The PR departments of large, publicly held companies all use the same trick when they are forced to release bad news about their companies – they send out their press releases late on a Friday afternoon. The objective is that given the lateness of the day, journalists will have limited time – and space – to include the story. And then who will read it over the weekend? Of course, this practice began well before the the 24/7 cable news cycle and the advent of ubiquitous business news via the Web. Yet I recall coming across this PR trick when reading Chaos Monkeys, a very recent book on Silicon Valley. (Being very old school, I read the print version. If I had the Kindle version I could probably do a search and find the exact citation for you. Left as an exercise for the reader.)
So what does all this have to do with startups and entrepreneurs? Well there are two types of bad news that execs/managers in a startup need to deliver: personal and corporate. Neither should be delivered on a Friday. The personal bad news is usually that someone needs to be let go: fired, laid off, terminated – whatever lingo you use, the result is almost always bad news for the employee. (Though I’ve found in many cases it was actually a relief. as the employee realized he or she was a bad fit for the company and was really uncomfortable struggling as an under performer.)
Unless you immediately frog march fired employees out the door, never to be seen or heard from again, it’s best to deliver any kind of bad personnel news early in the week so the employee has a chance to go home, discuss it with friends and/or a significant other and digest it. They can then come back the next day and potentially talk further with their manager, especially if the bad news is a poor performance review rather, than a termination of employment. Having someone stew over the weekend is a good formula for creating an angry, resentful employee who may negatively affect company morale, or worse when they return the following Monday.
The same rule goes for company bad news, such as having to announce a major delay in a product launch or failure to secure another round of financing. Get this news out early in the week and encourage people to talk about it with management if they have any questions. Don’t send them into their weekend mulling over what impact this corporate bad news may have on them – like getting laid off.
A corollary to the rule not to issue bad news on Fridays is to get bad news out immediately. You will be amazed at the bandwidth of the grapevine – it far exceeds the speed of your corporate network. By getting bad news out to everyone ASAP you avoid feeding the rumor mill, which will cause more distractions and harm to company morale than the news itself.
Everyone makes mistakes, staff, manager, execs, and entire companies. What separates the winners from the losers is one) recognizing and acknowledging the mistake and two) acting quickly to correct it or remedy the problem. Just don’t do those acknowledgements on a Friday afternoon!