The End of 'Bad News' Fridays

Announcing bad news on the traditional "slow" news day can backfire today.

If ever there was a good time to announce layoffs, missed earnings, or other bad news, a summer Friday afternoon used to be it. The markets would be closed. Analysts and reporters would be checking out for the weekend. Few would be watching, and the news might be forgotten by Monday morning.

Indeed, while a recent survey by Korn Ferry shows that 47 percent of executives still choose Friday to deliver bad news versus Monday through Thursday, it may no longer make a difference. In today’s 24/7 hyperconnected world, experts say the “when” of things hardly matters—it’s the “how” and “why” that counts. CEOs and business leaders need to be authentic, transparent, and emotionally intelligent when communicating problems, says Kevin Cashman, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. “Instead of thinking of timing of a message, think about the depth and quality of the message itself and how it affects all stakeholders,” he says.

It comes down to context. If leaders explain the broader strategy behind an event and anticipate the emotional response—a skill known as resonant leadership—they’re bound to have greater success. In the example of a looming round of layoffs, that might mean acknowledging (not sugar-coating) that the cuts are painful and that the company’s two-year turnaround plan will require courage on the part of employees and investors, says Jane Stevenson, head of Korn Ferry’s global CEO succession practice. In explaining the context, leaders “start to get people engaged around this truth of short-term pain, long-term gain,” she says. According to a recent survey by Korn Ferry, 98 percent of executives claim to be providing this necessary context.

Of course, CEOs are often handed a crisis when they least expect it, and their actions in those situations are even more closely watched. Indeed, mishandling these sorts of situations can be damning to CEOs, whom as a group are already facing increased pressure from activist investors and shorter timelines in which to create value for their companies. But when CEOs get it right, they’re golden.  

“Bad news is best if you can stay ahead of it,” says Stevenson. “In today’s real-time world, that is an art form.”