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Plus: The lowdown on Donald Trump's brand

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

Here are 10 reasons to stop avoiding that delicate two-letter word.

Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman's top productivity tip is to give a fast "no" after examining the data for a decision rather than a long extended no or a long extended yes. "If you think about every bad thing that will happen, you freeze," she told Forbes. It also helps to recognize if a decision turns out to be a mistake, you can always fix a mistake.

Consultant Greg McKeown urges in his newsletter to say no to one option every time there are choices and you are inclined to do both. Otherwise you will be forced into tradeoffs, which hurt your productivity. "Even though you may actually be able to fit them in, discipline yourself to still pick one," he says.

In strategy + business, consultant Elizabeth Doty offers five moments when saying no is your best strategy:

  • You are being pushed to make a promise you can’t keep: Although others may be disappointed, it is far better to retain their trust and your own credibility over the long haul by being realistic about what you can deliver. She borrows from William Ury's "positive no" approach, suggesting you commit to a larger, overall goal you share and can say yes to, while proposing alternative ways for the other party to get there that will diminish the degree of your involvement
  • Something sticks in your craw: If it doesn’t feel right – your gut is saying be careful – then take some time to pause and reflect.
  • You feel you have no choice: The reality is that you always have a choice, even when the stakes appear high. “It is part of our responsibility as professionals to recognize when there is something more important than a project or deadline,” she writes, citing the people who cut corners – perceiving no choice – before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
  • The “plan” has taken on a life of its own: After people have committed to a direction, they tend to persist. To counteract such momentum, it can be helpful to ask your team to list the assumptions behind their plan and suggest a quick test to double-check the facts. One leader she worked with lobbied for an additional market study before a product launch, which helped avoid a failure in the making.
  • You see a dangerous trend in the works: She stresses that scandals and catastrophes often begin as small trade-offs or compromises that add up over time. “If you notice a pattern of incremental decisions that could undermine safety, quality, data security, customer focus, or ethics, take a step back and check on the cumulative effects,” she warns.

With that in mind, you're prepared for Fast Company associate editor Rich Bellis's look at the three types of "no" you need to master in your career.

  • The hard no: A clear-cut decision where you know your answer must be “no, thanks.” Of course, expressing that no may still be difficult and he points to social psychologist Susan Newman’s advice that the fallout from a no is rarely as bad as you fear.
  • The soft no: You’re inclined not to agree but might be willing to do something less than what is being asked. That requires more information to decide. “You don’t just want to show that you’re on the fence. The key to delivering an effective ‘soft no’ is to convey the reasons for your skepticism and explain what information you’ll need to give a firmer answer,” he advises.
  • The “ask me later”: Sometimes we agree to take on some initiative that is actually wrong for us to accept at this time but is probably fine down the road. So briefly explain what prevents you from accepting the opportunity now but why it interests you. Then suggest how it might be revisited later, if the other person is willing.

No can be difficult. Those 10 bits of advice offer a helping hand.

The lowdown on Donald Trump's brand

Political journalists have made much about the strength of Donald Trump's brand in helping him to quash rivals in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. But those journalists aren't marketers. John Quelch, a professor of marketing at Harvard University, recently took an incisive look at Brand Trump.

He noted that in the marketplace the brand is authentic, standing for aspiration and success, albeit more the ostentatious and flashy success that appeals to the newly wealthy. Trump hotels and resorts are favourably reviewed on Trip Advisor, with a 4.5 average out of 5. But when the brand was extended to other categories such as steaks, education and apparel, the results were mixed (as can happen with brand extensions, of course). "Few guests see the competencies of a good hotelier as relevant to designing distinctive quality suits. But, for a minority of consumers who embrace the Trump lifestyle, these other products can add brand value and, being produced by others under license, they deliver some extra profit to the Trump organization," he writes.

Now Mr. Trump has extended into political marketing where Prof. Quelch sees two fundamental differences with commercial marketing. In business, the consumer votes at the cash register every day and the marketer does not need a dominant share to succeed. In fact, companies that target a minority of consumers with a distinctive product can do very well – better than companies adopting an all-things-to-all-people approach.

But political marketing is different. The key is to be the market share leader, getting a plurality of votes on election day – so, one day every four years for the presidency. "Unlike a commercial brand, the political brand doesn't need a close ongoing relationship with consumers, and it doesn't need to co-exist with competitors after the election. The political brand just needs to close the deal once – on voting day," he observes.

Interestingly, the skills to win a presidential nomination are actually more similar to commercial marketing. You can win with a distinctive approach to a niche market, as Mr. Trump has done. But he has actually only gained the vote of 6 per cent of the electorate and probably needs about five times that on election day, assuming a 60-per-cent turnout.

To do that, he has been urged to soften his tone. But that may be perceived as inauthentic and dangerous to his brand. Alternatively, he can continue the approach which has been successful so far. "The marketing question is whether brand Trump can become more about the brand rather than be about Trump. A successful brand is owned by its consumers. It delivers benefits that speak to their needs and aspirations. If brand Trump can project convincing superiority on those issues like jobs and national security that voters view as the most important, the outrageous comments may be overlooked if not forgiven," he says.

Prof. Quelch notes that anger can grab attention but can't buy you love. President Ronald Reagan could be tough and obstinate but he also exuded a genial warmth and unlike Mr. Trump wasn't always looking to pick a fight. "Brand Trump seems more petulant than personable. Absent political experience, party unity and policy specifics, personality is all that brand Trump offers, and it's already wearing thin. Indeed, it's looking ugly," he writes. Jeb Bush warned: "You can't insult your way to the presidency." Prof. Quelch similarly points out the commercial world has never seen a brand insult its way to market share leadership.

Quick hits

  • Ninety days is the best time frame for most goals, says leadership speaker David Horsager. A year is too long and 21 days – often cited for changing habits – is too short for most real change. So try 90 days for your change goals.
  • If you intend to hold workplace flu clinics this fall, keep in mind recent research that shows uptake depends on how often people wander by the site of the flu shots, not how close their desk may be to that spot.
  • The most important team-building hour of the day is lunch hour, according to Flavio Martins, vice-president of operations and customer support at a digital certification company. So don’t eat alone at your desk. Build camaraderie and rapport with others over a meal.
  • Prepare for a Siri world where people will be using microphones instead of keyboards to interface with their computers. HR consultant China Gorman asks if your organization is preparing for the radical shift ahead.
  • Mississauga-based presentations specialist Dave Paradi says it makes sense to send some prior reading to attendees at an upcoming meeting of senior executives or board members. But don’t confuse your presentation with the pre-read. The pre-read gives the context. The attendees no longer need all that detail and expect a more focused presentation that builds upon the early material.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter