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How to break bad news to your manager

January 11 · Issue #6 · View online
DataDiary by InnerTrends
Breaking bad news gently to your manager
Whatever you do - do not panic and do not jump to conclusions!
Let me share with you one of those funny analytics mishaps that can turn into a life lesson.
One day, a colleague from my previous workplace discovered that the bounce rate for our pricing page was 90%. She immediately ran to the manager to report the horrendous news.
Everyone panicked!
Later on we realized that the bounce rate was incorrectly interpreted…
So… no fire needed to be put out.
Lesson 1: Never panic and don’t go running to your manager!
Always double-check and analyze things before conveying bad news to the management in order to avoid panic and chaos.
So what else can you do to avoid panic?
Let me tell you another story.
A company we work with discovered they had a very low first week retention rate for the users who created a new account: 20%.
Instead of panicking and acting on it, this is what they did:

First, they tried to validate the data.
They realized they were monitoring the users, and not the accounts.
And since an account can have more than one user, and it is the accounts that are paying, not the users themselves, this led to false results.
After this discovery, they came to the conclusion that the first week retention was 30%. But it was still very little.

Second, they tried to explain why the situation was so bad.
They realized that the app had an on-boarding rate of 40%.
This meant that 60% of those who made an account never followed through. They were not relevant in calculating the retention rate.
So, they applied the retention reports to those users who created an account and also finished on-boarding. And the result for the first week retention was 50%.

Third, they made an estimate of what could happen if they registered an increase from 50% to 60%. This increase seemed realistic and it would generate 15% more revenue / month for the existing customer base.

Forth, they looked for a possible solution.
In their case, if they could identify the actions that made the difference between the users who came back and those who churned, they could create an automatic process to alert the support team, who could contact these potential clients before it was too late.

Last but not least, it was high time he broke the news to the manager.
Armed with all this data, the analyst decided to not to leave any essential details to be guessed. He:
  1. confirmed the validity of his discovery.
  2. explained the situation in detail.
  3. presented the forecast he made.
  4. and offered the manager a potential solution.
Do you think his approach got him the expected results? - Of course it did!
Lessons learnt
Learning from my own experience, as well as my colleagues and clients’, this is the model that I use in order to deliver bad news.

1. Validate the results first
Do not jump to conclusions when it’s too early in the game.
Check your data from all angles until you are certain of your discovery.

2. Put the results into context and then explain them to your manager
Bad news given without explanations have the tendency to create panic.
So, before conveying just the bad bit of news to your manager, make sure you analyze and document the entire context.
Your superior needs to understand the whole context:
  • What are the causes?
  • How does it impact the business?
  • How relevant is this loss in the whole context?

3. Make an estimate for the future
Not knowing what the future holds and how an incident impacts the business is a manager’s worst nightmare.
People usually imagine the worst if put in a bad situation.
So, make well-documented forecast about what could happen and how it will affect the business.
This will definitely put things into perspective and reduce the level of stress.

4. Offer solutions
Have you ever thought that delivering bad new might actually be that break you had been looking for for so long?
Being the first to know what’s going on gives you the time advantage to come up with possible solutions.
So be the hero. Save the day – and you might even get a raise. 
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