5 ways to deliver bad news to employees

Cut to the chase, be thorough, and avoid clichés. But that’s just the start …

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Even though the economy is in recovery mode, sooner or later almost every top executive will have to deliver bad news: disappointing earnings, spending cuts, or—worst of all—layoffs.

There is no truly ‘good” way to share news like that, but here are five steps you can take to make a gloomy presentation less painful for employees and less difficult for you.

1. Get all the bad news out at once.

In a 2001 talk, Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers said he wanted to avoid the mistake of “dropping one shoe, and then a second shoe, and third shoe and a fourth shoe in terms of layoffs, or in terms of the business plan.”

Few things destroy morale more than bad news that dribbles out little by little. Employees start believing the wildest rumors and lose all hope, and management loses credibility. Given the nature of social media, bad news is almost guaranteed to leak out—and spread quickly. Being honest and getting all the information out at once bolsters an executive’s credibility.

2. Don’t let employees dwell on disappointment.

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