Sometimes, we have rough quarters. Our products don’t sell as well as projected, we fall behind on projects, our meetings didn’t get us anywhere…there are lots of reasons why we might be feeling the squeeze. No matter what those reasons might be, the negative emotions they generate can be overwhelming. If you’re going through a setback of some sort right now, let this be a word of encouragement to you: Please don’t give in to despair! Just because something didn’t go well, doesn’t mean that next time won’t be better! Here are four tips for picking up the pieces to keep moving forward.
1. Stop Throwing Money at a Lost Cause
We call them “sunk costs” for a reason. They’re sunk, we can’t get them back. But we shouldn’t keep sinking more resources into something that’s continuing to drain us. When you look down and realize that you’re in a hole, it’s time to put the shovel down. Sometimes when a project or a process doesn’t work out, it can be more harmful to try and fix it than to let it go. I’m not saying we abandon the idea altogether: perhaps we can shelve the idea, and set a time and date on our calendars to seriously consider it and how it can be improved. But for now, when you realize that you’ve put more time and effort into something that is not going to return the value you want, it may be time to simply stop, and set the project aside until the conditions are more favorable, so that you stop wasting time and resources, and you can deploy those valuable resources towards something that will bring better return.
This past weekend, for example, I had an idea that I wanted to execute as part of the decorations for our Tour of Homes exhibit in Indianola. It seemed simple enough, and it was perfect Friday night, but the wind was not my friend Saturday morning, and we were running out of time. We’d already spent time and resources on a lighted display in the driveway, but the wintry gusts kept knocking part of the display over, and it was running the risk of getting permanently broken. With fewer and fewer minutes until “show time”, and even as guests began arriving, one of our team members made repeated trips to the driveway to stand the display back up. At some point, we had to make the call – abandon the display for now or have that team member not able to serve at their station inside. As much as I loved that particular display, the Saturday morning crowd was just going to have to miss out.
2. Don’t Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater
A dark and arcane expression, the idea gets at not throwing good stuff out just because something bad has happened. Even in the darkest night, usually we can find light somewhere. No matter what went wrong, it is my firm belief that not many things are ever truly 100% bad. In the middle of it all, something went right. Perhaps even if the project didn’t go as well as we wanted, we came up with a process to streamline one part of it that we can use next time. Try and find the things we managed to accomplish. Let those glimpses of light inspire us and guide us in what comes next.
Not all that long ago, I remember having a tough month – like the opposite of the “Midas touch,” it seemed like everything I touched turned to garbage instead of gold. It would have been easy to just toss out years of hard work and overlook successes we had because of a run of setbacks and losses that cost us time and money, and a whole lot of tears. But 30 – or even 60 – days of organizational pain doesn’t wipe out the 15 years of impact we’ve had in business, or the years and years of success we’ve had and the 50,000+ workdays we’ve made better in just the last 10 years. A note from a past customer, a word of encouragement from a friend, even a smile from a team member were reminders that the work we do matters more in the big picture than this momentary setback.
3. Own What We Own
When a setback happens, no one is entirely blameless, just as no one person is entirely at fault. Please don’t try to push all the fault onto one person. If you’re a blame-layer, stop trying to lay blame on others. If you’re a blame-taker, stop trying to take all the blame onto your own shoulders. In the end, we all could have taken strides to do more. But that doesn’t mean beating ourselves up over it. Yes, we messed up, things didn’t work out, but chances are decent that the world has not ended. The first step is owning up to the fact that a mistake was made. Then we can face forward without the weight of guilt drowning us, and figure out what went wrong, where it was, and when it happened in the process – and more importantly, how we can fix it going forward.
“Whelp, as long as we know who’s to blame” is the ironic comment that gets tossed out over laughs from time-to-time around here. As a business owner, I’ll always tell you the buck stops with me. And as leaders, influencers, and members of teams, any one of us will need to own our share of the blame. And we all need to own our piece of it. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter who is to blame! Blame is an unproductive emotion. More productive than “whose fault is it?”, a better question is “how can we fix it?” or “what do we do next?” or “how do we make sure we don’t get here again?”
4. It’s Only Failure When We Don’t Learn from It
Acknowledging a breakdown in a process, a weakness in a structure, a flaw in a system can be hard – especially if we built that system, structure, or process. And owning up to our own shortcomings can be tough. But since we’ve owned our part of the pain in step three, then the best thing we can do in step four is to now put the practical application of learning into place. It is not a difficult leap to then discover how to avoid making the same mistake. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, if we don’t take action to protect ourselves from making them again, then chances are really high that we’ll repeat them. This is a great time to reach out to others and ask for advice. Just be conscious of what they might also be going through, as they are more than likely fighting the same battle as we are.
Perhaps you’ve heard that urban legend of the young executive who learns that he has made a $20 million dollar mistake on a contract; he brings his letter of resignation to the senior leader, who responds with “Young man, I just spent $20 million on your education, what makes you think you’re going anywhere?” You see, our setbacks make us wiser in the end, and once we’ve learned the hard way, chances are solid we won’t make that same mistake again.
Sometimes, it can be hard to move forward after a loss, especially given how much many of us pour our hearts and souls into our work. And as we heal, there may be some sting, some tears, and some days we’d rather give up. Hopefully, though, these four steps offer some useful tips to pick yourself back up after setbacks that feel daunting.
How about you? What else do you do? If you ever find yourself needing more help, we’re always here! All you have to do is reach out!