It seems like every moderate-sized or larger organization has one (at least one). It’s that department or that leader who for the sake of covering their own backside, and ostensibly that of the organization, is far more incentivized to say “no” than “yes” (or even “maybe” for that matter).
In some places it is an entire department. It’s HR; it’s legal or compliance; it’s IT. (There are certainly more. These are just the ones I have experienced.)
Everything in the design of these departments, in their incentive structure, in the skills of their people, in their intended, or de facto, role in the larger organization leads to “no.” And, technically, there’s nothing wrong with it. They keep the organization out of trouble. They keep it doing things that they know are already acceptable, safe, compliant, evidence-based, industry standards.
In other places, it’s a particular leader. The psychoanalysis of this type of leadership is far too complex for this blog, but please just note the issue. In terms of innovation in your organization, the result is the same. Status quo.
The chronic “no” problem for your organization is strategic, and strategy should be forward-looking.
Is the rote answer “no” helping your organization get where it needs to go? Does “no” help you innovate? Does “no” keep you nimble and adaptable to inevitable changes in the field? Does “no” help you listen to your employees more openly? Does “no” help you listen to your clients? Does “no” help you try new technologies? Probably not. (Some might even say “no.”)
For all of these to happen, the organization must be willing to take on risk, to expose itself to what it doesn’t know, not merely cover its backside based on what it does.
My goal here is to raise a flag for organizational leaders, not to bash these departments (although maybe to highlight those all-“no”ing individuals).
Leaders, do you have a “no” department? Be honest. Do you know if you have a “no” department? Be honest! Do you have a “no” man or woman?
What it boils down to: Is your organization strategically aligned? Have you instilled all of your departments with the people, the power, and the shared vision to help move your organization forward? Do your leaders share the same vision and have the right skills, dispositions, and incentives to take you there?
If you are not aligned, then the “no’s” may cover you for now, but bury you in time.