Big Thinking is kicking off a series about How To Communicate Bad News because we see too many partners, clients and friends often miss the mark and make bad situations worse.
The first guideline we’ll share is straight out of today’s headlines:
Be Honest About The Rules.
There is an incalculable multiplier if you break the rules, your actions cause problems and you are not immediately forthright with every possible stakeholder fast. Lightning fast. Greased lightning fast. So fast that you may not have a solution yet, but you’ve already assured people you are resolving the matter right now.
The problem may be as basic as a spreadsheet error that only becomes a broken rule if you cover up the mistake. Or the problem could be as specific as flying a jet with more than 100 passengers for more than an hour past your destination. The comments the cockpit crew made puzzled everyone. The federal government announced today that the flight crew claimed they were using laptop computers in the cockpit, were distracted and ignored radio calls and other signals. If their story is true and they were looking at new schedules resulting from their merger, they have hopefully handed over their untampered with computers and will face whatever disciplinary action occurs when you don’t do your job and fly 160,000 pounds of plane on top of thousands of gallons of jet fuel.
But Timothy Chaney and Richard Cole blew their chances for problems by releasing cagey statements since Thursday. Only today, on the fifth day, have federal investigators released a statement about the events that caused Chaney and Cole to operate their plane in the way they did. Imagine two headlines. One reads, “Pilots Reprimanded, Suspended for Using PC In Flight“ The other reads, “Government Investigators Uncover Truth About Stray Jet.“
Your responsibility is to tell the truth when things go bad and own up if you were breaking the rules. Coverups don’t work, and the fallout is always worse. These pilots may have thought they were protecting themselves, but they were really causing massive brand damage to Delta and Northwest who are already balancing the intricacies of their merger. That ripple effect directly impacts tens of thousands of employees and millions of individuals who own retirement funds that have invested in the company whose stock price might suffer in the short run. Communicating Bad News is not hard, but there are standards to which you must adhere. Be Honest About Breaking The Rules is the first standard.