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An abridged version of this article was first published in The Australian newspaper on 4 October 2019.

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Management Tip (7): Give Me The Bad News

August 23, 2017

I always encourage my team to tell me The Bad News.

 

My previous Boss had a similar view. On one occasion, early in his tenure when I was still learning how much he wanted to know about what was happening in my area, I didn’t tell him about a matter relating to Sydney Airport. I thought it was relatively trivial, I knew it was my responsibility to deal with it and I had dealt with it – all good as far as I was concerned, no further action required.

 

However, the constituency of the Minister of our government portfolio abutted the boundary of Sydney Airport and my Boss was surprised by a phone call from the Minister on the matter. The Minister was unhappy that he hadn’t been given a heads-up about what was going on at Sydney Airport - always politically sensitive (as I was about to discover). He let my Boss know it.

 

The Boss, likewise, was very displeased that he had been called by the Minister because he liked to be on the front-foot and keep the Minister up-to-date, not the other way round. Worse, not only had the communication flow come in the wrong direction but he didn’t know what the issue was either.

 

Suffice it to say, very soon and in no uncertain terms, I understood that I should have briefed the Boss – forewarned is always forearmed.

 

We were both right. I had dealt with an issue that was within my remit. However, I should have briefed the Boss.

 

So, aside from the normal good/bad that happened around the office of an operational nature, I told all my staff that I always wanted to be informed of 3 things, no matter how trivial they might seem:

a) Anything to do with a politician; local, State or Federal,

b) Anything to do with the media; and, you’ve guessed it,

c) Anything to do with Sydney Airport.

 

Ah well, you live and learn.

 

In this way, I always heard The Bad News and could tell the Boss as necessary. We weren’t surprised by it and could prepare as required. 

 

In the example above, I ensured that we were less likely to be surprised by politicians, the media and matters relating to a politically sensitive airport.

 

Look at The Bad News not as something to be covered up but as an opportunity that allows you and the team to make improvements. In the Sydney example the policies, procedures, knowledge and experience were better after The Bad News than they were before.

 

Discouraging people from coming forward with Bad News would have exposed me to further calls from the boss describing his unhappiness with my performance. This was something I keenly wished to avoid as others of the executive management team had found their tenure very short-lived for persistent failures. Persistent = more than once.

 

It always pays to make your Boss look good!

 

It isn’t just The Bad News that one wants to hear about. If staff are discouraged from speaking up, good ideas may be missed too – particularly those that may be out of the ordinary. For more on this topic, see my short article:  Management Tip (4): Discourage YesPeople, Encourage Diversity.

 

Bad News is only Bad News if you hear about it too late. It’s an opportunity if you hear about it in good time. Encourage your team to give you The Bad News.

 

 

This article is just my view of the topic at title. Like a lot of people, I’ve done some training in management techniques but there is no substitute for experience. In my case, a bit of trial and error, learning from my mistakes, watching other managers and a little common sense. I hope you found it of interest and assistance.

 

Peter Cromarty

 

 

Peter Cromarty is a former air traffic controller and pilot. He spent 27 years as a safety regulator of ATM/CNS, airspace and aerodromes. View his Linked In profile.

 

 

 

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