Generally speaking, as a CFO you have 2 types of bad news to deliver. The first type is where there’s a blip that you should report, but you and the CEO are pretty convinced that it’s not worth a long navel-gazing session with your investors. A simple example that falls into this category is higher than expected G&A spending because your law firm forgot to invoice you for 3 months and you didn’t remember to accrue for this. So, yes, it makes the numbers look worse than they really are, but if you can present the numbers in a way that doesn’t highlight this in bold underlines, that’s probably all for the best.
The other type of bad news is something that is impossible to hide. Many CFOs are tempted to do this. An example: new SaaS bookings are way behind even though the revenue curve for the current month or quarter is fine. Quota deployed against bookings goals is way behind. Hiring got away from you and you suddenly added 10 people when the budget called for 3. You had projected cash lasting 18 months but now it sure looks more like 12.
If this happens, don’t hide it – feature it.
Meaning, present the financials as you normally do, but highlight the miss and make it front-page, bold-type, and unmissable. Make the discussion about the bad news. If you have conscientious investors who want to help you find solutions, they will. In the closed-door executive session, they might have less-than-generous things to say about the company’s or management’s performance. That’s fair. Let them have that discussion instead of the one about why they had to uncover issues through forensic analysis because you tried to gloss over or hide it.
The same general rule of thumb goes for sharing numbers with your CEO. Some bad news should be featured, early and often.