“Getting to No” is a play off the title of a dated but excellent book on negotiation entitled Getting to Yes, by Bruce Patton, Roger Fisher, and William Ury. It is about the importance of agreeing on principles that you share in common in a negotiation that can guide to an agreement vs. beginning with putting out negotiating positions, i.e. stating your differences as a starting point.
As a supervisor, if you are not improving the performance of your team, you are not adding value to the organization. In short, you have become an expense that has no return on investment. Simply being a cop that insures that no harm is done or performance does not erode is of very limited value. Rather, there needs to be tangible evidence that performance is rising as the result of your efforts. The context for our ‘getting to no’ is how to approach a performance review conversation with your direct reports using a tool I call the 7 Questions. (Download a copy of the 7 Questions here)
But, how to get there?
The 7 Questions are designed to point the way for a supervisor to truly add value as honest answers to the questions (often a “no”) from your direct reports point out opportunities where you can provide direction, clarity, counsel, decisions, or support/resources that enable performance to advance. But, they only point the way if you get the honest answer, which in the case of the 7 Question is a “no” or “somewhat” response to the questions. A “yes” response to the questions would mean that you have done all that you can do to support high performance. In short, you have no clear pathway for improving performance that is lackluster.
The tendency for a supervisor going in to the conversation will be to want to receive a “yes” response to each question because the 7 Questions on one level represent a report card on the supervisor’s performance. But ask yourself, if you get a “yes” response to each question, i.e., the employee has all he/she needs to succeed, what do you do tomorrow or the next day, week, month to add value? Sure, there are some strategies you could employ that aren’t addressed in the 7 Questions such as engaging employees in designing improvements to how they do their work. However, if you get all “yes” responses, you really have no clear path forward.
Supervisors who have employed the 7 Questions have found it difficult to get honest responses when asking the Questions the first time through. After all, communicating to your boss their failings is not considered safe by most subordinates based on their experience. So, you have to actively work to overcome this bias to give you “yes”’s when that is not the truth.
My advice is that when introducing the 7 Questions and the process you are going to engage in so that you and your subordinate can partner for high performance, indicate that you hope to get to a “no” to some of the questions as that gives you something tangible to work on. To state it another way, get them to see that the gift to you is not a glib “yes” but a “no” that suggests a way forward for both of you to improve.