How I Learned to Be a ‘No’ Man

When Roy Earle accepted a position as vice president of operations at Hayward, California-based Etec Systems Inc. a few years ago, the company was in disarray. Demand for its pattern-generation equipment for manufacturing silicon chips had tripled, but production lagged far behind. A 25-year-old firm with the legs of an arthritic halfback, Etec suddenly needed to shift into entrepreneurial mode and break for daylight. Unfortunately it was woefully ill-equipped to handle the change.

Earle was charged with bringing the company’s operations up to speed. That meant ruthlessly prioritizing and turning down projects that weren’t absolutely essential. He learned the hard way that there are two things you must do to say “no” and show that you mean it — without alienating your boss.

Keep 100% of your resources allocated at all times.

“As soon as I joined Etec I realized that our manufacturing cycle time was too slow. So I assigned two key people to work solely on reducing cycle time. And I made sure that the rest of my people were fully engaged in solving other problems. That meant I had no choice but to turn down projects that I thought were unimportant.”

Remain objective: base your “no” on facts rather than emotions.

“First, I go into data-gathering mode. I compile all the information I’ll need to back me up, and I make a big sell. It’s hard to muster the courage to say no to a boss. But if the data says that no is the only sensible solution, then the decision-making process is emotion-free.”

Coordinates: Roy Earle, .