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Management Rule #2 That Makes No Sense: If It Bleeds It Leads

March 7, 2014

Thanks everyone for making time on a Friday to come to our department meeting. I know we are a little over our stated time, but just one more item before we go, the company policy of paying for home internet access is hereby cancelled. Have a great weekend.

I just shook my head. As a team manager I knew the policy was being changed. I also knew my manager, who had started as an engineer, and still had much of the attitude of an engineer, was dreading telling the employees. In fact, I had offered to step in and perform the unpleasant task.

Mark, didn’t feel he should hand off to someone else a job that he wouldn’t do himself. I admired him for his leadership in insisting on being the one to tell people.

I was disappointed in the manner he ended up telling people. It was painful to watch.

I read one time that the best day to deliver bad news, like layoffs or cutting benefits to your staff is Wednesday, right after lunch. The idea is that if you tell your staff first thing Monday morning, you will affect their entire week. If you tell them on Wednesday, they will spend a couple of days discussing it, and then they will all disperse for the weekend. By the time they regroup on Monday, it’s started to settle in as “old news.”

The worst time to tell them is Friday, at the end of the day.

They are going to spend all weekend worried about it, but they won’t have anyone to discuss it. They won’t be able to process it. When they come back on Monday, they are going to be more keyed up than they were on Friday.

That’s what happened in this case. The large non-profit that I worked for, had adopted a policy of paying for internet access for it’s employees. We supported a 24×7 workforce so often engineers had to work on issues in the middle of the night. The company felt if they were going to expect employees to be available during those times, it should offer them this added benefit.

Eventually, the company decided that the availability of high speed internet access and the lower costs meant that virtually all employees would get it themselves, and the decision was made to discontinue that benefit.

To the employees, it looked like the company was cutting their paycheck by $50/month. Being a non-profit, employees already felt slightly underpaid. Effectively reducing their pay even further was going to cause some concern.

At the department meeting, a couple of people managed to ask a question, but it was already after 5:00 on a Friday. Most had to get home to their families. We spent weeks dealing with the morale issues.

What could my boss have done differently?

One easy thing would have been to do what the TV news shows do: If it bleeds it leads. Put the most controversial topic at the beginning. It’s likely that we could have spent the entire meeting discussing that one topic. It was of concern enough that we could have fielded an hours worth of questions. And in the process, we could have answered the most pressing questions one time, instead of the multitude of times we dealt with it the following week.

The other thing that putting bad news at the beginning of a meeting does, it is shows your staff that you are not afraid of an issue. In the case of internet access, my manager had zero flexibility. He couldn’t make exceptions. The directive came from several layers above him. A bold, determined announcement would have helped people understand that while they might ask for clarity, it was no use to seek a reversal.

But, by tacking the announcement onto the end of a meeting filled with less important items, it gave the impression that he was afraid to tell people. That fear communicated a false sense of hope to some people that maybe if they pushed hard enough they could get Mark to back down. In reality, Mark had no where to go.

I still admire Mark to this day. And he did not get enough credit for the courage he showed that day. The news was bad enough, but his delivery simply prolonged the pain for everyone.

Like pulling off a bandaid, the sooner the better. Just take a tip from the news.

This is the second installment of an ongoing feature to discuss the rules that I management my teams by. This appear every Friday. Last weeke I discussed the idea In The Absence Of Orders: Attack.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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