Communication Tips for CEOs: Delivering Bad News to Your Company and Employees

As a CEO, one of the most challenging aspects of your role is delivering bad news. Whether you’re announcing layoffs, budget cuts, or project failures, how you communicate these difficult messages will significantly impact your organization’s morale, productivity, and future success. In this article, I will share my insights on the best ways to deliver bad news while maintaining trust and confidence in your leadership.

Preparing to Deliver Bad News

Before effectively communicating bad news, you must prepare yourself and your message. As CEO, you must have a complete understanding of the situation before addressing your employees:

  1. Collect all pertinent information and consider the potential impact on your team.
  2. Anticipate the questions and concerns that may arise, and prepare thoughtful responses in advance.
  3. Craft a clear, concise message that conveys the essential points without overwhelming your audience.
  4. Select a time and setting that allows for open and honest communication.


Before announcing a company-wide pay freeze, gather data on the company’s financial performance, industry trends, and competitor actions. Anticipate questions employees may have about the duration of the freeze, potential impact on benefits, and the company’s long-term outlook. Develop a concise message that clearly explains the reasons behind the decision and the steps the company is taking to ensure the company’s financial stability. Choose an appropriate time, such as an all-hands meeting, to deliver the news and allow for employee questions and feedback. (See: “When to Re-Evaluate Your Business Strategy.”)

Best Practices for Delivering Bad News

When delivering bad news, keep these best practices in mind:

  1. Be transparent and honest. Avoid sugarcoating the message or beating around the bush. Be direct and truthful while showing empathy and understanding for those affected.
  2. Take responsibility for the decision and avoid placing blame on others.
  3. Provide context and explain the reasons behind the decision to help employees better understand and accept the news.
  4. Outline the steps the company is taking to address the situation and mitigate any negative consequences.


If you need to announce the closure of an underperforming branch, you might say,
“After careful consideration and exploring all possible options, we have made the difficult decision to drop product X. (See: “10 Ways to Grow Your Stagnant Business.”)

We made this decision based on the product’s consistent underperformance and the need to allocate our resources more effectively. We understand the impact this will have on our employees and customers, and we are committed to providing support and assistance throughout the transition process.”

Communicating the Message

When delivering the bad news, consider the following:

  1. Deliver bad news in person whenever possible. This allows for a more personal and empathetic approach and provides opportunities for immediate feedback and clarification.
  2. Use clear and straightforward language to ensure your message is easily understood.
  3. Allow time for questions and be prepared to address emotional reactions with compassion and understanding.
  4. After the initial communication, follow up with a written summary of the key points to reinforce the message and provide a reference for employees.


When announcing restructuring and layoffs, you might say,

“I understand that this news is difficult to hear, and I want to assure you that this decision was not made lightly. We have explored every possible alternative, but given our current financial situation, we must take these steps to ensure the long-term viability of our company. I take full responsibility for this decision, and I am committed to supporting each and every one of you through this challenging time.”

Moving Forward

After delivering bad news, focus on moving forward:

  1. Acknowledge the impact the news may have on employees and the company as a whole.
  2. Outline any support and resources available to help those affected, such as employee assistance programs or career transition services.
  3. Communicate the plan for moving forward and the steps the company is taking to ensure the company’s future success.
  4. Emphasize the importance of unity and collaboration during this challenging time and encourage employees to support one another.


“We understand that this news will significantly impact our employees and their families. To support those affected, we will be providing severance packages, outplacement services, and access to our employee assistance program. We will also be holding town hall meetings to discuss our plans for moving forward and answer any questions you may have. It’s crucial that we remain united and focused on our shared goals as we navigate this challenging period together.”

Learning from the Experience

CEOs should learn from every communication experience, especially when delivering bad news:
Evaluate the effectiveness of your communication and identify areas for improvement.
Seek feedback from trusted colleagues or advisors to gain valuable insights and perspectives.
Use this experience as an opportunity to improve your communication skills and become a more effective leader.

Final Thoughts

Delivering bad news is never easy, but by following these communication tips, you will navigate these challenging situations with greater confidence and skill. Prioritize open and transparent communication, show empathy and understanding, and focus on moving forward as a united team. Your ability to effectively communicate during difficult times can make all the difference in your company’s resilience and success.

