I was reading a blog post recently by Jennifer Boykin called Broken Open to Greatness: Transforming Tragedy into Triumph, which got me thinking about business loss.
“Last March,” she said, “my daughter Grace should have been twenty. She should have been a sophomore in college. She should have come home for the weekend. There should have been a party and mani-pedis and some lame-ass boy or two hanging around waiting for us to get home so he could drool all over her. But there wasn’t because Grace died shortly after her premature birth. And instead of a lifetime of little girl memories, I had 32 minutes to be her mother.
People say they can’t imagine what it’s like to be the mother of a dead child, but I think they can. They can picture the whole thing. They just don’t want to. But here’s the thing, Sweet Cheeks – sorrow, loss, illness, betrayal, economic hardship, divorce, loss of faith – these circumstances are just part of EVERYONE’S human condition. If you live long enough, you WILL have to face these and other losses.”
In business we love to talk about loss although we may not describe it in those terms. Business is slow. Things aren’t as great as they used to be. Customers aren’t spending nearly as much as they did two years ago. The entire economy is at a standstill. No one is building. No one is investing.
All of these statements have one theme running through them – scarcity – whatever it is – it’s no longer enough to meet our requirements. We are in effect, experiencing loss.
So what has Jenny’s experience of the death of her child, have to do with business? Well like she said we are all going to encounter losses but when you do, here’s the first challenge you are likely to meet – a lack of training and preparation for the loss event. In our culture, we don’t teach people how to work through loss and suffering. We teach how to acquire things; achieve things, and make things happen. “It’s a woefully poor strategy for living” says Jenny “because when we come face to face with the shadow side of ALL GAIN – which is LOSS – we are tragically unprepared.”
In a Harvard Business Review Issue on the management of failure, Maurice Ewing was reminded about important business lessons he learned from others losing and failing including his own brother who ran a successful furniture and design store, lost it all to fire and rebuilt an even stronger business. He said “bankruptcy and all the drama that comes with them, is nothing unusual to those of us in business. Indeed, we count the times when our bank accounts dwindled down to a few pennies just as dear as the moments when we experienced some success.”
If you are out there trying to cope with your first major loss or business failure, then here are five ideas to consider, that I took from Mark’s own experience, that I thought would be useful to share with you, so that as Jenny said, you will be more prepared for ANY business loss that is sure to come your way (if it hasn’t done so already!)
- Making losses is part of making money. If you are not prepared to lose money, then you should stay out of business. Business is about making a return which means potentially risking a loss on every deal, every transaction and every service you undertake. Just keep in mind that sparring with these risks (and their potential for success) is what makes it all worth doing.
- Just lose money — not perspective. Nothing is more sobering than losing all that you have worked hard to obtain. It makes everything clear, lightens the load, highlights your fragility and keeps you real. Take advantage of these moments of sobriety and avoid the tendency to become dormant and depressed. I have never heard of someone dying from losing his or her business — only from losing his or her perspective.
- Never love the business — love doing business. If you become attached to the business or to the money it initially brings then you will not be thinking clearly when it comes time to move on. Rather than irrevocably committing yourself to something (or to some lifestyle) that may one day turn sour beyond your control, commit yourself instead to a lifetime of doing business to the highest standard you can muster. That will create a perspective that will often help you see today’s failures as necessary stepping stones to tomorrow’s successes.
- Stuff happens. Maybe someone messed up, maybe not. Until further investigation or until evidence of a trend becomes obvious, understand that even when everything is ‘done right’, something could go terribly wrong — often externally. After all, business is always a two-sided affair between you and your customers: today they may love you and tomorrow they may hate you. Just do everything you can to bring back the love.
- Loss does bring some advantages. Introspection about losses can lead to greater bonding between you and your team — a distinctly advantageous effect. Losses can also engender you with the ability to cut through all of those unproductive, pet projects and initiatives that do not serve to maintain and improve performance and competitiveness.
To keep things in perspective remember that your loss and loss experience will not last forever. Your business might die but once you take one hundred percent responsibility for dealing with ANY loss, you will survive. I know some of you will want to argue with me on this, but you must. How you respond to your business’s troubles is what will shape your leadership and give you the energy to do what has to be done to make the necessary changes and grow forward.