How to Successfully Recover from a Business Setback 

Let’s face it, we’re all going to go through some form of a setback in business (and life!). Maybe you’re hitting a plateau, facing a legal matter, or hemorrhaging customers to a new competitor. Regardless of the circumstances, continuing with a business-as-usual mentality will only further the pain and demise of your company’s descent. It’s at this time when we need to take a few key steps to regain our footing.

Before diving in, let’s note that recovery from a setback can be a lengthy process, requiring adequate time to discover where you derailed from the story you were creating with your customers. Denial, anger, frustration, regret… feelings of pain are quite natural, and they have value, since they are providing clues to your overall satisfaction with your circumstances. However, living under these feelings too long will greatly stunt forward progress. Rather, it takes fortitude, and even a sense of gratitude, to proceed.

A quick personal example from a different perspective:

About twelve months ago I was in the early part of a back workout, doing wide-arm pull-ups, as I’ve done for 7+ years. Midway through my third or fourth series of reps, a feeling of intense fire shot from my bicep to my forearm—clearly not a good thing! At first, there was a sense of denial. I can’t get hurt! [the typical guy response, I know!] Yet, the persevering pain clearly spoke otherwise. There was even the passing and likely irrational thought that maybe I was done with strength training for good. After all, who wants to keep doing anything that is going to create pain‽

It takes time to recover from an injury, just like it takes time to recover from a business setback.

As one who’s been involved with athletics and some form of coaching for much of my adult life, the picture for successful steps began to on-fold. As in the physical world, so it goes in business.

Step 1: Rest

I know, you were likely looking for something more along the lines of, “How to Turn Things around for My Business NOW!” right? Mark it down, recovery takes time, and this period of rest is crucial to regaining positive momentum. So KEEP READING to learn what this actually looks like.

You’ll find athletes doing a couple things while resting from an injury (setback):

  • Tending to the injury.
    Just like the gymnast with a mildly sprained ankle requiring ice, compression, and elevation, a smart leader will create an environment of protection for positive growth, stabilizing the situation to enable healing.
  • Talking it out.
    I’m not necessarily referring to the stereotypical jocks showing their battle scars and talking about the fury of the game that put them on a stretcher. We all naturally crave some form of sympathy from our community when we go through a hardship, but what we need more is a doctor or a coach to which we can confide that will help us get back in the game. From their experience, knowledge, and observation we can learn about the weaknesses that led to losses when facing new and ignored threats. “Watching the tape” of analytics, reviewing employer and employee practices, looking at ad spend vs target reached, and other key identifiers aid learning to move into the next phase.

Seek help. This is NOT the time to go it alone. Confide in trusted people and/or tools that can help you take positive steps. If you are sensing that you are facing a challenge even remotely bigger than what you can handle, start a conversation with a coach or business doctor. The sooner you move to get help the better!

Step 2: Build a Recovery Plan

In the case of my arm injury, ignoring the pain and simply returning to pull-ups or curling forty-five pound dumbbells with a torn ligament would be foolish! While in the resting phase, I became aware that the source of my upper arm injury was largely due to insufficient forearm strength, so a new regimen was built to emphasize forearm growth while allowing the upper arm to heal.

You are going to want to think similarly with your business recovery plan—develop necessary steps you need to become healthy again by creating measurable steps with your colleague or coach. Again, this will take time! You are going to need to dig in your heels and prepare for a little bit of necessary pain as you enter physical therapy.

Step 3: Run the Recovery Plan

Having a plan in place, you’re going to have to make a deliberate decision each day to move forward. Progressing a little more intently in one area while “adjusting the weight or number of reps” in another to re-engage team members to the company’s vision and practices is vital. Some team members may need to temporarily take on new responsibilities while others are trained to better handle their tasks; you may need to outsource, or you may need to consider a new hire.

Whatever the circumstances, run the plan! Make yourself get dressed and head to the gym/office to begin chiseling your way to success.

Here are some thoughts as you move into the recovery phase:

  1. Accountability is key.
    • With yourself, place necessary tasks and appointments into your calendar to be sure adequate time is provided to reaching your goals.
    • With your stakeholders and partners
      • Retain a positive outlook in your communication.
      • Note areas you are looking to correct.
      • Invite feedback, as necessary
    • With your inner circle (business coach, etc.)
  2. Note that this process may require your taking on a task you don’t care to manage, learning a new discipline, employing someone with strengths you lack, and/or investing in a new set of tools (hardware, apps/software, training, etc.)
  3. Keep the end-goal in mind. All good things take time, so be patient and persistent!
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4. Adjust (Pivot) Accordingly

Certainly, after you have begun rebuilding, monitor your goals. Are you reaching them? What steps need to be taken to hit them? Are there other elements hindering the process that may need adjustment? Utilize the science of observation, since no two organizations are alike. Look through the data and seek to really figure it out.

Ultimately, if you take the time to rest, build, run, and adjust you should see yourself progressing back to success! I’ve got to say it again, be patient! Quick cure-alls won’t cut it! Only through focused observation with deliberate effort will growth occur.

On the story about my forearm, it took me nearly three-fourths of a year to get back to where I was, but by taking the time to follow this process I’ve now surpassed where I was because I created a stronger base on which to build. Sitting at home for months would have done nothing good in my case. Quitting simply was not an option. I’m still at the gym most mornings plugging away one rep at a time.

Don’t quit! Make the choice to recover from your setback. Jump in! You can do this!

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