Internal Communications: The Art of Sharing Bad News

Challenges abound in the business of health care—changes in leadership or reporting structures, high-profile issues around legal or regulatory actions, or the need to close a facility or service line.

When difficult decisions must be made, developing a strategic communications plan to inform your stakeholders helps ensure understanding, control rumors and speculation, and minimize disruption to the organization.

Here are five steps to effectively communicate bad news.

  • Align leaders behind a cohesive message. It’s important to ensure leaders understand the message and are armed with tools to help them reinforce it. Prepare key messages or a Q&A to help managers explain the situation or answer questions from their teams.
  • Deliver the information in a timely manner. If your employees learn about important changes or events via the grapevine or social or traditional media, it will damage their perception of the organization as being transparent and forthcoming. Be clear and honest, but also empathetic.
  • Consider your communications channels. When practical, bad news is best delivered in person. This shows your staff you’re there for them—literally and figuratively—to help them navigate any uncertainties or anxieties. If your organization is very large, widespread geographically or primarily remote, consider leveraging a mix of written, video and in-person communications to help bridge gaps and still deliver the message with empathy.
  • Be forward looking. Make sure your message gives context and clearly addresses the issue but also lays out the benefits or the change or solution. Explain clearly how what is happening will allow the organization to move forward, grow or do things more efficiently.
  • Prepare for what comes next. Your team will have plenty of follow-up questions and concerns, so be equipped to handle them. Prepare executives and managers to help convey or reinforce the message and provide a feedback loop for employees to share their questions or concerns. Address common questions in an updated Q&A and acknowledge or respond to the individuals who ask them to let them know they’ve been heard.

Bad news is something we all dread, whether we’re delivering or receiving it. As an organizational leader, however, it’s an unavoidable responsibility at times. Planning and preparation makes the job easier for leaders and can help limit disruption or reputational harm to the organization. Most importantly, it reinforces the transparency and trustworthiness of the organization in the eyes of employees and other stakeholders.

Sharing bad news is indeed a bit of an art. If you’re facing an emerging or imminent issue, Lovell Communications can help you prepare to communicate it to achieve the best possible outcome.