If you’re looking to enhance your communication skills and become a more effective leader, contact me for personalized CEO coaching. I have years of experience working with CEOs and business leaders. I will help you develop the strategies and techniques you need to navigate even the most challenging communication scenarios.

My name is Glenn Gow, CEO Coach. I love coaching CEOs and want to help make you an even better CEO. Let’s decide if we are a fit for each other. Schedule a time to talk with me at I look forward to speaking with you soon.


Take Their Word For It

What Glenn’s Clients are Saying…


Janice Raises Over $100M for Her Company

Janice Raises Over $100M for Her Company

As one of the founders, Janice had created the perfect solution in an exploding market. As her CEO Coach, we worked very hard to create a scalable business model that significantly accelerated revenue growth. This model included geographic expansion, the addition of new product offerings, and stickiness to create repeat business.

This triple revenue-acceleration model not only worked but it attracted the interest of growth investors.

But a growth model wasn't enough. We needed to help Janice become a better CEO. Specifically, we worked on how to manage her board, so their faith in her as the CEO grew as time went on.

For some CEOs, the board can be intimidating. At first, it was for Janice as well. We worked on how to manage the board and get the most out of the board. Ultimately, we turned the board into a strong set of advisors and advocates for Janice as the CEO.

The support and confidence of the existing board was a critical factor in enabling her to raise well over $100M in the next round, increasing the valuation by more than $600M.

Darren Raises His First $3 Million

Darren Raises His First $3 Million

My CEO client (Darren) was starting a company in a new category. He was focused on raising capital for his business and wanted help crafting his story. Darren is a brilliant CEO, yet he realized he could produce a better story with help from someone who has created successful fundraising stories many times.

When we started working together, his story was overly complex, difficult for investors to understand, and not as strong as it could have been. Together we built a story about the tremendous value the company was creating. We used historical precedent to bolster the vision and mission. We gave investors confidence in the founders. We proved that the company could scale.

Investors are pattern-matchers. They look for the patterns that tell them this opportunity is like other opportunities they’ve seen, giving them a strong belief in the potential ROI. Together, Darren and I constructed a winning story that helped key investors see the patterns of success.

According to Darren, “Glenn gave me the perspective and confidence I needed to succeed.” Darren raised $3 million for his startup company in his first round. Darren has continued to successfully raise money in later rounds as well.

Meilin Creates A Scaling Organization

Meilin Creates A Scaling Organization

Meilin was always asking, "How can I help my company grow faster?" She was successful by most measures but had higher growth ambitions.

As her CEO Coach, I helped focus her efforts and energies on an often-overlooked area for many CEOs. This area enables scaling and enables the CEO to manage their team more effectively -- values.

Most CEOs have corporate values but don't use them as the ultimate way to install a belief system - a way for every employee to focus on the most critical issues for the company.

Meilin and I worked on making the values core to the thinking and speaking of the management team. Once the management team adopted these values and started speaking about them in their regular communications, we knew that we were on our way to ensuring that every employee “lived” the values.

While values are not the only thing a company needs to grow fast, they are critical to its success. Meilin's company is now growing over 100%.

Sean Gets It All Done

Sean Gets It All Done

As CEO, Sean had no work-life balance, and he was struggling with the overwhelming responsibilities of being a CEO. One of the biggest challenges of any CEO is to get everything done. The list of critical items seems to grow every day.

As his CEO coach (and as a former CEO), I recognized the stress he was under. That level of stress is no fun. To help Sean become a better CEO, I focused him on delegation, talent development, and balance.

First, we focused on developing Sean's delegation skills. Delegation is the "8th wonder of the world." When you make it work, your workload diminishes, and the company performs at a higher level. As Sean became better at delegating, he also began to see strengths and weaknesses in his leadership team from a different perspective.

The next step was to refresh his leadership team. We created a plan to either develop the ones that could step it up and perform better or find new leadership team members for those that couldn't help the company grow.

Finally, we worked on creating a way of living for Sean that provided him some balance. I tell my CEOs to "put their oxygen mask on first." If a CEO wants to perform at the highest level, they need to take care of themselves first.

Now that Sean has a much better leadership team, he has become a master delegator. By delegating many of the activities he had taken on before, he now has much more time to take care of himself.

