A Simple Framework To Overcome Adversity In Business

August 9, 2022   |    minute read

At some point every business will have overcome adversity - be it as a result of bad decisions, unforeseen circumstances or external forces such as preparing your business for a recession.

Recent times have had their fair share of big shocks for business - the recession that followed the the trigger event of 911 in 2001. Then in 2008 there was the financial crisis that was triggered by the housing market collapse which led to a global recession.

Now we have Covid, or are coming out of Covid (depending on who you listen to and your beliefs around that) along with the uncertainty due to the war in Ukraine, political uncertainty and polarisation, rising energy prices, inflation and recession.

In this article I'll show you:

  • The pattern that businesses and their owners go through during times of adversity
  • The two choices that you have for dealing with challenging times
  • The point you want to get your business to as quickly as possible so that you can come out tough times quicker and stronger
  • How the speed of your progression through this curve is entirely dependent on your decisions and actions and not external forces such as the economy
  • A simple framework to assess your next steps 

Overcoming Obstacles In Business


As a business owner, it's really important not to get caught up in all the noise and that doesn't mean bury your head in the sand, just don't caught up in a cycle of doom and gloom especially on social media.

Remember, that it is businesses small and large that help recovery. Those that look for the opportunities, and crucially, make a contribution, create momentum.

A rising tide lifts all the boats in a harbour.

In all of this, the key thing is to focus on what you can control so that you put yourself and your business in the best position possible to deal with what you can't control.

Challenging times can make decision making and understanding the best path forward difficult and when we are under pressure or feeling anxious it is very easy to make irrational or emotional decisions if we don't have the right information and good frameworks to guide us.

Focus on what you can control so that you put yourself and your business in the best position possible to deal with what you can't control

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Two Choices

We always have a choice.

If we are not careful, there is a danger that we will end up in a self-defeating cycle of knee-jerk reactions, chasing unicorns, poor decisions, doubt, indecision and we end up running to stand still. Which leads to us feeling more pressure, intensifying the cycle of desperate action.

You don't even have to be in a period of adversity to go down that route!

Speed is irrelevant if you are going in the wrong direction

Mahatma Gandhi

Sometimes we need to go slow to go fast.

The better option is to stop, assess and evaluate your next moves. Ask what can you do, how can you contribute, add value, solve people's problems, make an impact on someone's life?

All adversity will pass, you will get past it and with the right mindset, with the right thinking there will be opportunities.

You can gain clarity, confidence and the commitment to make things better for yourself and others through what you do.

Sometimes we need to go slow to go fast. Stop, assess and evaluate your next moves. Ask what you can do to contribute, add value and solve people's problems

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The good news is that we can take a two pronged approach to dealing with adversity.

The first is to develop good mental fitness through programs such as Untapped, Unleashed.

The second is to use Frameworks, such as The Adversity Framework that give you a mental model to guide you through the pattern of steps or phases a business (and people) go through when dealing with adversity or a major crisis.

When you understand this pattern, then you are in a better position to deal with what is happening, what is coming and even pre-empt future impacts.

Hopefully this will give you motivation to take the right actions now.

A Framework To Overcome Adversity In Business


The framework is essentially a curve with 5 phases and how quickly a business passes through a phase is entirely dependent on the reactions and actions of the business and its owners.

Progression through the curve is entirely dependent on internal factors, not external circumstances even if they triggered it.

Phase 1 - The Jolt

This is the initial impact or realisation. A business will have been ticking along, even growing nicely, when something happens that causes a shock or impact and all of a sudden you are overcoming challenges in business.

It could be something that's been simmering away under the surface, for example like a leaky pipe dripping away without any indication until all of a sudden it reaches a critical point and the ceiling collapses.

Or it could be something that comes out of the blue like a key employee leaving unexpectedly, an increase in ad costs combined with a decline in organic reach when most of your business has been coming through social media or much worse, an event like 911 or the lockdowns of Covid.

