The “Bad News” Call

One of my CEOs just surprised me!  I just did a pre-board meeting call, scheduled at the last minute.  Actually, I just did two of these in two days.

I think of this as the “bad news call” — when the CEO sends me an email and says he just wants to catch up on something before the meeting, but gives no indication of what it is, I’m left speculating:  who’s quitting?  who did we fire?  how badly did we miss the quarter?

It’s borne of a good impulse: if you have bad news, you should absolutely get out in front of it, and diffuse it 1-on-1 with individual board members.  If you don’t, you risk the conversation going in a way you didn’t expect, or the group getting in a downward spiral.  It’s absolutely best practice to handle it this way.

But I would suggest that when you schedule, you give an indication of the nature and the magnitude of the problem.

Rather than:

“I need to do a call with you ahead of the board meeting.”

try:

“I wanted to chat with you ahead of the board.  We had a modest miss on the sales target, and I want to bring you up to speed and address any questions”

or

“We have un expected departure of a senior member of the management team.  I wanted to grab ten minutes of your time ahead of the meeting to run you through it and get your advice on next steps.”

 

In today’s case, my CEO surprised me.  After stammering for about a minute and leading me to think the worst, it turns out there’s an opportunistic hire of a great exec he wants to consider, even though it’s not in the plan.  A pleasant surprise.

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Written by Josh Hannah
Josh Hannah joined Matrix Partners after a career as a serial entrepreneur (Betfair, eHow, wikiHow.) Read more about Josh.

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