Saturday, 22 February 2014

Don't use e-mail for bad news

Nowadays almost everyone uses e-mail to communicate speedily and concisely with others. However some lessons are becoming apparent. 


If you use e-mail to pass on bad news, the chances are that you will not be appropriate in your choice of wording. This could hurt the other person and damage your relationship. Worse, your e-mail might get passed to others, and could end up being made public, which you might not relish. 

If you need to give bad news, like 
  • “You are not getting the promotion/pay rise you expected”, 
  • “You’re fired”, or
  • “The boss hated your idea”, 
then go and see the other person and explain the situation to them face-to-face. 

This might make you feel uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as you would feel if you could never face the other person again. Also it may be that this is the only way they will really understand how the decision was reached, otherwise they could “bad-mouth” you and those around you for the rest of their lives. 


If you can’t see the person, then at least call them and give them an opportunity to respond. Even if it is bad news, the key benefit for the other person will be to feel truly listened to. It is not necessarily your job to explain all aspects of the bad news, but it is your job to listen. 


Someone once gave me bad news – via a text! Worse, they didn’t make sure I was there to respond. I would have appreciated the opportunity to be listened to, and I could have listened to them. And of course, if I had been able to listen to them, I might have really understood what had gone wrong, and been able to fix it then and there. 


Saturday, 8 February 2014

Have a Clear Business Strategy

I believe that in all companies, or even departments, there needs to be a clear strategy in place so that staff can understand management priorities and thus make sensible decisions on how to proceed even when their manager is not around. In simple words, Have a Clear Aim which everyone understands.

If the aims are not made clear to the staff then the result can be chaos, because staff can spend time disagreeing with each other over priorities, or go in different directions and not perform as a team.

Far too many managers are unclear about their own priorities. This holds staff back when the manager should be carrying out their true role, of helping their staff perform.

I asked one manager about the aims for his department over the next few years. He looked at me, dumbfounded. He apparently had no plans other than to deal with whatever was passed to him by others. A year later he was gone.


It is crucial to have clear, defined aims, because without them, quite simply, staff may not do what is best for the organisation.

As a start, I recommend getting all the staff together and discussing what you all do, allowing each person to comment on what they think might be appropriate aims. (Not too many in a group – for large numbers a different method is required.)

Come up with some simple agreed wording along the lines of “Provide a service to clients/the rest of the company that is quality, appreciated and profitable.”

The result of such a discussion is often a learning exercise where people’s thoughts – that have not been expressed in the past – are articulated for others to hear. This can sometimes be quite painful, especially for the manager! Such a process may well need a facilitator to ensure that all those involved get a chance to talk and be heard rather than criticised.

But out of this comes the start of a team where they begin to realise that there is in fact a clear purpose, and each of them has a contribution to make towards achieving it.


Often junior staff will get quite enthused as they start to see the part they play. Just because they are junior does not mean they are unimportant – the receptionist, for example, is crucial, setting a professional and friendly example to all visitors.

Team building is not some mythical management theory. It is an approach to making a group of people perform which has been proven to be more efficient than having each person act separately. But there can only be a team if someone makes them into a team. This is done by leading them, and with clear aims they will know where they are being led, and why.

If there is no clear aim then there will always be conflict over priorities and allocation of resources, which can lead to jealousy and in-fighting rather than performing.


Having a clear strategy suddenly means that junior members of staff can talk to each other and make informed decisions based on what they know is best for the company. Managers need only get involved in more complex issues, and the result is that you too are freed up to perform better.

Try it and see.

And here is an example of what happens when there is a lack of a clear vision:

One company had a small team of specialists who were always busy. They couldn’t be interrupted because they had so much to do and tight deadlines to meet. 

So I asked them (one by one) to explain what they were doing. 

It became clear that each of them was rushing around typing information (for example) from one spreadsheet into another. Or retyping last month’s information before adding this month’s changes at the end. Or duplicating information that could have been held in a central place. 

I spoke to their manager, who had been there for two years, and he was amazed. He had no idea what his staff were doing; he had not spoken to them about their priorities; they had received no training: what they were doing was a mystery to him. 


Why was he not managing his staff? Well, partly because he also was rushing around, fire fighting, answering other people’s questions... 

What was needed was a Plan, a clear strategy for the department, which they all understood and worked towards. An agreed list of priorities, with appropriate training. 

And then it all needs to be monitored by the manager.

Contact me (click on Contact, above) to help develop a plan for your company or department.

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