One of the great challenges that organizations face is managing change and managing bad news. It’s easy for an organization to celebrate success. However, it seems that organizations fail regularly when it comes to managing failures.
There have been many articles that focus primarily on the actual delivering of bad news, yet many articles fail to spend enough energy on what comes after. However, an exception to this trend is an excellent article written for Forbes in 2012 by Robert Bies of Georgetown University, “The 10 Commandments for Delivering Bad News.” Now where do we go once the bad news has been delivered?
Here let’s focus on four essential principles for all organizations that are looking to deal better with bad news which may often involve disruption.
Get good news out quickly. Get bad news out quicker.
Holding back bad news only causes credibility issues for organizations and their leaders. It’s not compassionate to parse out information. A fascinating 2017 study from Brigham Young University highlights this point. Make every effort to get all the bad news out at once. It will allow you to focus on building a positive story moving forward. For example, when an emotionally fragile patient is diagnosed with a serious illness, the bad news has to be delivered as soon as possible so that the treatment can be performed quickly. The point here is that a delay in doing what’s necessary can have dire consequences; the same applies to any business or nonprofit.
Be straightforward, genuine and compassionate in your messaging.
Dancing around the truth only creates more issues. Use language that is meaningful to your audience; be direct with them and do not be defensive or angry. If there are issues, acknowledge them directly. You may personally want others to remember better times, but at this moment it’s important to consider what your community needs to hear from you.
Taking ownership of a blunder should not be delayed; it should be done as soon as the error has been identified.
Share concrete steps that you will take to improve the situation
As you go about admitting to your mistake, there will be conversations where you discuss the core of the problem and how your organization intends to resolve the issue. Be it oral or written communication, be realistic by not overstating what can be done, and make sure that your estimations and goals are practical.
Examine your situation inside and out. At the same time, be willing to share the specific, measurable and meaningful actions that are being taken.
Communicate. Measure. Communicate.
As you look and move forward, build a story of positive actions so that your organization and community sees and feels positive change. Actions need to be measured in order to meet the need for updates every 8-12 weeks. Without updates, your organization may fill the silence with assumptions and conclusions of their own.
If there are missteps moving forward, acknowledge them quickly. It’s the regular, measured communication that helps build credibility with the community as you head toward a new future. How does this play out practically?
Let’s take a look at two example organizations. In the first instance, an organization announces a million dollar loss each month for 60 months. What the community perceives is an organization that is not able to generate positive growth. Good managers will leave the organization and community members will look for alternatives.
In the second instance, an organization announces a $60 million write-off in the first year. It announces a plan for change. In the second year the organization shows 1-3 percent growth, but in the following 3 years, the organization shows a minimum of 5-10 percent growth each year. The pain of the loss can be offset by continued success stories. Good managers are attracted to the organization and community members view the organization as a successful turnaround.
How do you measure success? It is a simple, clear message or statistic that can be delivered in 30 seconds or less. The measurements should not be based on what is important to you, but what is important to your mission and community. Make sure that you communicate success stories to your audience.
One example can be a school sharing that the graduation rate went up from 70 percent to 77 percent within the last year. Another example can be found in online fundraising platforms announcing new product launches to help with better fundraising. This is exactly what GiveCentral does. Examples like this can send a powerful and positive message.
These are the four essential principles for all organizations that are looking to handle and manage bad news more effectively. With a good plan and execution of the same, tables can always be turned.
Patrick J. Coleman is the President of GiveCentral and Coleman Group Consulting. As a CEO to two enterprises, he is on a mission to help reduce costs and increase fundraising for all charities through ways such as mobile giving. With a diverse educational background and over 25 years of experience in operations leadership and strategic planning, he has developed a proprietary methodology that focuses on the art and science of negotiation to deliver measurable, implementable, and sustainable results. Mr. Coleman has served as Board President for Elk Grove United Way of Suburban Chicago, and as a board member of both Talkline/Kidsline and Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS).