Deer-in-the-Headlights Syndrome

The old joke says, “Eat dessert first; life is uncertain.” (I have always thought that was a good idea, by the way.)

The truth is that life is always uncertain—not just now, in times of pandemic and an economic rollercoaster. We were all blithely rolling along in January 2020 with no clue what was about to hit us. And in 2008 when the stock market tanked. And on September 11, 2001. And every other “first day” of what turned out to be a long-term crisis.

My point is that, as a business owner or manager, you live in an uncertain world, whether you acknowledge it or not. Every day. Every year.

If you are frozen like a deer in the headlights right now, uncertain what to do or how to proceed, you’ve lost sight of the fact that this is… life. The only way to get through the current situation is to go back to your core values, your initial vision, and your long-term plans.

What was it like before?

Instead of pining for things to go back to “normal” (the word should be stricken from the dictionary) it is time to determine how to be normal within the current context. This is not a head-in-the-sand philosophy, but rather an acceptance that change is perpetual. Sometimes things move in a positive direction, sometimes in a negative one; your company needs to survive in either case.

Remember those plans you made for growing your company when you started out? Or the new ones you devised as your company expanded and you met your previous goals? Go get those out. Dust them off. Forget the day’s news and tribulations, and just read them again with an optimistic heart.

If you never made a long-range plan, now is the time to do it. Put the entire Covid-19 mess aside, and focus on where you want your company to go in the next three years, five years, ten. What do you want it to look like, who do you want in key positions, what dreams do you have for building your customer base? How do you think you can get there? Write it all down.

Working the plan

Someone said to me recently, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Think of your business plan as an elephant. Every goal in it can be broken down into incremental goals, and those turn into lists of tasks that need to be done to accomplish the goal. Sharpen your pencil, make some lists.

Suddenly you’ll realize you’re thinking like a business owner, not a victim of circumstances. It is a necessary first step to moving off the dime you’ve parked on for too long.

Talk to your employees about the plan. Show them the goals, the steps, the desired results. Get their input—and don’t let naysayers drag you down. Looking down allows you to walk into streetlamps, with disastrous consequences. Looking ahead keeps all your options open.

Start assigning tasks with the assumption that the plan is still in effect and moving forward. Momentum is a powerful thing.

Others are doing it. You can, too.

Many companies hunkered down 18 months ago and still haven’t popped their heads up over the edge of the trenches they sheltered in. But when they do, what they will see is the backs of the companies that continued to work, continued to plan, continued to follow their long-term plans.

Companies have been buying other companies. New branches have opened. People have been hired and promoted. Customers are being taken care of. Cash flow is happening.

What these companies have in common is a stubborn streak of optimism, that views impediments like the pandemic or an economic downturn as the temporary crises that they are. They are staffed with horizon-viewing, keep-moving-forward visionaries who refuse to let anything define their company other than what they do to build it. It’s a gutsy way to look at it.

Ready, set, plan

Just because you have a plan doesn’t mean nothing goes wrong. There are bound to be set-backs and difficulties along the way. The purpose of the plan is to give you the all important next step when you hit a wall. Bounce off the bricks, back up, read the goal again, and brainstorm how to get around the wall. Then take off again on the road you mapped out in your plan.

See you along the road to success.

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