No Wool Here: Tips for Communicating Bad News
By Craig Dunaway
Businesses and their leaders have good days and bad days. On good days when you have positive news to share, communication should be easy. But when business catastrophes happen, navigating communication becomes one of the most difficult parts of a bad situation.
People often recommend hiding bad news between other news, sharing it when people are less likely to pay attention (known in politics as the Friday afternoon news dump), or waiting to see if they can preemptively fix the problem before notifying anyone.
I recommend the opposite: be completely open with bad news. I do not get upset when someone brings me bad news. I get upset when I find out about bad news that someone has not brought to me.
When Crisis Hits
I faced one of the most tenuous periods I’ve had as president of Penn Station several years ago when we had a credit card breach. Just a few months after the breach, our recently hired salesman, Jad Buckman, asked if I would allow our franchisees to participate in an independent survey about our corporate office. The compiled survey results would be compared with other brands, and awards were given based on the overall feedback.
The breach had cost franchisees a lot of time, and even more money, so I was concerned their opinions might be tainted and our brand would rank poorly. However, I didn’t want to dampen Jad’s spirit and determination by saying no, so we moved forward with the survey.
Candidly, it did not take long to recognize it was the proper thing to do. If our franchisees were upset, we needed to know. We were not going to stick our collective heads in the sand (an ostrich does not do this, by the way) and hope the problem went away; we were going to take bad information to heart, learn from it, and ensure our decisions continue to take the opinions of our franchisees seriously.
When I originally contacted our attorneys about the breach, I told them I would communicate with the franchisees exactly what was going on. Early on, they wanted to use the “less information is more” strategy and encouraged me to not put together any form of communication. I held strong that we would communicate regularly with the owners, even if they did not like what we had to say.
Over the course of the nine months that we worked on the breach, I sent out more than 50 memorandums to our franchisees explaining exactly what was happening. Was that too many memorandums or too much communication? I certainly do not think so. In fact, frequent communication is something we sell when we meet with new or prospective franchisees.
Benefits of Over-Communicating
I make sure that our franchisees intimately understand that they should always know what is going on in the system, and what is impacting them or could impact them – both positively and negatively. Our responsibility is to share anything that we can to help them achieve success, reach their goals, and maximize their return on investment.
I do not believe we can communicate too much. We have an outernet for financial and other relevant data and materials; we provide a monthly newsletter, send regular emails to owners, and provide mid-year and annual state of the union summaries. When we went through the credit card breach, we added on to our usual communication frequency because there was more important information that needed to be shared.
Being open and honest with bad news helps your employees, shareholders, or other interested parties understand what is happening and what you are doing about it. It prevents unnecessary worrying, and more importantly, rumors about the situation.
I have an open door policy at all times, but it’s most important when we go through problems. During our credit card breach, franchisees may not have gotten the answers they wanted, but they did get straightforward, cogent, and well-thought-out responses. This helped ease their minds.
If you are not regularly communicating with your team during a bad situation, I can assure you the gossip grape vine is doing so for you. Just because you want to keep information close to the vest doesn’t mean it’s being kept there. Rather than allowing others to filter the information and miscommunicate facts, you are much better off if you control the flow of information and ensure it is accurate, useful, relevant, and complete. Nothing harms leadership more than attempting to cover an issue by hiding it.
Company leaders need to anticipate problems before they arise. If we don’t catch a problem, we must be out in front of our employees so they realize the impact on them, the brand, and what we are doing to correct the issue.
And if you’re the least bit curious, we did receive an award the year we had the breach. Franchisees cited our strengths as honestly, candor, and great communication.
Source: AllBusiness Feeds
Author: Guest Post