Disclosing Bad News

I read an article recently from Quartz Media LLC “It took Toshiba 70 years to reach its peak—and just a decade to fall into an abyss”.   I am not sure I would agree with everything in this piece, particularly the bit about Toshiba falling into an abyss.  Yes, the Toshiba parent Company has its challenges but there are business units and subsidiaries like Toshiba Tec Corp, who themselves have their own challenges due to a declining office print business, but they are doing better than many other Toshiba business units.  I happen to be attending Toshiba’s 2017 Lead Conference this week and expect that I will be seeing many new imaging software and hardware products that I will write about after the event.

What struck me most about this article was about deep rooted issues with many tech conglomerates in Japan although I believe that this is not restricted to Japan.  Many business people are very competitive and want to succeed and some are reluctant to deliver bad news, perhaps more so in the Japanese culture where your job, particularly if you work for a prestigious major Japanese Company like Toshiba, Sony, etc., is your life.  After graduating from a university, those fortunate to get hired by a major Japanese Company, often work for that Company until they retire so they tend to have a very strong bond and loyalty to the Company.

The article goes on to say that many people have been in the situation of having to tell bad news.  It might be a project manager having to deliver news about a delay in schedule, a product manager delivering bad news about the forecast for a new product line, or a P&L manager delivering bad news about the P&L forecast for a division.  It is human nature for many of us to not want to deliver bad news.  I personally have been in this situation many times and have always found that it is best to communicate what you really feel as a manager, whether good or bad news.  Yes, there is that risk that you personally may be impacted, but, it might result in saving many jobs in the Company that you work for.   This has happened to me as a Division General Manager years ago when I disagreed with the forecast for a new high visibility division that I was running, the performance of which was followed by the Company’s investors.  I ended up losing my job but I ended up finding a better one while the Company went out of business shortly after.  It has often been said that we can all learn from mistakes and failures.

Also, there are business people who just want to agree with what their superiors say even though they may not agree. This might be an easier route for the short term, but again, this actually hurts the Company by stifling innovation and creativity.  Good managers really don’t want to have their subordinates always agree with them.


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