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Top Management Resource - 2012

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Congratulations! You Have Bad News to Share.


“Nothing travels faster than light, with the possible exception of bad news, which follows its own rules” – Douglas Adams

It is going to happen. You will have to deliver bad news. Not all of your projects are going to run perfectly. When they don’t you want to do a good job delivering bad news. How you deliver the news can make all of the difference in the world in terms of what happens next, how you are perceived as a leader and the strength of your professional relationships.

Consider the following scenario and then take the short quiz on how you will react. You have just learned that a key customer is putting all future project work with your company on hold. This customer contributed 25% of your organizations earnings for the next six months. This news is very upsetting to you and it will be upsetting to your management as well.

1. What is the first thing you do:

A. Text your manager that you have bad news and that you need to talk ASAP.

B. Take the afternoon off and get a massage or meditate to calm yourself down.

C. Take some time to process this information yourself and then schedule time with your manager for a discussion.

D. Do nothing and wait for a few days, perhaps the customer will decide to continue with future purchases as planned.


2. As you prepare to deliver the news you decide to present three other very good ideas for projects with other customers, all of which have the potential to bring in new business within the next few months. This is an example of:

A. You overstepping your boundaries as you are not in charge of proposing project ideas.

B. You bringing solutions while communicating bad news.

C. You trying to deflect the bad news with other potentially good news.

D. You tying to protect your job and earn your next promotion.


3. Before you begin to discuss the bad news about the customer and the now on hold projects, you decide you want to say something positive so you say to your manager:

A. “You can really tell that you have been working out.”

B.“Good news, we can cut back on overtime.”

C. “Soon we will not have to deal with one of our most demanding customers.”

D. Nothing, you do not have an appropriate positive comment to make.


4. The truth is that although the news about the customer is upsetting, you are about to give notice, so you are not that concerned. Despite this you say to your manager

A. “I can see where this is very upsetting for you.”

B. “I don’t know about you, but this is devastating to me.”

C. “Maybe this is the wake up call we needed.”

D. “I will leave you alone to start coming up with solutions.”


5. You happen to see your manager walking to the cafeteria. You decide to:

A. Tell her the bad news as you walk with her to the cafeteria.

B. Advise her that you have scheduled some time with her that afternoon.

C. Approach her at the crowded sandwich station and tell her the news.

D. Follow her to her table in the cafeteria and tell her while she eats.

Looking forward to reading your thoughts. Be sure to read next week when we discuss the answers and take a closer look at how to present bad news at work. In the meantime if you would like to learn more and earn a PDU check out ‘How to Deliver Difficult News’ over on, there is an audio version: and a video version:




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Comments: 5

Project Status: To Tell the Truth

Project status - tell the truth.

Project status – tell the truth.

“If you’re not gonna tell the truth, then why start talking?” – Gene Wilder

You are the project manager of Project Big. It is Friday afternoon. This is your project status:

Your team is behind schedule by two days.

Because the project is so critical and the deadline is the most important constraint, team members working on critical path activities have agreed to stay late tonight, and to work on BOTH Saturday and Sunday in order to get back on track.

Your sponsor just sent you a text asking for project status. Your sponsor does not know that the team is behind schedule by two days. She was out of the office for two weeks on an international vacation and is just returning. Everything was fine when she left. That will teach her to take a vacation!

You consider the following options:

1) Ignore her text until later in the weekend and then once you are back on track send her an update. Your thought process here is that in your corporate culture, a text is not considered to be a formal communication. In fact there have been times when you texted your sponsor and she did not reply for 24 hours. You feel justified in waiting. This will allow you to see how much is accomplished tonight and tomorrow. Your hope is that the team completes the planned amount of work and you can text her that all is going well.

2) Tell her the truth about the status and the plan – right now we are off by two days, we are working the weekend to get back on track. Of course this makes for a long text. If texting is her preference you find a way to be concise yet reassuring. Otherwise you call her or send her a brief email.

3) Tell her everything is fine because you feel confident that everything will be fine, why upset her? You are thinking that her text is just a check-in, to let you know that she has returned from her vacation and that she has not forgotten about the project. By the time she is really ready to pay attention, everything will be fine.

4) Reply that you will schedule some catch-up time with her for Monday. Then on Monday you can have a project overview and status with her and let her know what has been happening. At the point, the team may have completed the required work and is back on schedule, or they are not back on schedule. Of course you are secretly hoping they are back on schedule or at least much closer.

What do YOU think, one of the above, none of the above? What would YOU do?

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The Brick Wall of Bureaucracy

“Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time when the quo has lost its status.” – Laurence J Peter

There are plenty of good reasons to have established procedures. Don’t you want procedures to ensure safety and security? Don’t you want a paper trail when money is involved? Of course you expect project managers to follow a clearly defined methodology.

Do you ever suspect that some people use the rules as an excuse to avoid work? Of course they do!

“Sorry, we can’t do that, we do everything here by the book.”

But we have always done it this way.”

Those are both phrases that can make your blood run cold. Or at least give you a raging headache. Ouch, you just slammed into the brick wall of bureaucracy.

Brick wall of Bureaucracy

Some people use rules and procedures to shelter themselves from work. They truly do not care how much difficulty they send your way. They claim to be efficient (because they are following the pre-established rules), but they are not effective. And making you jump through hoops to follow obscure organizational guidelines is fun,  for them.

The truth is that these individuals really use bureaucracy to mask laziness, apathy and fear of change. How can you fight back?

