and determination. Learning to say no is also a vital part of your strategic planning success. By following a few simple steps like the ones above, learning to say no to certain things, people and technologies at certain times actually empowers you to say yes to the strategic planning goals that matter most.