Construction Management: You Can Only Say No Once

May 20, 2015

You can say yes many times, but you can only say no once.

Jeff StinerWhere I grew up in rural Oklahoma, there was not much to do for work besides the manufacturing plant or the oil fields. Those were all well and good, but as a young man I wanted more. So, I moved to Texas. Ironically, I was surrounded by oil fields, but I had my training, drive and faith to make something of myself. I spent the majority of my adult life in Texas working with Kajima Building & Design Group, where I started in 1984. I moved to Atlanta 10 years ago to continue working with these good folks, but I am still a Sooner at heart. I still love to hunt and fish, and I live by a saying I learned back home, “You can say yes many times, but you can only say no once.” It’s similar to the old adage “kicking the can down the road” that most of us have heard in the past, but it really comes down to decision-making.

Originally “kicking the can down the road” meant delaying a decision, sometimes with the hope of someone else making the decision, but we’re not talking about shirking responsibility. We’re talking about taking the time to come to the right decision for everyone involved. In the early days of my career, I moved from electrical work to construction, which allowed me to expand my outlook and work with some great teams, including a boss who drove me crazy when it came to making decisions. It seemed to take him forever to make the simplest ones – something I was too impetuous to understand. We, the younger members of the team, thought our upper managers were the worst decision makers because they seemed so indecisive, but maturity soon taught us how narrow-minded we once were.

Today, as a leader, I now realize that making informed decisions take time. To those of us who are rather impatient, it is a lesson in slowing down to make sure you have everything done right. This is always a priority, especially when those decisions can have a major impact on our business, clients or employees. Now I understand how my children feel when it takes me a minute to make a decision.

go-no-goTherein lies the beauty of “you can say yes many times, but you can only say no once.” When we are faced with “go or no go” decisions, saying “no” is finite. As long as you can say “yes” there is still time to make the best-informed decision, which can create a win-win situation for all parties involved. I advise my colleagues not to say “no” so quickly, but keep our options open and say, “yes … maybe.”

It is a management style we can all learn from. After more than 30 years at KBD Group, we have built a culture rooted in making the right decision with the information available to us. If we said “no” at every juncture, we would have missed out on many opportunities. There is nothing wrong with saying “yes” to something, thinking it through and then coming to a decision to proceed or not. That way, the decision to accept or deny a task, new project, construction contract or that important client meeting is not made blindly, but with both eyes open.

Now, I know some of us have been advised to “learn how to say no,” but when a big decision is on the line, take the time and think it through. This decision-making strategy keeps everyone focused on providing the best solution possible with the best information available.

– Jeff Stiner, Senior Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, KBD Group USA