At this point a lot of people will have a period of shock or paralysis where they do nothing. They go into freeze mode and do nothing instead of, for example, preparing your business for a recession.

It's a perfectly normal human reaction, however, it's key to move through this to Phase 2 as quickly as possible as if you stay at doing nothing for too long, there is a very real danger that your business could suffer sever financial loss or even collapse.

Phase 2 - Hopelessness

This too is a critical phase to get through safely. You've come to terms with the initial shock and moved beyond the inertia that brings and now you have a sense of hopelessness or desperation.

It can feel like you are sitting on a ticking time-bomb, waiting for everything to implode.

The danger here is that you will go into panic mode and overreact or do irrational things. A bit like the panic buying of toilet rolls and pasta during the initial lockdown. There were plenty of these items in the supply chain, but irrational demand outstripped the ability to move the items to stores quickly enough.

This is when people in business tend to make knee-jerk reactions and bad decisions because they are looking for some form of relief without really thinking things through and carefully assessing the situation.

This can lead to the wrong actions that weaken a business or take it in totally the wrong direction in exchange for some short-term relief.

In many cases this can even lead to a virtuous cycle of wrong decisions that make business more difficult and threaten the very existence of the business.

In times like this, mental fitness is key and tools like Positive Intelligence can play a huge part in helping your through this phase as you will be able to more readily engage the Sage part of your brain and shout out your Saboteurs.

Avoid the knee-jerk reactions and bad decisions and get to Phase 3 as quickly as possible.

Phase 3 - Assess

This is where you can start to be more constructive, assess the situation and evaluate your options to overcome adversity in business so that you can plan your next moves.

In an ideal world, a business with good, solid foundations, would pre-empt most shocks to the business and mitigate the worst impacts using The Iceberg Framework to enable the business to get straight to Phase 3, Assess, and on to Phase 4, Intentional Response, as quickly as possible.

Depending on the adversity you might have to change your business model, pivot entirely or it might just be a case of needing a different strategy.

If you're not careful, you could end up staying in this phase too long and enter a period of stagnation. 

Therefore you want to strike a balance between rushing your decisions and overanalysing as a form of procrastination.

Then when you have prioritised your next steps create a strategy where you can evaluate and measure your progress, ensuring that the business is heading in the right direction and not taking you away from achieving your goals.

As you move from Phase 3 to Phase 4 be aware of the danger of taking small recurring but wrong actions - making the same small mistakes over and over again.

Phase 4 - Intentional Response

Now you can start working your way through the other side of the adversity with strategic, deliberate action and when you do that business is able to rebound.

It's not a time for complacency - you need to evaluate your progress, be prepared to iterate as needed but now there is light at the end of the tunnel and you are on the path to recovery.

How long it takes you to progress through this Framework is entirely dependent on the internal actions within the business, not the external circumstances such as the economy.

External circumstances will help shape your decisions, for example you may have to pivot your business model as a lot of businesses did during the Coronavirus Pandemic, but they won't determine the rate of your progress through this Framework or how quickly you overcome adversity in business.

Phase 5 - Rise

This phase is all about being ready, prepared for the possibilities that lie ahead so that you are in a strong position to grasp opportunities as they appear.

This might be when an economy recovers and and there is a high demand. A classic illustration of this is contrasting KLM/Air France who were able to deal with the surge in demand for air travel after the pandemic as they started their re-hiring and training process at the start of the winter unlike the majority of airlines and airports which lead to the headline grabbing disruption for many travellers and holidaymakers.

You want to be prepared for what lies ahead ready to serve and fulfil those opportunities when they come. If you do that your business will be in a position to flourish.

I wanted to share this with you because it is a pattern that has been seen time and time again across many, many businesses. And if you can see this as a roadmap that you're going to take yourself through, then it's going to give you something to work towards along with hope and a light at the end of the tunnel.

There will always be a need for overcoming obstacles in business, but armed with this framework and the right evaluation and an intentional response you are in a much better position for surviving hard times and coming out the other side stronger.

