Many of us have been in survival mode for the last six months while we figure out how to manage everything associated with the pandemic. Here are four things you can do to shift your business from a reactive, safety mode to a proactive mode where you can start moving ahead again.
Recognize survival mode
Survival mode isn’t something a business can sustain for the long term. Survival mode is sneaky because we can easily accept it as needed in reaction to an event; it’s an appropriate short-term response to outside forces or misfortune. You start to get into trouble when that event drags on and becomes a new reality.
Moving out of survival mode and back into a proactive mindset can be difficult, particularly when the event (in this case, the pandemic) isn’t “over” yet. There’s a well-worn axiom that if your business isn’t growing, it’s dying. And historically, businesses that stay in the survival mode for too long eventually decline or go out of business.
The first step to moving out of survival mode is to recognize you’re actually IN survival mode. Do any of the following things feel familiar?
- You rush around like crazy but never get caught up. Everything is urgent. You can only consider one task at a time.
- Your team can’t help. You push others away without thinking because you don’t have time or energy to deal with them. And besides, your team is already overwhelmed, and you don’t want to add on to that.
- The stress is palpable. Your sleep is a mess, and you can’t focus on just one thing. Friends and family make comments that they’re worried about you.
- There’s no joy. Your goal is to avoid having a terrible day. Having a great day isn’t an option. You can’t remember the last time you laughed and enjoyed a day.
- You have focused all your energy on right now. You are unable to even think about next week, never mind next month. All you can do is react to each situation that arises. You’re never one step ahead. You bounce from response to response.
- It’s all risky. Everything matters way too much. There’s no margin for error. You can’t take the time for excellence. All work is “good enough.”
You may feel all or just some of these in varying degrees. But if you nodded your head at any part of this list, it might be time to work on being more proactive with your company. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Assess where you are
This could feel painful, but it’s important to have a clear picture of where you are so you can begin to address the right tasks. Start with making three lists:
1. What’s currently working?
Take a moment to give yourself and your team a pat on the back for the things that are working. Should you spend more time and energy on these tasks? Do more of these projects bring you more business? If so, you may need to simply drop the things that aren’t working and narrow your focus to just those that are successful. Your new product line or passion service may need to wait until the roller coaster has come to a complete stop.
2. What’s not really working or missing altogether?
Can anything on this list be fixed with a few hours or days of focus to develop a process or train a person to handle something moving forward? Is there a single point of failure that can be identified and changed? Is there someone you can delegate the problem to so that you can focus on other things? This list is often where you can make small changes that yield big results.
3. Where are things failing or struggling badly?
This list is often where people feel they should be focusing most of their time. And while you are working your way off the roller coaster, your time will be better spent in the other two categories. Is the thing that’s failing mission critical? If not, will it create lasting, long-term damage to the company? If not, then let it sit. It’s a hard thing to do. We don’t like living with failure. But until you’re back in a proactive place, other things will likely need to come first.
Part of survival mode incapacity is a physical response to having more of the stress hormone cortisol in your system. The other part can often be attributed to the planning fallacy. Humans are bad at estimating how long it will take to complete things. The underlying premise of the planning fallacy is that people recognize that their past predictions have been over-optimistic, while insisting that their current predictions are realistic.
Take stock of where time is being used. Are deadlines consistently being missed? Do you need to change a process or acknowledge that things take longer than we want them to? Where are you losing efficiency? Can you automate or outsource anything? What’s the biggest drag on your time and your employees’ time? Will removing things from the failing list provide more time to focus on the things that are working?
Providing yourself (and your employees!) breathing room to focus is one of the single most important things you can do to move from reactivity to proactivity. Shed everything that isn’t mission critical so you can move forward with purpose and clarity.
Go back to your strategy
Many CEOs I’ve talked with have said they threw out their strategic plans for 2020. Pull them back out! You’re not going to be able to execute them as you originally planned, but the plan can help get you closer to being back on track and proactive.
Use your strategic plan as a litmus test for what you’re doing next. Are the decisions you’re making moving you incrementally closer to the goals you had? Do your choices remain in alignment with your mission and values? Every decision you make should feed into that larger strategy you believe in. When you’re making decisions with the future in mind, you’re starting to leave reactive territory and move into being proactive.
We all know it’s likely to be a bit longer before the ups and downs, blind turns and who knows what else go away. But now is the time to begin the process of moving out of survival mode and back into proactivity. Businesses who stay in survival mode too long won’t be prepared when this event ends. Companies that start thinking proactively now will be better positioned to move forward when the roller coaster comes to a complete stop.
The Elevations Business Banking Team is here to help support you through this process. To speak with an Elevations Business Banking Relationship Manager, contact us today.
Jana Sanchez has over 20 years of experience in organizational management and marketing. She helps companies get clarity to know where they need to go and which tools will get them there. When not wearing her Chief Alchemist hat at Alchemy With Words, she’s the Executive Director for LaunchNo.CO, a nonprofit helping companies form, grow and stay in Northern Colorado.