Leadership - 02.22.2019
Delivering Bad News Well
Greatness occurs when ambitious goals are established and challenging issues are proactively addressed. As I’ve written before, setting high expectations and leading from the front is critical.
And in doing so, in spite of our best efforts, there will always be setbacks and failures. These come more often for those in leadership positions.
Learning how to deliver bad news well is an essential skill. Planning and preparation are key.
There’s no good way to “practice” this skill. That being said, here are four things to keep in mind if you want to effectively communicate bad news well, and minimize the damage.
First and foremost: communicate courageously and confidently
You must have the courage and confidence to step forward and communicate the issue or problem that has occurred factually, and with the appropriate level of humility. Sharing bad news fast is also a good principle. By sharing early on, there might be someone that can help you resolve the issue. Courage and a level head will engender positive reactions.
Second, provide an accurate summary of what happened and why
This includes digging deep into the root cause of the problem, and identifying what went wrong. Be specific, identify critical process failures and/or errors in execution. Avoid the easy solution of blaming a team member, always address the process, controls, incentives, and communication issues first. You’ll find it’s rarely a single person’s mistake. By starting with people, you will likely waste time, demotivate team members and fail to resolve the real cause of the problem.
Third, provide a detailed response and resolution to the problem
Everyone likes to have people on their team that are capable of solving problems. Start by addressing the short-term issues. Put the fire out now. Then, take some time to develop longer-term process or procedural changes necessary to resolve the issue. Regardless of the nature of the problem, action should be taken quickly.
Set your ego aside
You must think about your organization first and foremost. Your ego will try to suppress your ownership and accountability. Also, the fear of repercussions and career/reputational damage will come into play. I’ve found those fears are overestimated in most cases. Failing is not falling down, it’s staying down. Get used to feeling disappointment. Leaders who are courageous and ambitious will fail from time to time.
To make this easy to remember, think of the acronym C.A.R.E.
Courage and confidence.
Accurately describe the problem or issue.
Respond with a detailed resolution in the form of specific actions to address the problem in the short and long term.
Ego management; execute your corporate fiduciary responsibilities and set aside the personal implications.
While these steps provide a simple, clear method to deliver bad news, it is extremely difficult to execute consistently.
So please take good C.A.R.E. when delivering bad news well.