8 Top tips to deliver bad news to the Board of Directors

These top tips form part of the Remedy business advice series and looks at the best ways to deliver bad news to your Board.

Most senior manager will have to go to the board with bad news at some point, and nobody likes to be seen and the constant bringer of bad news. It won’t help your career prospects, and you get a reputation of being the company “Grim Reaper”, so how can you present bad news clearly and effectively.

1.) Solutions not problems

Informing the board of problems is all well and good, but they want to see solutions .What measures have already or can be put in place to prevent a repeat of it happening, and even provide improvements. They want to see that although you may not have all the answers you know where to find them and sort the problem. Look for a chance to turn the problem into an opportunity. System failures and problems provide an opportunity to make improvements, or carry out upgrades, that were needed anyway. There may be the chance to get some positive PR from the whole exercise.

2.) Don’t overplay the news

Deliver the message calmly and concisely but don’t blame anyone specifically for the problems, you may be wrong and you’ll be seen as the company whinger. Present the core facts clearly and succinctly, together with an analysis of the impact of the problem.

3.) No surprises

A board meeting is not a great time to reveal nasty surprises. Inform key members i.e. Chairman or Chief Executive,  in advance of the meeting so that they can understand the implications of the situation. They will also want to know what’s required to turn the problems around and who will be responsible.

4.) Don’t waffle

If you have bad news to tell, then give it to them straight. Senior executives are used to hearing bad news so they’ll know if you are beating around the bush or hiding the facts. Ultimately you are paid to tell the truth for the benefit of everyone.

5.) Have all the facts to hand

You need to be prepared for questions so make sure you have the available facts to answer them. You will be expected to know how the problem came about and why it has suddenly become evident. Proving there is a real problem, the extent of it and what corrective action is needed is crucial, so clarity is essential.

6.) Understand who you are addressing

It’s essential that the board understands what you are saying, so don’t baffle them with acronyms and techno babble. Rather than get bogged down in the technical detail, just explain in plain English what it means for the business.

7.) Timing is everything

The sooner the board hears the bad news, the sooner the company can act to reset expectations, take corrective measures and turn a bad situation around. It’s never good when the Chief Executive is the last to hear about it but accuracy in the information is also vital. Ensure you check the numbers and the facts as far as you can. If you don’t disclose the full impacts or overestimate the problem, you will lose credibility and make life very difficult the next time round.

8.) Ensure you have credibility and the trust of the Board

Having the information to hand to prove a major problem exists is all well and good, but the Directors need to be convinced that you have the credibility to back up your findings. Having a track record of being cool, calm, collected and confident on previous occasions is far more likely to convince them you are right, rather than having a history of ‘crying wolf’, even if you might be right this time.


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