When a crisis arises, we're tempted to ruminate on the problem. I encourage founders to focus on solutions.
In the picture, you may see either a storm brewing or the sun breaking out.
When a crisis arises, it's easy to get caught up in ruminating on the problem. However, as a founder myself, I encourage you to focus on solutions rather than emotions, in order to quickly pivot towards new opportunities.
While it's important to address any hurt feelings among the team and customers, it's essential to move into problem-solving mode as soon as possible. This will allow you to resolve immediate issues and to prevent future ones.
Here are some ways to consider emphasizing solutions instead of lingering on problems:
Problems from the past cannot be changed, while future solutions are malleable.
Problems lead to sadness and blaming, while solutions emphasize positive outcomes.
Problems highlight limitations, while solutions prompt new responsibilities.
Problems can cause you to dwell on loss and ruminating on them can cause stress; emphasizing solutions allows you to anticipate learning and can produce optimism.
The same circumstances can cause different reactions depending on where we focus. My emphasis is to perceive crises as opportunities to learn, implement positive improvements, and prevent future problems.
“Instead of focusing on the circumstances that you
cannot change – focus strongly and powerfully
on the circumstances that you can.” – Joy Page
Once, I worked at a digital marketing company. We received notice that our largest client would stop working with us. That client represented 40% of our revenues. Upon hearing the news, the founders called me into the office and told me this news, adding that we would have to lay off a number of people. I asked a few questions and learned that we had some leeway for at least a few months. I then suggested that we use this news as a catalyst to work on new accounts, rather than being impeded by working with potential competitors or by dedicating almost all our resources to the one client.
To encourage innovation and recognize the extra work in transitioning the large client while attracting new opportunities, I created an incentive plan with significantly growing revenue milestones over the following few quarters; during the last quarter, we exceeded our current revenues. Ten percent of all revenues above the set milestones would be distributed to employees as a bonus.
A year later, the company’s revenues were back to their old figures, and we added Fortune 500 clients in three new verticals. Employees appreciated the new projects and the bonuses for their efforts.
To engage in a solutions-driven approach, consider these techniques and tips:
Accept responsibility. Acknowledge what happened, describe its impact, and take ownership for the resolution.
Emphasize learning. Seek a different and (hopefully) better approach to understand the impact of the problem and solution, and to experiment with a stronger process.*
Explore ideas. Brainstorm all possibilities and be open to an unexpected long-term benefit if handled effectively.
Weigh possibilities. Review options based on cost versus impact and other useful criteria. You may create a decision matrix if there are many criteria.
Straddle teams. Encourage collaboration to build stronger ideas and longer cooperation.
Search people. Engage many different people, including your team, investors, advisors, research, founders, and friends for different perspectives on options.
Consider taking a step back. Weigh the opportunity to completely overhaul a system or process versus applying a band-aid.
Focus on the future. Describe the ideal circumstances, then reverse engineer how to get from here to there. Visualizing the future frees us from the moment and its emotions and relieves the pressure of being grounded in the current organization and personalities.
Be blunt and clear. Describe your specific plans and next steps in a straightforward way to all stakeholders.**
Pro Tip: Ideally, you can apply a solutions approach to extinguish the fire and to install fireproofing to prevent the same problems recurring. Create long-term improvements through new systems and processes.
Recognize the Downsides
A solutions approach often leads to positive, long-term change, but can sometimes be inappropriate.
There are times when you’ll need to go deeper into a problem, like a systemic failing or a disruptive personality. In these cases, you must understand the complexity of the failure before jumping on a resolution.
In the case of a severe crisis, damage control is the priority. Once you can concentrate internally again, initiate the process to seek long-term change and solutions.
Key Takeaway: Problems often cause stress. Successful leaders know that a crisis can turn into an unexpected opportunity. So, focus your energy on moving forward.
Photo by Mysticsartdesign who can be found here
* See this post on Systems and Process
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