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How To Deliver Bad News To Top Management

Before things get worse, build a convincing case of what needs to be done now

Presentation

The Miami Florida condominium collapse that occurred in July 2021 killed more than 150 people. Less than three months before the building's collapse, the condominium president wrote a letter stating the damage in the building had "gotten significantly worse" since it was identified in a 2018 inspection report. The engineer's report sounded an alarm about the building's degradation. The individual who developed the report later carried out a much more detailed survey of the property, which found further evidence that the structural damage was accelerating at an alarming rate.

Perhaps the tragedy could have been averted if the news about the problems had been delivered to the proper sources in a fact-based and convincing way that provided decision makers with the potential risks associated with a do-nothing strategy and a plan of action. Although repairs would have been costly, consider lives that could have been saved by taking corrective action.

While there is no intent in this article to cast aspersions or place blame on any individuals involved in the Miami tragedy, there are numerous lessons for facility management leaders about delivering bad news to senior management that can be learned from the experience. This terrible disaster triggers a nagging memory of a topic facility managers seem reluctant to address. The subject is how to turn the delivery of bad news to top management into a more constructive narrative.

Build a foundation for difficult news delivery

Having a well-established relationship with top management is essential to the success of presenting any news, but especially bad news. There is nothing worse for a top executive than hearing something you did not want to hear from someone you do not know very well, but it happens all the time.

Senior FM leaders often reflect on the fact that they have not established a strong relationship with top management and sometimes the first encounter and serious discussion they have together is about an impending or existing problem. Delivering bad news is not the best way to establish rapport with corporate leadership.

Establishing a solid relationship with top management is a work in progress for FM executives and requires concerted effort on an ongoing basis. If there is no underlying relationship with top management, even a presentation on something positive may not get the desired reaction.

It is important for facility managers to forge a bond with top management that provides opportunities to have regular, substantive meetings with them. The stronger the working relationship with senior leadership the more top management understands the importance of the facility manager role in the company, and the value of the advice they provide on both positive and unpleasant issues.

One way to build the relationship is to get to know top management's staff and trusted advisors so facility managers can feed information to them that they want to get to their bosses and peers. It also is important to learn what the hot buttons are for top management and to schedule one-on-one meetings to discuss how the facility management department makes a positive impact in these areas. While not an easy task, presenting a facility problem to top management becomes less daunting when a solid relationship is in place.

 
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