February 27, 2006

From an organizational perspective bad news has a special significance. In fact, bad news is not really bad for an organization. It is good. But this logic depends a lot on the organizational culture. In one culture bad news will remain bad while in another organizational culture it will be good.

Not many organizations welcome bad news. In this sort of organization bad news is treated as ill omen. The messenger of bad news gets fired and ridiculed. But does this hatred for bad news do any good to the organization. I feel it doesn't. In my view hating bad news and shooting the messenger is more like a lost opportunity because every bad news comes with a seed of an equal opportunity bundled with it. Not only there is loss of opportunity, there is significant loss of future opportunities as well in the sense that no one in an organization will bring a bad news if the culture hates bad news. There is another angle also. Bad news is like initial symptoms of an impending disaster. Hence, it gives the organization time to take care of the symptoms and prevent the disease. So organizations which discourage bad news are big losers.

On the other hand, there are organizations where bad news is always welcome. People are not afraid of bad news but in fact, they encourage it. From CEO to junior manager, everyone is always open to hearing bad news because they believe that bad news may appear bad from outside but they eventually turn out to be good in long run if proactively acted upon. As a result, a culture of openness develops where people are not afraid or negative minded but are proactive.

A culture of welcoming bad news also results in a more innovative organization. In business or life, there will be problems and there will be solutions as well. Bad news is basically harbinger of problems for which solutions must be found or invented. Here comes the relationship between bad news and innovation. The more bad news you have, the more solutions you will have to find or invent. And the more solutions you have to find or invent, the more opportunity there is for finding or inventing innovative solutions! And who knows, sometime this innovative solution can turn out to be a billion dollar idea.

Unfortunately, in Indian context, organizations which hate bad news fairly outnumber organizations which encourage it. And this, I feel, is not a very healthy sign. In my short corporate career, many a time I have seen that this culture of bad news bashing has resulted in loss to organizations. People become so afraid of telling bad news that they keep it to themselves instead of letting it out of the bag despite knowing that what they know will turn into a big problem if not proactively attended to. And the results are for anyone to guess.

It is high time that business leaders put the task of creating an organizational culture of welcoming bad news high on their agenda.


  1. Ajit Chouhan // February 28, 2006 at 11:41 AM  

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