Imagine you have an entire team of employees who are always eager and willing to accept new projects. So much so that you hardly ever hear someone say no. Sounds great, right? Maybe, but what if these employees are saying yes to a fault. Consider perhaps that if they are saying yes to everything, they are often saying yes to the wrong things.

All humans want to be liked. And in the workplace, balancing social relationships with working relationships creates a complicated ecosystem where sometimes employees say yes to things that distract them from the real important pieces of their job. This can lead to employee burnout, as employees continue to say yes, taking on more and more tasks that are having little impact on the larger goals of the organization. One of the main drivers of employee engagement and satisfaction is the ability to connect everyday tasks to bigger goals. Empowering employees to speak their mind about how they view the value of the work they are doing also provides additional autonomy and accountability, two things that high performing employees crave.

A recent article from the Harvard Business Review provides some tips on developing a culture that empowers employees to say no.

Establish a value assessment system.
Rather than encouraging employees to say yes or no to certain tasks, encourage them to rate the value that task provides to their ultimate goals Employees can then rank their work and as new assignments creep up, they can be placed in the ranking system, with a clear understanding of what Time and attention are finite resources. If we have an employee working at their perfect capacity (quality, quantity and employee morale and all good) and then they are asked to do something else, the current list will suffer. That is to say, something will have to be taken of the list or at least pushed down the priority scale. When employees are presented with a new task, they should be comfortable saying, “Yes, I will take care of that, but it will be at the expense of something else.”

Give each employee the authority to make these decisions and have these discussions, so leaders are not spending time managing the workload of everyone. Help employees determine which tasks push the company toward their goals and which ones are less important.

Pay attention to warning signs
Don’t be afraid to abandon a project that is going nowhere. Encourage employees to speak up if they feel a project is going south. Recognize when a project should be adjusted or abandoned altogether. If you do abandon a project, be sure to do a post-mortem meeting with your team to identify what you could learn from the project in order to prevent it in the future.

Celebrate saying no.
It is easy to say no to things that are truly bad. But what about those thing that are good, but not great enough to pursue. That is where many leaders and teams struggle. Sometimes there are project or tasks that have merit, but they aren’t the most important thing to tackle at that exact moment. Saying no to these good, but not great things gives your team the space to grow and expand upon those truly great things that help you reach your goals quickly.

Saying no can be hard, but fine-tuning where you and your team put your attention will help you find greater success. Want to know more about the impact that saying no can have on your business and your life? Check out the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown.