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Say "Yes" to Start a Positive Revolution at Your Organization

Boost your organization's culture and performance by saying "yes".

There’s a movie starring Jim Carrey called Yes Man that always reminds me of a simple way to improve a company’s culture: say “yes.”

I learned first-hand that it’s in my best business interest to be bold, and not to baulk. Positive action powers innovation... and negativity is contagious.

During the deep recession that began in 2008, my company, PeopleG2, was struggling to survive. A drop-off in orders and poor financial outlook drove me to scrutinize how we did business, and I uncovered an embarrassing truth. My hesitancy to move forward during this difficult time had stymied our operations. I had become a leader known for saying “no.”

In Yes Man, Carrey’s character, a downtrodden loan officer, experiences a string of good luck every time he resists his negative tendencies. It’s a variation on an improvisational comedy trick—to keep a shtick going indefinitely, the players answer “yes” at every opportunity, no matter how absurd.

In business, this principle becomes a psychological tool that can defuse conflicts, encourage innovation and improve morale.“Yes” opens doors to dialogue, introspection and collaboration. “No” cuts off the conversation before it can even begin.

When faced with new ideas or plans that diverge from yours, apply the positive approach. Suppose a staff member asks you for a pay raise. Most bosses just say “no” or delay a response. Try saying:

  • “Yes, and ...” Draw the employee in by making a pay discussion mutually beneficial. Try, “yes, and I’ll authorize that when you meet these goals.” This lets you explore ways to increase that person’s performance or introduce new duties. By saying yes, you’ve invited the employee to respond positively as well. 
  • “Yes, but ...” Some people need firmer boundaries. Suppose that an underperforming team member says, “I want a raise too!” You might respond, “Yes, but you’ll need to reach the goals we agreed upon at your last review.” You’ve shown a willingness to raise pay—but you’ve insisted that existing criteria be met first. 
  • "Yes, in the right circumstances ...” Clearly, you can’t approve raises in every case or say “yes” to everything. But you can change your negative inclinations. Fortunately, you’re not Jim Carrey stuck in a movie where you can never say “no.” Take some time to think about when you could be more positive at work. Maybe it’s agreeing to try a new vendor or relaxing the dress code on Fridays. When you say “yes” to easy stuff, you’ll be more likely to at least consider doing so at other times.  

When I adopted this mindset, we began to see incredible results. Since then, PeopleG2 has earned kudos for record-breaking growth and employee-friendly working conditions, including twice making the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies. Before that? Not a single honourable mention.

So, bump up your organization’s culture and performance. Become your own yes man or woman. You’ll find that, like saying “no,” saying “yes” is contagious—in a good way.

Start a positive revolution in your company.