4 Strikes From Calamity

I’ll put forward an opinion here.

Most businesses can cope with 3 strikes but it’s the fourth one that puts you under.

I have a business that got to its 3rd strike.

Strike one was a temporary reduction in leadership. A key leader of the businesses management team was pulled out on short notice. While we had some time to prepare for the time off and the leadership gap, we naively thought we would get through. Under normal circumstances we would have.

But strike two wasn’t normal.

A massive shift in the ecosystem and wider economic stability of our industry, sent shock waves through long standing businesses. Over a period of 6 months I saw 3 well known, established competitors, go out of business. Work became harder to win as clients’ budgets tightened. Results were not forthcoming so client satisfaction dipped. All things that were not entirely in our control but they were happening and we needed to respond.

Unfortunately, as life got more difficult, our staff satisfaction dropped. Their jobs became harder to do well. Clients were less in love with us. Morale was dropping. We were missing the leadership in the business.

Strike three. Our staff started to leave. One after another over a series of months until we were down to less than the bare bones of the business. Barely able to operate and calling in favours on all fronts. We had to let go of any clients that weren’t long termers or spending over a certain level. We had to turn away new work because we couldn’t deliver. Our revenues were dropping every week. We had to carve an entire 40% of our business out and throw it away.

Strike four.

This would have been the end of us. It wasn’t because it didn’t come. Had we been hit with anything else at this point in time we wouldn’t have had resources to respond (at management or staff level) we wouldn’t have had cashflow or revenue coming in. We were scraping by.

I learned a couple of lessons about this four-strike theory:

  1. Horizon scanning
  2. Contingency/continuity planning
  3. One key interview question – how long are you looking to spend at your next company?


Horizon scanning. I remember at the time, thinking, we are really cruising along quite nicely. An old boss/mentor of mine used to say “as soon as you think everything is going fine you’re in trouble.” I used to think he was just pessimistic, but he was right. I think it is that you take your eye off the horizon and stop looking around at your wider business environment. In our case – we didn’t see the changes going on around us and we were caught with our pants down.

Continuity planning. We really should have been looking at our leadership gaps in the business before we realised we needed to look at our leadership gaps. Continuity or contingency planning for leadership means developing plans for other people within the business to step up when the opportunity is presented. Pre-training staff and management for situations where the leadership is stretched. This kind of planning could have averted our first strike and likely our third.

Lastly the interview question. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not naïve enough to think that all our staff left because they had the problem,  or no stickability etc. No, it is firmly our fault that they left. For a whole host of reasons. BUT I believe the interview question “How long are you planning on spending at your next company” highlights:

  1. That you are looking for long termers in the resulting conversation
  2. That you have someone who is more willing to dig deep when things get tough

These two things are really important to aligning interests and expectations and making sure that staff are given the support they need to stick it out when things do get tough (which they always will at some point).

We had never asked that question in job interviews previously. We focused on culture and fit and job skills and all the buzz words of the current job market. But the cost of investment in new staff is incredibly high. Hiring right the first time can save a lot of heartache and expense.

This is an example of three strikes that I experienced as part of the management team in one of my  businesses. While the strikes may vary and the results can differ – Start scanning your environment, work on your continuity plan and get the right people on board early – perhaps you can avoid reaching the third strike tipping point.

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