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Business Means Risk

Four-Step Framework to Help Plan Post-Disruption

by David Giersdorf

Editorial Note: This article is an excerpt from David Giersdorf’s Hard Ships: Navigating Your Career, Industry, and Life through the Fog of Disruption, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers March 25th.

Executives, founders, and entrepreneurs who’ve built or run successful enduring companies use this four-step framework to plan a strategy following a disruption. These instructions offer guidance to let you plan specific to your needs.

1. Square Up

See the big picture for what it is and what it could become. Decide: “Eyes on the Prize” or “Find The Exit.” Square up your objectives to what must come first.

At what point in recovery does it make good business sense to transition from defense to offense, from responding to events to influencing outcomes?

Your priority placement on your list of steps reflects your experience, judgement and objectives. Look forward to those goals without looking past what has to get done first. If you cannot identify a compelling reason, a “Prize” to fight for, then frankly consider whether you should be exploring all your options for completely exiting the situation and starting fresh. Sometimes carrying forward the weight of the past makes no sense.

2. Layer Priorities

Develop a range of detailed scenarios to help you uncover those key variables that define your situation and which of those variables is common to launching any of those scenarios. The variables common across different scenarios are the ones to focus on most.

As you act on your first step, consider how you’ll incorporate your second, third, and so on. Each must build on the next while still keeping your first step, well, first. For example, in the aftermath of COVID, cruise lines are focused on “restart”, with the first step of completing voyages with successful new protocols to prevent an occurrence of outbreak. A second step will be bringing multiple ships into service. A third step is to rebuild overall guest capacity, cruise lengths, the number of itineraries and destinations.

The key in layering your steps one on the next is to do so one at a time. Only add the next layer once you’ve confirmed you’re able to achieve the one before it. Layering prevents discouragement and builds motivation. Proceed slowly, deliberately, one step at a time. Soon the edge of the fog is in sight. You know what comes next and you have an order of priority.

“Test the market. Bump up hard against reality for feedback. Leave yourself room to back-paddle as you explore each avenue. But then you must choose to enter the stream, be carried forward, and never look back.”

3. Probe and Test

In the midst of a crisis, I had a vivid dream in which I was floating in a small isolated lake high in the mountains. The lake fed several small rivers that flowed in different directions, to different destinations. It was impossible to know which of those rivers was the right one to carry me out of the lake to my hoped for destination. I would allow myself to be drawn into the headwaters of a river by its current, just far enough to get an idea of what lay ahead, but not so much that I could not furiously paddle my way back to the safety of the lake. I probed each river in this way, thinking “which one, which one?” And then I had to make that total commitment to a single direction, that is so difficult in uncertain circumstances.

The dream could not have been more clear. It was a reminder that it was time for me to probe the options and to make a committed decision based upon the information available. You must do the same. Test the market. Bump up hard against reality for feedback. Leave yourself room to back-paddle as you explore each avenue. But then you must choose to enter the stream, be carried forward, and never look back.

4. Seek & Accept Feedback

A cruise ship requires many hands to make a voyage. There are those you are responsible for and accountable to—stakeholders, regulators, employees, management, customers, the general public, your community, and your family. Listen to them. Ask for counsel where appropriate.

In the cruise industry, we ask specific questions of previous guests and prospects about when they would be ready to cruise again, and under what conditions. We observe their behavior in the form of information requests and bookings, where we can see precisely the calculus of our customers’ purchasing behavior (or lack thereof) as it relates to different destinations, time periods and cruise lengths.

If you’re dealing with a business, career or personal crisis, address those you are closest to who are most impacted. They will help you define the new rules and path to recovery that is on the horizon.

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