FROM THE BULL | For the past twenty years in the businesses I managed I was a “scoop-guy”. I didn’t ask for the role. And it’s not too popular or well-understood either. But every business needs one. Essentially, the scoop- guy EXPECTS things to go wrong and works out, in advance, where the likely future problems (and pressure points) will be. He puts in place processes that will stop most problems occurring and then “scoops up” the ones that fall through the cracks before they hit the floor and become major issues.

The scoop-guy understands that if a problem occurs more than twice then it is likely to be systemic and a process must be installed immediately to ensure it doesn’t happen again. He hates surprises and will do whatever is needed to minimise them occurring. He intuitively knows that if you stop problems occurring then the organisation will have a lot more time to work on initiatives that really matter. While the role of the scoop-guy is not glamorous a good one can create a lot of value for a company.

Central to this approach is making sure that bad news travels fast in an organisation. I like good news as much as the next person and I’m usually the first one to celebrate it. But I do it quickly and then move on. The past is the past and it can’t be altered. The future is less predictable and consequently I’m much more interested in hearing any bad news and problems first.

Great organisations have an open willingness to deal with bad news, without shirking from it. They know that they have to be receptive to bad news, or even good advice that they’d rather ignore or is too painful to hear. They acknowledge that if they’re not receptive to it, or choose not to act on it, then their people will stop bringing it to them. And that’s the beginning of the end.

What they implicitly understand is that problems can’t be fixed if they are withheld from the people that can fix them. They therefore actively seek them out rather than deny they exist. They gather the required facts together and then take action quickly. They know that there is no steady-state in business and that problems that start small can escalate quickly if left unattended or unresolved.

“Average” organisations, on the other hand, shy away from conflict, disappointment or making the hard, or unpopular, decisions. They choose to ignore (or hide) the bad news and hope that a miracle will occur that will save the day. It rarely does. Managers with a “territorial” mindset are particularly prone to this. This head-in-the-sand thinking rarely leads to anything positive. Instead it causes unnecessary delays and can result in the problem becoming a lot worse and a lot harder to fix.

It all starts at the top. CEOs should share the company’s good AND bad news and do it quickly without dragging it out. People are smart and they’ll figure it out soon enough anyway. It’s better to ‘fess up quickly and then spend your collective time and effort working on the solution, rather than denying the problem exists.

Keep your eyes and ears open and encourage transparency in passing on news of any type. Whatever else avoid blaming people for things that go wrong. Doing this will quickly shut down the crucial flow of information that is critical to your success.

And finally, never under-estimate the value of a good scoop-guy in your organisation – if you’ve got one hold on to them. They’re hard to find but are worth their weight in gold…