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Delivering Bad News Clearly to Engineers

Zach Haehn

VP Engineering at Seismic

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Problem

"I started in the role of VP of Engineering at Percolate about a year ago. One of the decisions we had to make early on was a difficult product decision. We were shutting down an area of our product and we had developers who were going to be affected, as they were no longer going to be able to do the type of work they had been hired for, so we had to deliver that message to them. In the past, my teams had had very strong managers, who I could trust to deliver these types of messages to their engineers in the right tone, so people would feel secure."

Actions taken

"When we decided on shutting down the area, I met with the manager of the team that was going to be affected and told them that I needed them to tell their team about our decision, and its effect. The manager who initially delivered the message didn't stand behind the message, but instead just said higher management had made a decision.

The team ended up getting one story from their manager, another from their product manager, and the rumor mill started swirling. The team got into a panic, and they were worried about being fired, when in reality what I wanted to convey to them was that we were going to look for other positions for them and that we were going to move them to different teams and would let them decide on the team they wanted to move to.

We ended up having to start from square one, and we sat down with the whole team to redeliver the entire message. The problem was they already felt like they had been abandoned by the company and they never really got over it, and the two people affected ended up leaving the company within a month."

Lessons learned

"When you're in a new organization, it's important to dig a lot deeper to ensure that people are able to deliver difficult messages to their teams. It's important to deliver bad messages directly, and you need to be able to stand behind the message.

After this experience, I began to roleplay with my managers to assess how they would deliver a message to their team. I'd come up with different responses to help my manager to work out what to expect when delivering their message."


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Zach Haehn

VP Engineering at Seismic


Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthCareer Progression

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