Business Bombshells: How to Handle Bad Surprises
Most people like surprises—that is, when they’re gifts, good news, or spontaneous celebrations. But as we all know, surprises can take many forms, and sometimes, they’re not welcome interruptions from the status quo. Speaking personally, my husband has only been able to surprise me twice during our marriage, but they were both good surprises. At work, however, I’ve been surprised more times than I can count. And more often than not, those surprises were anything but good, at least at the outset. After all, in business, surprise is usually synonymous with curve-ball or obstacle—it’s not something to celebrate, but something to solve. We’ve all been handed lemons at some point in our careers, but with so much already on our plates, who wants to stop and make lemonade? That’s why I try to minimize surprises in the workplace as much as possible.
How to Avoid Surprises:
- Keep the door open. It’s hard to be surprised if you’ve got your eye and ear on everything that’s going on. Be an open-door leader who’s actively involved in managing your team’s ups and downs. That doesn’t mean you need to hover and micromanage—but ask questions and follow up with the team. Let the team know that you’re available to address issues as they occur. This will keep little hiccups from becoming disastrous surprises.
- Encourage peer performance checks. Nobody likes a snitch—but if you implement a policy of checks and balances, where people are held accountable for their performance, those on the team are expected and encouraged to keep their peers on track. When a common goal is outlined, the benefits of strong performance are across the board—as are the detriments of poor performance. When a team is afraid to talk with each other and inform their leader about a dip in performance, surprise, the problem keeps growing.
- Anticipate the issues. When the storm clouds start stirring, and the warning bells start blaring, it’s time to take cover. Before…not after the storm. It’s too late once the disaster has already struck. In other words, keep looking two steps ahead, making sure things are running smoothly and there are no possible surprises on the horizon. When the team does anticipate a potential issue, it’s imperative to inform up the chain of command.
- Be honest. Don’t lie to the team or to the boss. Sweeping problems under the rug and hoping for the best almost ensures an unwelcome surprise down the road.
How to Handle “Bad” Surprises:
- Implement your Contingency Plan. When things go awry, you have two choices: panic and go down in flames or deal with it and implement your contingency plan. Wait, you don’t have a backup plan? Then it’s going to be a lot harder to deal with a “bad” surprise. The more informed you are and the more you know what’s going on, the more you can anticipate potential problems and prepare for them. In other words, if you’ve got an “escape route” mapped out, you’re more likely to survive.
- Act fast. Business bombshells do get dropped from time to time. And when they do, you must act quickly and avoid dragging your heels. A bad surprise can quickly become a sinkhole or a landslide if you don’t address it head-on and implement a plan to keep moving forward.
- Get help. Egos often get in the way in leadership—but WOWs are never too proud to ask for help. Many bad situations can be managed and corrected quickly if others are brought in on the problem before it gets too big. Get help and get over the hurdle with the support of those you trust.
- Learn from it. Surprises often mean that someone dropped the ball or failed along the way. Whether it was an individual fumble, a team issue, or a management foible, there’s something to be learned from the mistake. Don’t let anger, regret, or blame take over when you’re hit with a bad surprise. This will solve nothing. Learn the hows, whys, and what-not-to-do-agains, and you can turn a negative into a positive.
Nobody wants a business bombshell dropped on them, but every now and then a bad surprise shakes up the system. Avoid these tiny disasters by “surprise-proofing” yourself and your team with great communication, planning ahead, and being honest. And for those times when a surprise still occurs, deal with it by acting fast, getting help when it’s warranted, and implementing a backup plan of action. That’s how you turn those “Whoa!” moments into WOW moments.