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The harsh conversation does not need to be harsh, it just seems that way.
But as an owner/guardian of the business you need to be methodical and rational in how you go about having a conversation that assesses your success. Personalities always play as part as does use of emotion.
This is where the work you did earlier (see previous blogs) will guide you. As long as you have broad agreement on the purpose of the program and its’ milestones for success, then there is a simple yes/no answer to the question: “did we make it?”
Those vested in the program will either bring hard evidence of success milestone or not. They may bring ‘explainable variances’, unforeseen hurdles, internal shortcomings that prevented success. As the leader of this business unit you need to have good skills to listen to the stakeholders and their performance. Then you need to be emotionally detached enough to make a decision. That is, decide whether a) these reasons are valid, and b) even if they are valid, whether your funders will allow more room to move (i.e. allow more time).
So the harsh conversation does not need to happen at assessment, though many managers are in trepidation of such. This conversation can be very matter of fact if you can remove emotion.
The more challenging conversation happens if you decide that no, this idea is dead in the water. Be mindful of who is losing face or credibility. Is it you? Have you done an emotional check? If you are in an organization where failure is tolerated, then you are probably safe. But most organizations only pay lip service to that notion. More likely is that everyone will fear the blame.
How do you handle that side of this event?