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How do I say ‘no’?

 

 

Hey Jo,


I’m drowning in requests at work. A few months ago, I volunteered to take on Marketo for our marketing team; now, I’m the go-to person for all things MOPs. People from all around the company ask for my help with reporting and data, and doing so means I’m less focused on my most important tasks. Others approach me ad-hoc with marketing jobs that aren’t my responsibility—but I just can’t say ‘no’.


I don’t want to let anyone down, but this is becoming unmanageable. How can I say ‘no’ with tact? How can I set clear boundaries?


Thanks,


In-Demand in Denver.

 

 

 

 

In-Demand, I’m sorry to hear you’re swamped. Before MOPs was a clearly defined role at my company, I raised my hand to take on Marketo. I believe in trying new things and growing from responsibility, but that same spirit landed me in your situation: juggling excess tasks and requests, trying hard not to disappoint.


I’ve found there are two reasons behind this. First: by taking the initiative to own a tool, you’ve proven a safe pair of hands for more responsibility. Second: there’s a visibility problem. It sounds like you’ve become the person for MOPs, as I was, while part of a broader marketing team. People aren’t quite sure what your role’s about, and when you don’t say ‘no’ to anything, they assume you’ll handle everything.

 

So let’s set some boundaries.

 

Here are two scenarios for you:

 

- ‘No.’ For the things you don’t do. Slide decks? Copywriting? Not in MOPs!

- ‘Yes, but…’ For the asks that are part of your job, but aren’t priorities. Or, you’re short on time. Taking them on has output consequences that you and the requester need to account for.

 

As a starting point, have a conversation with your boss—their boss too, if need be—about your role’s responsibilities and how they want you to handle over-the-fence requests. For the tasks that aren’t part of your job, establish who does those things and refer them to the correct person. 


If there’s a gap in skills, your boss needs to hire someone qualified for those responsibilities, or at least find a contract or agency resource. They might be reluctant, but trust me, they’re benefitting the business by delegating tasks to people with relevant skills and knowledge. Better to do something right than right away.

 

For other requests, it’s all about prioritization. Before you say ‘yes’, lay out all the business consequences of taking on a new task.

What resources or information do you need beforehand? What’s the turnaround? What tasks will be delayed to accommodate this new one? Do you need your boss’ sign-off to shift priorities? People respect productivity concerns, so speak the language of impact to better manage expectations.


Beyond that, a consolidated system for submitting requests is a healthy process to adopt. Whether it’s a ticketing system or a Slack channel, having a documented, dedicated place for requests cements a certain mindset: ‘if it’s not in the system, it doesn’t exist’.  By setting that up, you limit the ad-hoc requests coming over the fence and gain a trackable resource that supports the business case for help. 


Remember: you’re not letting anyone down by saying ‘no’. You’re just doing your job.


You’ve got this,


Jo.

 

 

 

 

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