Delivering bad news is always a challenge, but it goes with the territory for managers. Lud Romano, managing director of Alive Communications, gives his top tips for preventing, managing and communicating bad news.
It’s a fact that there will always be the potential for bad news but it doesn’t always have to spell disaster, there are a number of simple management techniques that can help you be better equipped to handle all eventualities.
When it comes to bad news, how you handle it is as important as what the news actually is. Timing, management and teamwork all go towards creating a better working environment.
Prevention is better than cure and bad news may not need to be delivered if a problem or issue can be solved early on. There are some simple techniques that can be implemented to reduce the chances of a trivial issue expanding into a major problem.
‘Dead people’ don’t walk through open doors
One of the best ways of preventing bad news is to ensure that you are aware of what is happening with your entire team. One way of doing this is to operate an ‘open-door’ policy. You have read all the management books and are now very proud of the ‘open-door’ policy you have implemented. But for some reason, nobody ever seems to take advantage of it, why?
Anyone can have an ‘open-door’ policy, but in order for it to operate effectively your team need to feel that they can challenge you, potentially tell you something you might not like to hear and that they won’t be penalised for it. Managing your own reaction to bad news is a crucial first step in effective team management. Shoot the messenger once and you may as well get them to close the door on their way out as no one else will bother coming through it.
Bad news is like a bus service
There’s nothing, then several come at once. Something else to take into account when it comes to identifying issues is that once you have found one, it is unlikely to be an isolated problem but just one symptom of a wider issue. Don’t ignore the small stuff. If any bad news does reach you, you can assume that it is part of a pattern and that the issues have been around for quite some time and not just from one part of the business. Be prepared to investigate a bit further, there’s more, and it might be worse then you think. Bad news and problems often begin life as fairly small issues, individually they may not worry you, but put them together and you could have a big problem.
Have a way of finding things out
In the same way that it makes sense to network for new business contacts and enhancing your career prospects, you also need to have a network of frontline contacts within your own business. People who don’t report to you directly are less likely to be intimidated about telling you what’s going on. Make your own contacts without going through channels. You may be surprised to find out how many people tell you what you want to hear rather then what they actually think. This information can go a long way towards
helping you resolve problems and issues early on.
Showing your troops that they can safely bring you bad news is half the battle won. When you get info, don’t just take it and put it to one side or put it in the ‘too difficult’ box. Remember that people won’t come forward if they think that whatever they tell you will just languish.
Join your own company
Communication is a two way process, once you have got the open door policy sorted out, why not actually try stepping through and spending some time outside of your office? Take some calls in the call centre; join a couple of project team meetings. Once you’re there, try asking some tough questions. If you really want the truth, show that you can handle the truth. Encourage your team to question, to point out potential flaws or stumbling blocks in projects. Reward rather than reject a questioning nature.
Although you have your preventative tools and techniques in place, there will be times when you are in a situation where bad news needs to be managed. There are actions that can minimise the pain involved.
Crisis management, scenario planning and assigning a worst-case scenario team to all major projects are all ways to ensure the successful management of bad news.
Once it is clear that there is a situation don’t just assign responsibility and walk away, ensure you are kept informed of any bad news and take action on the information given to you.
Bad news can range from the loss of a key contract to the announcement of redundancies. Sometimes it is appropriate to deliver bad news in a team meeting or forum. This can work as long as you follow a few simple dos and don’ts.
Set PowerPoint free
PowerPoint should be used as a tool, not as a crutch or shield. If you want your audience to focus on your message and not on the screen behind you then give presentation packages a miss. This will also encourage open debate and
Provide the opportunity for questions and answers
Your team will no doubt have a host of questions to ask about the news they have just received. Demonstrate that you are open to feedback and discussion. Remember to make yourself available after the meeting; people may not be comfortable asking sensitive questions in front of their colleagues or may want answers to their questions after they have given the news some thought.
Do have some Q&As prepared
You will probably we able to predict some of the questions that people will be asking, make sure that you cover topics ranging from professional to personnel issues. Prior preparation will minimise the amount of anxiety in your team. People will be interested in how the news affects them first and the company second.
Do be sensitive when using humour
You are a manager, not a stand-up comedian. If you are delivering news that will have far reaching effects; it is not the appropriate to tell the latest joke. You will lose the respect of your team and look a real prat to boot.
Don’t get someone else to do your dirty work. Take ownership and responsibility and deliver the news yourself, otherwise you risk losing the respect of your team.
If handled professionally and sensitively, bad news can be delivered in a positive way. The key things to remember are, listen to your team even when they tell you things you don’t want to hear and learn to communicate good and bad news with the same degree of sensitivity.