Even if you do have to pivot what your business does or how it delivers the end result, the outcome that your clients want, it can be done.

The Five Functions Framework - A Simple Method To Determine What To Do Next

In its simplest form, every business has Five Vital Functions. If you take care of these, you will soon be on the road to surviving hard times in business.

Therefore, in times of adversity the Five Vital Functions Framework is an excellent place to start.

It enables your to consistently analyse your business so that you can understand your next steps, where to invest resources so that you can build momentum and get a return. It will also give you confidence to commit to your plan so that you can move forward without constantly second guessing yourself and changing direction before giving anything a chance to work.

If you don't have confidence in your plan, you won't commit to it.

What Is The Five Vital Functions Framework?

This framework is built around the client journey through your business, and if you look after these 5 functions, then business will be in good shape. Neglect any of them and business will suffer - without clients and customers you don't have a business.

The 5 Functions that make up your client journey are:

Lead Generation

This is everything that your business does that leads to some one raising their hand and giving you permission to build the relationship and market to them.

Lead Nurture

This is the relationship building part of your marketing, everything that you do to guide someone towards the conversion, becoming a client. It could be the emails you send, the retargeting ads, groups on social media etc. It's how you guide someone towards buying from you.

Conversion

This is the actual sale itself, whether that be done in your premises, online, on a call etc. Without sales you have no cashflow.

Delivery

A crucial part of business which isn't always given the attention that it deserves. This is your chance to deliver a great experience - it's everything that goes into delivering your product or service to your clients or customers.

Client Retention, Repeat Sales and Upsells

The first part of this is all about retaining your clients, making sure that they don't want a refund and that they are happy. The second part is about increasing the lifetime value of your clients or customers.

It's often said that it is easier and cheaper to make a sale to an existing customer than it is to a new one. With that in mind, you want to be able to sell them other products or services that you offer, more of what they have already bought or upgrade what they have bought so that they make a larger investment in your business, giving you a higher return on your marketing and sales efforts/investment.

How To Use The Framework For Overcoming Challenges In Business


In essence, the Five Vital Functions Framework is simple but don't let its simplicity fool you into thinking that it isn't powerful.

Write down each of the five functions above and rank each of the functions 1 to 5 with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best in how well your business is performing in each of these areas.

You may be tempted to want to achieve a 5 for each function, but if you do this honestly, there will always be functions performing better than others and that's just fine because then you know where you can improve.

No business is perfect and no business should get a perfect score in all areas as that will just lead to complacency which is a slippery slope.

You want to be able to identify the weak spots and areas that you can improve as that creates opportunity.

Once you have scored each area, look for the functions with the lowest scores - these are where you should put the effort in first.

Make a plan to improve that area of business:

  • Have a clear objective
  • Define exactly what needs to have happened for success to be achieved
  • Choose a timeframe to achieve your objective
  • Identify how often you will review progress and iterate or pivot if necessary
  • Decide the first steps that will get you started.

You can use this Framework again and again so that you always have clarity on your next priority, and develop a plan to improve that.

By consistently following this process, using this Framework, you will be making decisions and prioritising work based on the needs of the business and not based on your emotions or seeking relief. 


You will be able to move away from making decisions from a place of fear which can lead to you taking 3 steps backward for every step forward, taking you further and further away from where you want your business to be. 

Instead, you will consistently be improving lead generation, nurture, sales, delivery as well as retaining and increasing the lifetime value of your clients all of which are essential for a business to thrive whilst also giving yourself certainty and confidence.

The Key To Surviving Hard Times In Business


You now have two simple but very powerful tools whether you need to

There you have it, two frameworks that will enable you to make better decisions and help you whether you are overcoming obstacles in business or dealing with outside events such as preparing for a recession.  

Use The Adversity Framework as a mental model to prepare you for and guide you through what lies ahead and the Five Vital Functions Framework to evaluate what your business needs most and create a plan of action based on that, and not on your emotional response as you seek a sense of relief.

Know someone this might help? Share it and let me know you care.

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