How to recover when a sudden disaster strikes

Having a clear recovery plan will prevent panic from spreading

The unexpected will only derail your plans if you deal with it badly.

Unexpected events are inevitable in business. The unexpected derailing your plans or your success, however, is not. Indeed, the extent to which an unforeseen setback actually causes you serious difficulties entirely depends on how you deal with it. And there are some simple steps you can take to manage the unanticipated – without it causing excess damage.


Prior to Christmas, my company was hit by something utterly surprising that significantly impacted our forecasting. Our goal in reacting to this was largely not to overreact. Businesses that swing in the wind at the merest hint of consumer or client change leave themselves open to far greater risks.
And you can help yourself avoid overreaction in a very simple way: sleep on it. Our brains look at difficult events in two ways. When they happen, those events are stored by your brain in a box labelled “things that happened today”. If you’ve just lost a £100,000 pitch, immediately afterwards, you will probably view it as the worst thing that has ever happened to you. But when you sleep, your brain discovers where that failure fits into the context of your whole life. So when you wake up, you’ll probably no longer think of yesterday’s disaster as the most terrible thing ever. Sleeping could instantly equip you to handle the situation better and add some much-needed perspective.


The next step is to make the problem as bite-sized as possible, as a massive issue can often feel too much to cope with. By analysing what happened, and breaking it down into much smaller pieces, it becomes easier to deal with. So take the components of the unexpected event, separate them, and process them individually to find solutions.
When you are creating a solution – or several solutions – a clear plan is important. Once you’ve understood what happened, start working out how to ensure it never happens again – or if it does, how to make sure the impact on your business is significantly reduced the next time around.
This can also have psychological benefits. The unforeseen makes us feel vulnerable, and devising plans to avoid it ever happening again is instantly reassuring. Further, if your wider business knows that you have a plan in place, this reassurance will filter down – preventing panic. Indeed, it is always important to be honest with your colleagues. Honesty will help everyone come to terms with a side-swipe much more quickly.
Learning to love the unpredictable is probably the most important part of bouncing back. All surprises are new information. Every unpleasant event, if you handle it right, should help you to avoid it next time. Be proud of your pain. Your experiences teach you how to handle things better. You could also be able to help other people avoid the same thing happening to them.
James Wilkins is managing director of Vista.

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