If you ask people to describe how they feel on a daily basis, the word “overwhelmed” comes up more than almost any other.

Once I was visiting a Quick Serve Restaurant (QSR) with the COO of the brand when we happened by a bulletin board in the back room with dozens of sheets of paper attached to it. A number of the flyers were taped to the sheets above and reached down to the floor in two separate rows. It looked like some type of massive kite with tails.

The COO asked, “What is this?”

The restaurant manager replied, “They’re the sheets with the initiatives and tasks we received in just the last week from the various departments at corporate.”

The COO quickly asked, “How do you decide what to do?”

She said, “We tackle the items we think we would get in the most trouble for if we didn’t do them.”

WHAT?? The restaurant team was basically playing the children’s game “whack-a-mole” with special points for knocking down the moles from the most feared corporate departments.

No, no, no. This is never good. And the lesson to be gleaned from this scenario: sometimes to fully engage people, you actually have to say that word more. NO. No to more strategies. No to more initiatives. No to more directives. No to more priorities. And, no to more urgent requests.

Even the Wall Street Journal saw this as a topic so interesting that they published a lead article on why this tiny word is so tough to say. “No” is often seen as a rejection and most strategy owners don’t want to see their babies rejected.

The challenge is that when we don’t say no by setting boundaries and frameworks for our people to execute within, we inevitably compromise our impact and hugely frustrate our people.

Engage Your People by Saying No: Three Tips to Leverage Today

Here are three ways leaders and managers can do a better job of saying “no” in order to create greater engagement and results.

  1. Prioritize Integrate, and simplify.

Often management teams start with a focus on 10 to 12 key enterprise initiatives for growth. They commit to cutting the list to the top three or four. What happens next is always fascinating. Because no one wants their initiative left on the cutting room floor, robust conversations ensure regarding lost opportunities or unaddressed threats. And this is when the leadership team must step up and guide the group. The most important action of the leadership team is to prioritize, integrate and simplify the initiatives before they go to the entire organization.

This requires leaders to connect the initiative dots, eliminate conflicting priorities, modify their appetite for stretching people beyond their comfort zones, and be realistic about the organization’s ability to digest and execute change. If you are not saying no to a significant number of the candidates for organizational initiatives, you are most likely setting the stage for frustration and execution failure.

  1. If you add one, take one away.

The weakest of all leadership routines may indeed be the practice of “stopping” what has been done in the past and creating capacity for people to execute the new.

A number of senior leadership teams have adopted new disciplines and behaviors on this issue. They agree together if they launch a new initiative, they must also take one away. They recognize that as a team they are the bottleneck to people executing strategy when they keep piling on new demands without eliminating anything from the past.

  1. Focus, Focus, Focus.

Focus on follow-up and follow through on the critical few initiatives, rather than be enticed by some new shiny object that appeals to the attention deficits of most leaders.

Interestingly, this focus is most often lost when the critical few initiatives are not adequately resourced and we once again can’t say no to partial funding of a topic we haven’t aligned on as a priority. Get clear on what’s most critical and direct time and resources to only those things!

Help to Engage Your People Today By Saying No

The practice of saying a resounding NO can kill frustration and step up your strategic initiative execution success like almost nothing else! “No” may have been among our first words as babies, and we got really good at saying it as teenagers, but we became scared of it as we grew older and took on more responsibility at home and at work. It’s time to go back to your roots and just say “no.”