We are probably all familiar with the idea that animals (including humans), when under threat, respond with a Fight or Flight impulse. We either seek to disengage from the situation or we seek to repel the unwanted intruder.
In reality there is a third recognised response – Freeze
In this response we freeze either to play dead in the hope the predator will lose interest and pass us by or we are so overloaded we cannot process the information and so we seize up.
In freeze we are disengaging from the emotional impact, refusing to recognise the effect external events are having on us but in reality they are still having an impact. So we may say there is nothing we can do about falling sales, consoling ourselves that it is the “recession” but loss of revenue will eventually cripple the business.
Symptoms of Freeze
There are a number of signs to watch out for including
Areas you do
Review the same issues at management or team meetings without taking a final decision and getting them off the table
Find decisions are second guessed by individuals outside team meetings
Your business plan shows growth based on external factors e.g. general economic improvement
You tell yourself that you need more detailed information before taking a decision?
Areas you don’t do
Actively engage with existing or lapsed customers or your offering
Share information and views openly within the management team
Do you celebrate small wins
Do you constantly ask questions
How do we Thaw?
The trick here is not to react but to ACT. It is important on so many levels that we take some control of the situation. This does not mean that we can control or shape external events; rather that we accept them and control our reaction to them. It is important for our own health as, if we feel disempowered, we are more likely to suffer from stress and related illnesses or seek escape in drugs or alcohol. It is important that managers and staff feel a level of responsibility and ownership of their feelings to leverage the collective resources effectively.
What can we do to ensure we are acting appropriately to thaw ourselves out?
The best way is to thaw from the inside out. While areas such as pricing, customer proposition, branding and marketing are all important they will only chip away at the outside. Far better to thaw from the inside freeing up all the trapped energy as we go building momentum contributing to a faster thawing process.
Look to change your perspective. For example, the travel agency business went through a revolution when they had to move from being the manufacturers’ (typically airlines) distribution arm to being an agent for the consumer. If we are fighting we need to be clear on who the enemy is. For example, is it the competition or is it the behaviour of customers – Is the response to beat the competitors or to educate the customer. How best can you serve your market place?
Accept where you are with no judgement – don’t analyse how we got here. Remember that we are all responsible for our actions in the face of external events and it is these actions that will define us. So instead of saying “the customers are only interested in short term costs” say “I have not convinced customers of other cost benefits we can bring “ or “I choose to continue to deal with customers where we are not making money.” In these latter two scenarios we have something to work with. Not only can we start to change but the solutions often appear in the honest recognition of the challenge
Movement: It is important to take small decisions to create small movement. These decisions may not solve the company’s issues overnight but they will build momentum and confidence as we start to reassert control over our own environment (actually control over our actions in the face of the environment.)
Use a Board or trusted advisors to talk through your processes and actions to help mirror back your behaviour. It is important that the advisors are comfortable in doing more than agreeing with you and where possible are familiar with the personal challenge you are facing in running the business, function or project