Never attack the system and definitely do not put the person on the defensive. Research is your new best friend. Why? Because you are probably not going to be able to dismantle the process and you will not be granted permission to follow your own approach. Observe the behavior of the person so that you learn how they use the process as a roadblock. Learn the process. If it is documented carry it around with you. As soon as your favorite obstacle starts quoting the rules, sit with them and have them flip to the page and section they are referencing. You want to be able to use the process too, so that you are already prepared with the correct response. If they say, “Sorry but you have to submit that form in triplicate”; counter with “And here are my three copies, thank you for your assistance.”

If research is your new best friend, then documentation is definitely a member of your inner circle.

Why? Someone who uses bureaucracy to avoid effort may be inconsistent in their interpretation of the rules. So keep track of how you are asked to follow the process. Also make sure you follow the process in place for documentation. Often the first roadblock with any bureaucrat is the documentation itself.

“I would love to help you, but you just do not have the appropriate documentation.” Your response, “Oh yes, I do and here it is, thank you for your assistance.”

If you suspect that this person is playing it fast and loose with the rules, get help. Collaborate with peers and even senior associates. It doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion.

Never let them get you flustered. It just isn’t worth it. Relax and work within the system.






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Use Lessons Learned to Improve, NOT to Rewrite History

“If past history were all there was to the game, the richest people would be librarians.” – Warren Buffet

History Provides Lessons Learned

It was the beginning of the semester and our professor was explaining the requirements for our class paper. He was on a bit of a tear, addressing one of his favorite (or least favorite) pet peeves:

“…And do NOT write me a paper that discusses how everything today would be different if the Germans had won WWII. You cannot know what would have happened because it did NOT happen. You cannot support such a paper with valid facts and proven academic resources. Do you know why you cannot support such a paper? Because there are no credible academic sources for you to use, that paper is a work of fiction. Please write that paper in your creative writing class.”

As you can see this was a non-negotiable item for him. While his aim was to teach us how to write an academic quality paper about history, he also was making an important point about life: You cannot go back and change your past. You cannot unsay things that were said or undo actions that were taken. Spending time on what could have happened, or what would have happened is not very useful. Not in our personal lives and not in our professional lives.

In our projects, we want to collect lessons learned and we want to review lessons learned from past projects. The purpose is not to dwell on what happened and how it could have been different. The purpose is to apply those lessons learned to our current and future projects so that we can improve our ability to deliver.   Even if you look at a lesson from a previous project, and even if the project had been executed differently, if that specific lesson learned had been known in advance, there is no guarantee that the project would have ended differently. There are many variables that contribute to project success.

The same can be said of our interactions with our project stakeholders and other colleagues and our friends and family. We want to learn from those interactions and grow. It makes no sense to keep replaying a difficult conversation over and over again in your head. Process what happened. Take note of some ideas of how to interact in future and similar difficult conversations. Then let it go and move on. Next time make use of your lessons learned, collect new lessons and just keep going.

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YOU Did Help Sally and Annette

Last time you looked at a scenario between two colleagues, Sally and Annette. Sally was definitely having an issue with Annette’s communication style. We are not sure what Annette thought. (Catch up with their story here:

A call went out asking, can you help Sally? What advice would you give her? And you responded. And the resounding advice was…. There was no one clear opinion. About three different themes emerged. Let’s look at those themes right now.

  • Sally is passive-aggressive and perhaps beyond help:

communication style“…She is not only passive-aggressive, she is rigid and sure her way is the best and correct. She does not play well with others. By the middle of this brainstorming, Annette was reading Sally like a book… Annette handled the whole ordeal like a pro. She compromised without any apparent issues! …”

  • Sally and Annette can best work together by representing different personality types:

“…I think Sally should approach Annette to ask her to plan events in the future with all the personality types played out and acknowledged. If you can get Annette to play all the types, she’ll start to see where they are coming from, and maybe even be curious to ask Sally to describe to her (Annette) what it is like to be one of the other types. It will increase her emotional intelligence at the same time as encouraging her to use her (apparently) big imagination, and it will support the company use of the personality types… WIN WIN WIN!”

  • Sally needs to talk to Annette and establish some clear boundaries:

“Sally needs to re-evaluate the event and collect the lessons learned. Then to clarify these points for Annette that to consider in future events. Also She needs to establish ground rules for the relation between them, telling Annette to avoid ordering her in future and to allow discussion between them instead.”


“Sally needs to firm up on her approach. Her answers although not being harsh, also does not address the problem at hand, she needed to put her concerns through firmly.Annette is the typical bully in the office, who loves the attention and the power of being in charge, so let her be in charge, however make sure when the discussion is going south, you become assertive in what you believe… Do not accept a brush off as an answer, ask for a resolution, in that way you are asking the so called leader to make a decision, and ask for reasons for the decision he or she is taking to the point at hand. Always remember some people do not hear you when you sound as if you making a comment on what was asked or said.”

Which one is the BEST answer? Without knowing more of the details it is hard to say. What has definitely emerged is the diversity of our own community and the experiences we have had. In turn these experiences shape our opinions and ultimately our advice. Where one sees a bully in Annette, another sees a passive-aggressive colleague in Sally. Some of us represent Sally; some of us represent Annette, some of us are not at all like either of them. It is a good reminder for each of us to try and avoid assumptions about the behaviors of others, to allow for different ways of being and to continue to strive toward clear communications.

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