Sean's company has now entered a new growth phase. More importantly, he is enjoying his work a lot more and his life a lot more.

Viraj Fires His “Best” Employee

Viraj Fires His “Best” Employee

As a CEO, Viraj was focused on employee retention. He recognized the value of keeping high-performing employees and the high cost of turnover.

One of Viraj's direct reports was one of his "best" employees. This person consistently out-performed against their targets. Within their function, they were a rock star.

However, this same person was toxic to the rest of the organization. They constantly argued with others, and they made most others feel bad about themselves. Viraj found he was spending a great deal of time managing around the toxicity created by this employee.

Viraj valued this person's contributions within their function, and he also really hated the idea of employee turnover. As a result, Viraj put up with this person and continued to work around the toxicity issue.

As Viraj's CEO Coach, I helped him understand that team alignment and team cohesion are critical factors to help the company grow. We agreed that preventing employee turnover is a good goal, but not at the expense of creating a well-functioning team.

Viraj wanted to become a better CEO, and he knew what he had to do. While it was difficult, he decided to fire the person he once thought was his "best" employee.

The first thing he heard from the rest of his direct reports was, "What took you so long?"

Olivia Finds Product-Market Fit

Olivia Finds Product-Market Fit

Olivia, my CEO client, is a product genius. She is highly creative, an excellent problem-solver, and knows how to get products out the door on time.

Olivia raised a great deal of money based on her product ideas and some early successes. The challenge was that her company wasn't growing fast enough. The pressure from the investors was building, and she was worried.

Raising a lot of money early is a blessing and a curse. The curse is that Olivia delivered her product too quickly. She delivered it, making too many assumptions about the market she was serving. When the product was released, it was a good fit but not a great fit.

Olivia was concerned about the time and dollars it would take to conduct research and test product-market fit in multiple market segments. We created a partnering strategy that enabled us to test multiple new market segments in a short time.

Olivia has found multiple market segments that are a fit for the product. Now that she has achieved product-market fit, the strategy is to "go big" on the go-to-market. And her company is taking off.

Wilson Turns the Board Around

Wilson Turns the Board Around

Wilson was a first-time CEO. The company was doing well, but not quite as well as the board had hoped. Wilson found himself uncomfortable as a minority shareholder working with a board that could fire him if he didn't perform.

Wilson wanted to know how to manage a Board of Directors. The first step was to acknowledge that a board has different measures of success than the CEO. That means there will naturally be tension. The second step was to dig in to deeply understand what the key drivers are for each board member.

Based on this information, Wilson can now address his needs, the company's needs, and the board's needs. That was the first breakthrough.

Once he knew how to address the needs of the board, we turned to address his needs. As Wilson's CEO Coach, I helped him realize that the board is an incredible asset to leverage.

Wilson began to build relationships with the board members individually to understand better how they could be of service to him and the company.

When Wilson works with the board, he is fully aware of their needs and addresses them appropriately. More importantly, he now tells the board what he is doing and relies on their insight and experience for feedback on how to help the company perform at a higher level.

Wilson is no longer concerned about the board and now gets more out of them than ever before.

Darius Solved His Crisis

Darius Solved His Crisis

I got the call at 10 PM on a Thursday. Darius, a CEO client, reached out to me just as I was about to end the day. "Glenn, my Chief Revenue Officer, just resigned, and I'm not sure what to do."

Darius was running a rapidly-growing business that was highly dependent on a well-run sales organization. He had delegated sales responsibility to his Chief Revenue Officer so Darius could focus on engineering and product.

The good news is that Darius didn't relinquish oversight or reporting of sales, just sales execution. It's also true that Darius wasn't in a panic, and we had worked on a plan for the departure of each of his direct reports.

At the moment, though, Darius and I needed to review that plan to ensure it was our best option. We checked whether or not the interim head of sales could genuinely step into the role. We discussed which accounts Darius should immediately nurture relationships with. We agreed that the recruiter we would need was still the right recruiter.

We quickly put together a communication plan on how to bring this news to the leadership team and the rest of the company. We worked on the exact next steps to interact with the interim head of sales, the director of sales operations, and HR.

Darius felt he didn't know what to do, but in actuality, he did. We had prepared for this, and he just needed to talk it through in the heat of the moment so he could execute against the plan immediately.

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