Strategy, Leadership & Development

Saying No: The Secret Weapon Of The CSR Professional

5 months ago

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Saying No: The Secret Weapon Of The CSR Professional

In the business world, we’re quickly taught that saying ‘yes’ is a good thing and saying ‘no’ is a bad thing.

Fundamentally, that’s because of the emotions we associate with these words. ‘Yes’ is full of optimism, excitement and courage. ‘No’ is the motto of the pessimist, the anxious, and the unimaginative.

If ‘yes’ were a person, they’d show up to a party fashionably late. They’d buy everyone a drink, dance on the tables and wake up the next morning in a foreign country, only to declare that they ‘just don’t get hangovers’.

‘No’ on the other hand would be completely different. ‘No’ would arrive at the party 10 minutes before it started. They’d talk to the same 2 people all night, while failing to finish their first drink because ‘they don’t like drinking on a weekday’.

Joking aside, these perceptions are detrimental to business success, especially in CSR.

Saying No in CSR | Jason Wicks

Saying No Leads To Focus

Ultimately, saying no is something that we’re all guilty of not doing enough.

Whether it’s because we’re scared to annoy people or worried about how it might look, we all do it.

However, ‘no’ is actually one of the most powerful words in your vocabulary, and it’s crucial you know how and when to use it.

The video below shows Steve Jobs explaining this in more detail. While it’s a pretty old clip, the message is still enormously relevant.

In short, this quote from Tim Ferriss sums it up perfectly:

Tim Ferris on Saying No | Jason Wicks

Why CSR Specifically?

Sure, harnessing the power of ‘no’ is a useful skill for anyone, but for CSR professionals, I think it’s essential. 

The thing is, CSR is all about impact. It’s about doing your bit to make the world better. Because of that, saying no can be especially hard. Instead of turning down a marketing idea or a new product concept, you’re saying no to charitable partnerships. Or you’re saying no to key actions that could benefit the environment.

At best it feels counter-productive. At worst, downright immoral.

Because CSR professionals care so much about the wider society and the problems of others, saying no is often a case of fighting against their most innate instincts.

However, regardless of how hard it is, a CSR manager that only says ‘yes’ will end up being pulled in far too many directions, and their overall impact will sharply reduce.

That brings me onto the second reason why this skill is particularly important within the field of CSR; resources.

Generally speaking, CSR teams don’t get the biggest budgets when compared to the more ‘front-line’ departments.

Whilst that isn’t always a problem, it means that you only need to say ‘yes’ to a few extra projects for your resources to be either stretched scarily wide or depleted all together.


Related: How to create value with a shoestring CSR budget.


Strategy Matters

It’s for this reason that a solid CSR strategy is absolutely crucial.

Opportunities will present themselves constantly, and without a clear strategic foundation, they’ll always be very tempting.

If you have a strategy as a reference point, you can constantly analyse opportunities to see whether or not they fit in, and easily say no to the ones that don’t.

The difficulty then comes down to trusting a strategy.

If you’re going to use it to decide which projects you run with and which ones you turn down, you need to be confident in it. That’s why it’s worth taking the necessary time over. If everybody is on the same page and in agreement, saying no to activities that don’t create value becomes significantly easier.

What’s more, you also need to constantly have a clear idea of what the next 12 months might look like. Sure, you need to plan for the occasional ad hoc event or project, but the more you can schedule in advance the better. If you adopt too much of a ‘make it up as you go along’ mindset, your precious resources will probably go to waste and you won’t add much value to society.

However, if you create a detailed plan at the start of an annual cycle, saying no once again becomes just that little bit easier.


Related: The simple venn diagram that explains what an effective CSR strategy looks like.


The Key Lesson

Overall, we all need to be much better at saying no. Instead of worrying what might’ve been or fearing that our peers may be judging us, we must be confident with our decisions.

In practice, you’ll probably be aware that saying yes is actually far easier than saying no, and personally, I tend to find that the harder something is, the more worthwhile it becomes.

For CSR in particular though, this is a fundamental skill. As resources are often limited and societal prosperity is at stake, saying no is a monumental challenge for many CSR professionals. However, it’s absolutely crucial to realise that if creating impact is the goal, you’re far more likely to achieve it by creating a solid strategy and sticking to it.

Turning down opportunities and projects may sometimes seem counter-productive, but society will benefit the most when firms focus their efforts on where they can create the most value.

So next time somebody presents you with something you don’t think you can add value to,

Just say no.

Hi! I’m an author and blogger within the fields of social impact and responsible business. I believe that businesses can be a force for good in the world, and this website contains my thoughts on how that can work.

2 Comments
  1. […] In a recent post, I discussed how CSR professionals need to learn to ‘say no’ to stop their resources from…. […]

  2. […] a similar logic to the one I used in my post about learning to say no, legacy processes prove that choosing not to do something is often just as powerful as choosing […]

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