Breaking bad news

By their nature, program evaluations seek to determine if a program is working. Which means that, in reality, the answers are not always going to be positive.

So how do you deliver bad news without ruffling feathers or watering down the truth?

Here’s what to do when your evaluation results don’t meet expectations.

1. Create openness to all results – positive or negative

Start the discussion of possible results at the very beginning of a project. Just raising the possibility of both positive and negative results can begin to create an environment of openness and acceptance of the possible outcome.

2. Keep everyone informed from the get-go

Bad news should never come as a surprise. The final report should never, ever be the first time a manager hears about their program’s underperformance. Keep the entire project team and management well-informed throughout the project, ensuring you provide sufficient opportunities for findings to be digested and responded to.

3. Frame under-performance as an opportunity, not a failure

Less-than-positive results are opportunities for improvement. Frame them as such where possible. Be thoughtful in your use of language and how you pitch solutions.

4. Celebrate success

It is important to document what the program has achieved – even the small things. What worked well? Celebrate the successes to provide balance and context to overall performance.