How to get out of a hole

Prepare for action first and foremost, but also ensure that you're acting on the right problem.

At some point in time, almost every business finds itself in trouble.

A poor judgment - or an unexpected global pandemic - can land you in a difficult financial position quickly. This will leave an executive team scrambling for solutions, and often in desperation, trying everything they can to resolve the issue.

In times like these - tempers flare, emotions run hot - and under this kind of pressure it's highly probable that things just go from bad to worse.

Thinking creatively and clearly under conditions of extreme stress is an almost impossible task, which is why a different way of managing the situation is needed that the one typically used to manage a team when things are less stressful.

As a strategy advisor I've often been called in by clients to help them to find a way out of these kinds of situations - and over the years have reflected repeatedly on what the best possible approach is to achieving that.

Here are my guideline:

  1. Acknowledge that you are in a hole and outline the specifics of your understanding of the problem being faced - fear will trick your brain into making the problem seem a lot worse than it may be, so facts are important here. It's also important to punch the proverbial alarm bell to indicate to the whole organisation that the business is in a 'code red' situation. This brings about a much needed sense of urgency in everyone to 'do their part'.
  2. Diagnose the source of the problem - a negative revenue curve is an indicator that there is a problem, not the problem itself. Commit to understanding as best as possible, what's really going on.
  3. Make an inventory of what is in your favour - what is still useful, what do you still have that can help, what's still going well?
  4. Agree on a focused approach to overcoming the challenge based on your assessment of what the key leverage point is that will unlock a resolution to the real problem. The key is focussing on just one theme and achieving that.
  5. Create a clear step-by-step action program that everyone is involved in delivering. It's a case of 'all-hands-on-deck' contributing towards a collective effort. It can't be that just a few individuals or a department is tasked with the job, everyone needs to play a role. Obviously action plans are tools that should be changed and adjusted as progress is made and new insights are revealed - so don't fall in love with the plan itself.
  6. Everyday another step forward - the key to getting out of a hole is progress; and progress happens bit-by-bit every single day. A regular morning stand-up sets the tone for the new day and a reflection on what worked and what didn't at the end of the day is critical.
  7. Relish the challenge - ending up in a hole is an opportunity to test your mettle. As the saying goes 'A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor' - finding yourself in a compromised position is when you can let your true capabilities as an entrepreneur shine. Reframe the challenge not as something to fear, but rather the opporunity to forge a path towards building a better future.
  8. Celebrate your progress - getting out of the hole is the point obviously, but you keep motivated by recognising your momentum that's pushing you forward. Cheer all progress - no matter how big or small.

Overcoming a barrier is not business as usual - it requires a different mindset and a special way of working as a team.

Prepare for action first and foremost, but also ensure that you're acting on the right problem.