Albana Vrioni brings to an end this summer’s season of guest bloggers, next week Harley is back at his post.

Albana’s blog is fortunate timing as this weekend the personal engineer of formula one racing driver, Felipe Massa, was asked to pass on a ‘bad news’ message.  He was told to order Felipe to give way and let his team mate overtake and win the race.  The only ‘mistake’ the messenger seems to have made was to say ‘sorry’ rather faintly at the end of his message.  This one word apparently gave the game away that his coded message was a fix.  I wonder what the engineer’s boss said to him after the race when Ferrari received a 100,000$ fine for breaking the F1 rules?  Hopefully it was “not to worry, these things happen, in fact it was my decision, I should have relayed the message myself”

Albana’s Blog:

Although the expression comes from distant times, when the messenger of the bad news rather then the author was often punished, it reflects a deep-rooted truth still valid even today: People do not like to hear bad news!

Not only we do not like to hear bad news, but we also have the tendency to still “punish” the messenger, who in the organizational context of today, is often in some way accountable for the bad news.   Nowadays such “punishments” are mostly encountered in forms of intimidation, such as bursts of ironic laughter, explosions of anger, or degrading the messenger, sometimes even firing them.

A management culture where “bad news” is handled in this way doesn’t help encourage failure free operations.   

The fear of being shot for telling your message induces the fear of telling the bare truth and present the status for what it is.  Therefore research and analysis based decision-making become redundant and open the door for flawed business strategies and operational plans.

You can recognize the presence of  “intolerance to bad news” management culture when you hear someone:

  • Present the results of their own work or the status of his/her department or group in the third person or a passive voice, (e.g. “the launch of product x was not successful” as compared to “we were not successful with the launch of product x”)
  • Present the status in generalized way so as to cover up for the areas leading/ contributing to the failure
  • Present failure in an implicit rather then explicit way (“we still have a lot of work to do” rather then “we are very likely going to over run the deadline”)

We are by human nature selective in what we want to hear.  As managers, however, we owe it to ourselves to question how we handle bad news.  “Shooting the messenger” will more likely than not result in us hearing what we want to hear until we end up caught out in fault.

Albana’s Biography:

Associate of The Bayard Partnership and owner of Vrioni Consulting.
In my personal and professional life I have gone through radical changes sometimes forced, sometimes by choice…. but at all times I have used circumstance as an opportunity to grow as a person and as a professional.
I have experienced success and failure all the like and became stronger through the perplexities of finding my way to a bigger purpose.
Managing change has been a constant in my life; my ambition is to lead it!