Keep the bad news flowing

No one likes to hear bad news. No one likes to deliver bad news. But, according to George Barrett, CEO and chairman of Cardinal Health, bad news is actually a good thing.

The subject of this month’s cover story, Barrett talks about how he wants to know what’s going wrong, even when everything seems to be going right. He says he’ll sometimes try to deliberately bring up the issues — which exist in all organizations — by asking tough questions.

If a success is covering up several smaller problems, then think about how much better you can be if you work to fix those.

Only by actively seeking out your deficiencies as an organization can you really push yourself ahead of the competition.

Stuck on the communication chain

So, why does bad news flow so much slower than good news? Beyond wanting to share the successes that make a company look good, I think bad news often gets stuck in the chain of communication.

It’s a good idea to find ways to reach all employees, no matter where they are on the company’s organization chart. If you make time for one-on-one meetings, lunch chats or to drop by cubicles, you can get a better pulse on what’s going on.

If you’ve made a habit of sharing employees’ successes and personal lives, they will feel more comfortable sharing problems with you.

It’s the little things, like walking through the office and saying, “Good morning!” that not only make a difference in morale, but give employees the sense that they can talk to you.

New avenues

Another way to shed light on problems before they grow too large is to create new avenues of communication.

Maybe employees don’t feel comfortable bringing up bad news beyond their immediate boss. Maybe customers see a small problem with the product, but don’t take the extra effort to tell you. If you want people to tell your company how to be better, including offering their innovative ideas, you need to provide channels for open/honest communication.

In today’s digital age, there are lots of ways to communicate. You no longer have to hang a suggestion box in the copier room; you can add a digital suggestion box to your company’s server and/or website.

I saw another great idea on The Chief Happiness Officer Blog — simply hang a board in the office. If someone has an idea, they can post it to the board. Then, a certain number of co-workers need to sign on — perhaps by putting a sticker next to it.

The idea either goes to the “graveyard” where everyone can see why it died and how, or if it has the necessary support, the person behind it writes a one-page proposal that is submitted to leadership.

Afterwards, ideas are “in motion” and “happening,” if approved. If they aren’t approved, leadership explains why.

Getting the flow of communication moving is half the battle at many organizations.