istock_000000782600xsmallThis morning on my way to school I fell down the stairs.  It was my own fault.  I had my gigantic school bag and my huge purse hanging off one shoulder.  Slippery sandals on.  And both hands were full.  Oh, and did I mention there was a cute kitten at the bottom of the stairs too?

I was trying to carry too many things and my attention got diverted.  I could hardly avoid a fall with all of those things working against me in slippery shoes.  I literally fell.  These same types of things happen to individuals and companies, on a more figurative level, and the recovery process is quite similar.

First things first.  Assess the damage.  In order to respond appropriately you need to be sure you know the extent of the damage.  Are any bones broken? Or, have you blundered so badly that relationships have been harmed? Public perceptions on the line?  You have to figure out what’s hurt and how deep the damage runs.

Once you’ve figured that out you can decide how to handle the situation.  Can you stand up? Or do you need to break out the 911 emergency phone call?  If its a minor blunder and you’re un-hurt then just pick yourself up and dust off your bum.  No harm, no foul.  You’ve made a mistake, admit it.  Then you can move on and hopefully avoid making the same mistake in the future.  Now, if you’re seriously hurt or your brand has received a whoopin’ its time for triage.  If you’ve accidentally insulted someone or a group of people, admit your fault quickly and apologize SINCERELY. The sincerity is of utmost importance.  If you are not genuine your audience will see right through this and your wound will not heal as fast and will likely become infected.  If reparations are needed beyond an apology or simply fixing the (source of the) problem, make them where necessary.

Hopefully at this point you’re back on your feet.  The embarrassment has likely passed and if you’ve handled the situation appropriately the witnesses to your spill have moved on.  Sure they’ll still tease you about it once in awhile, but the sting will have dissipated.  Now that the crisis is over its critical that you take a step back, a deep breath, and figure out what happened.  Why did you fall down in the first place?  Were you trying to take on too much? Were your hands so full that you couldn’t catch yourself before you lost your balance?  Or were you distracted by a new ‘bright shiny thing’, or a cute furry kitten?  Sure we’re all guilty of this once in awhile, but in a perfect storm these things work together and can create a tragic fall.  This is a good opportunity to take a look at your strategic focus and re-align if necessary.  Get your bearings and concentrate on your core product or competitive advantage.

Focus is back.  You know why you fell.  The damage has been repaired.  One of the last steps  is to put processes in place to keep this from happening again.  These processes will be different for every individual and/or company.  For some it might mean expending more energy listening to the public ‘stream’ (most likely via social media) so you can see these things coming. For others it could mean having regular gut-check sessions to ensure there’s been no scope creep.  For me, well I’m going to take an extra trip to the car next time, and those shoes…….well they’re cute so they’re staying.  I’ll just be more careful next time :)