One hard earned skill that I’ve developed from years of deploying bleeding edge technologies is the art of how to deliver bad news. I call it an art because this is often really difficult for a lot of people. People naturally want to be known for their successes, not the pot holes and speed bumps in the road. It takes a certain amount of confidence to admit that there is a problem and we have to address it.
The lesson that highlighted the need for this skill was the realization that management doesn’t like surprises, whether its your management or your customer’s management. Management would rather deal with a problem head on, than be surprised by an upset. What you know about you can work with if you understand the impacts.’
Clear brief communications. I’ve developed an approach for delivering bad news that I liken to being the opposite of Sales communications. In Sales communications we are taught to use open ended questions to draw the buyer out, and to learn from the buyer what their needs are. A method used to encourage exploration and investigation. In delivering bad news, I tend to use clear closed statements that state the facts of the situation plainly. And if it’s not heard on first attempt – repeat, rather than embellish. Sometimes, people need a little time to hear bad news.
Take ownership. In your delivery you also need to take responsibility for the situation. Lessons learned and root-cause analysis can be looked at in the long run. During a problem taking ownership of the problem displays leadership and increases credibility. It is important for leaders to take this type of position and protect the wider team, to give them the room to work on the problems and move forward.
Solution Focused. There’s been a management credo that states: don’t come to me with a problem, come to me with a solution to a problem. I would embellish this to add having a clear picture of the impacts, in terms of time and costs, and being able to discuss a variety of options. Coming up with options turns the focus on moving forward and engages management in the decision making processes. The Achilles heel here is that it sometimes takes time to formulate your options. If you take too much time, then there is a risk that the situation will come to light as a surprise rather than your managed delivery. The best thing is to come out with some quick plans of attack that can be refined over time.
In large complicated project deliveries, things do go wrong. There have been times I’ve needed to delay a launch because of quality issues, experienced live service outages, or had a need to expand scope and costs. We demonstrate our leadership skills in how we deal with these issues, communicate about them and resolve them.