Remaining Proactive in the Face of Negative Issues
January 1, 2007
Sometimes as a business manager or owner, one gets the feeling of being pulled in every direction at once, and it can be very easy to lose focus on our primary goals and objectives. One person commented that when you are up to your tail in alligators, it is hard to remember that the original objective was to drain the swamp.
Reactive crisis management can be one of the least productive and most personally draining activities in which a manager can participate. It is always better to be proactive, plan ahead, anticipate challenges and never lose your focus. But while this is definitely true and is very sound advice, let’s get real for a moment.
I agree that a business plan or road map is a true necessity, and every business should have one and focus on working that plan, but I also live in the real world where “stuff happens” that was never anticipated and needs to be addressed to avoid catastrophe. We can’t pretend that every business day goes along without interruptions, challenges, and even the occasional crisis. What is important is for the manager to remain in control of his/her business and not let the “crisis’ take over. When a crisis does take over, forward progress toward the business goal stops, and negative energy and stress begin to enter into the picture. The result may be reactive or panic-type decisions and behaviors.
This past weekend as I watched a couple of great football games I saw similar situations played out on the gridiron. The way the quarterbacks (managers) handled the stress and pressure of unexpected crisis made all the difference in the games. In one case, the quarterback appeared to panic and abandon the original game plan that had been developed after careful study of the opponent’s defenses. The result was utter chaos for his team and, ultimately, losing the game. In another game, when it seemed everything was falling apart, the quarterback remained calm, focused on his game plan and followed through with strong, practiced play that resulted in a fantastic comeback victory.
So what does all this mean to the manager of a cleaning and restoration business? First, it is critical that we not only have a comprehensive plan for our business but that we thoroughly understand how that plan should be implemented. Set aside time on your calendar each week dedicated to reviewing and fine-tuning your business. Time to work “on” your company and getting organized is just as important to your success as time to work “in” your company producing revenue. Understand, even internalize every facet of your plan from overall goals to production strategies to performance analysis.
When things happen that are not in your plan – and we know they will – there are some key things you should do to maintain control of your business.
- Remove the emotions from the situation as best as you can. Resist the temptation to react emotionally. Mentally step back from the situation and try to look at things through the eyes of an unemotional third party. Look at events and/or facts at face value and make intentional evaluations and decisions. That old adage about counting to 10 before acting is very helpful. Decisions and reactions made in the heat of emotion are often poor decisions and actions.
- Put the “crisis” into perspective in terms of the overall big picture. This doesn’t mean in any way ignore or belittle the situation. Just make sure that if you are going to invest a lot of energy and time that you understand why. It has been my personal experience that many, if not most, of the “urgent” issues that come up are really not all that big of a deal once the emotion and “heat of the moment” are taken away.
- Plan the best course of action that deals with the situation in the quickest and most logical manner and lets you focus again on working your plan. Remember, “right” and “wrong” are not always the deciding factor in many business decisions. For example, an unfounded complaint from a particularly unpleasant customer may best be settled by accommodating that customer even though they are wrong and you are right. The time and energy taken to prove your point and put that customer in her place may actually cost more in time, energy, and effort than simply giving them what they want. Remember, the goal is to get the issue handled and get back on track working our plan. We all hate to give in to situations where we have clearly been wronged, but this is about making a business successful, not being captain of the world and righting all wrong. Of course, if the crisis actually threatens the business’ ability to complete the plan, strong positive action must be taken:
- Act quickly and don’t let the situation stew. I don’t know of any negative situation that will get better if ignored. The sooner issues are dealt with, the sooner you get back to working the plan.
- Put it behind you and move on. Learn what lessons there are to be learned from every situation, make the appropriate adjustments to your systems, then let go and get back to work on running a positive business. The temptation to linger over negative issues will only make things worse. It’s really not over until you let go and return your focus to more positive things.
Now, all of this sage advice is really very hard to implement, especially the part about removing the emotion. However, like the quarterback, if you become reactive and lose your ability to remain calm, you have already lost the game. Work hard at stepping back, taking a moment to reflect on the “crisis du jour” and plan your resolution instead of just reacting. You will be glad you did.