I’ve written here before about giving bad news! Delivering bad news to anybody is difficult, but delivering bad news to your sponsor or line manager is one of the toughest and most stressful things you will do in your working life!
It doesn’t matter whether or not it is your fault, it is still uncomfortable.
Regardless of whether the failure is your fault, it can be embarrassing.
If you have an open and positive relationship with your boss so much the better, you can talk about handling bad news before you have any to deliver. Be wise and see if you can reach an agreement in the early stages about what to do when things go wrong!
If you are unlucky enough to have one of those bosses who always reacts badly when receiving bad news, it will need careful handling,
So when something has gone wrong – what can you do?
- First, don’t put off delivering bad news until the things get worse. Most problems left unresolved get worse over time, so waiting to tell the boss doesn’t help the situation.
- Gather as many facts as possible! You will probably be asked several questions about how it happened. You should be able to give a convincing, honest and well-informed answer!
- If possible you should also have a convincing plan to put things right.
- If it means a delay to delivering your process, programme or project, be clear about what that means in terms of time, resources and ultimate delivery.
- If there are increased risks, show how you plan to mitigate them.
- Deliver the message clearly and directly. If you have made a mistake or forgotten something, it really is better to confess and apologise.
- Don’t stimulate a blame culture. Try not to deliver bad news in a way that embarrasses the boss and reflects directly on them. Don’t start playing the whose to blame “tit-for-tat” game, if you can avoid it.
- If some one more junior in your team made a mistake then stand by them – it’s your team! But don’t defend the indefensible!
- Try to deliver bad news in private if possible. If you have to report the problem to a board then try to have word with your boss and/or the chair beforehand and agree how it will be handled.
- If you can, follow bad news up with good news and go on to talk about success.
Remember that we have all made mistakes including your boss. But make sure you learn from this experience! If you got something wrong and you are trying to do a good job, make sure you have all the training you need and that you have sufficient resources. If you don’t, then speak up and show that you intend to do all you can to make sure you have no further bad news to deliver!