"Bad news travels fast, especially when it's headed down and across companies. But it's very slow to make its way up the chain. No one wants to share bad news with the boss, and that's why you're often the last to know.
Now, chances are you're guilty of this, too. What happens when you get bad news from your team? You usually have to share it with your boss, right? Then what happens? You get this sinking feeling in your stomach. You worry about the negative consequences and kind of hope the situation might go away. You ask yourself if the bad news really needs sharing. You may even rationalize your way into not sharing the news. Well, guess what? Your team goes through that exact same thought process with you.
Think about the things the boss can do that makes it hard to share bad news.
- They get pissed off.
- They jump to conclusions.
- They ask questions you can't answer.
- They look for someone to blame.
- They can be passive-aggressive.
- They start micromanaging.
- Or worse yet, they say, "I told you so."
If people aren't sharing bad news with you, you might be guilty of some of these behaviors. And if you want to get bad news sooner, you're going to have to stop making it painful to give. You can also motivate people to share bad news. I've worked with some great CEOs in the past, and here's a couple of sound bites I've picked up from them.
- First one is this. "If you don't share bad news with me, either you don't know what's going on, or you don't want me to know what's really going on."
Now, I don't know about you, but if my boss said that to me, I'd think twice before I put off sharing bad news.
- Or here's another approach. "You've heard the saying, 'No news is bad news.' Well, I hate that saying, because bad news is a great way to tell me what your priorities are."
- Here's one of my favorites. The CEO always told their execs, "When I'm the last to know about an issue, I get my feelings hurt. And I know you don't want to hurt my feelings."
This is a lighthearted approach to motivating people, but it worked. I always saw it work.
However you do it, you want to give people one memorable reason to share bad news sooner. When people do bring bad news to you, you have to give them positive reinforcement. It might sound like this -
- "Thanks for the heads up. You know I hate surprises. How can I help?"
- Or try this one. "I'm glad you told me. I'm sure you're on it. What do you need from me?"
It's a simple formula. You clarify the behavior like, "I'm glad you told me." You express gratitude, like, "Thanks for the heads up." And you offer support.
If you want bad news to get to you faster, stop doing things that discourage people from sharing. Give people a reason to share, and use positive reinforcement when people do share bad news with you."
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