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Overcoming adversity in ‘the big three’ of business challenges

Customers leave. Rules changes. Technology evolves. Disasters strike, business gets downsized, expenses grow, market share shrinks. In a nutshell, adversity happens.

On this point, the movie Hidden Figures should be required viewing. It inspires us to kick adversity to the moon.

The movie highlights three African American women, each one a brilliant mathematician. They are, in large part, dismissed due to gender and race. Here’s a scene from the movie. The characters are referencing an editorial meeting addressing John Glenn’s orbit around Earth.

NASA engineer Paul Stafford: “There’s no protocol for women attending.”

Katherine Johnson: “There’s no protocol for a man circling Earth either, sir.”

The scenario isn’t just classic cinema. In business, the odds sometimes are stacked against us. While adversity may be part of the game, how you handle it determines the outcome.

Here are “the big three” business challenges along with tips on turning them into decisive victories.


One potential source of economic uncertainty occurs when we are not sure what will come from the national government regarding import/export rules, immigration policy or tax regulation. The solution is to be proactive and know where your business stands. Don’t wait for a new rule to start looking into how it affects your business.

For example, if you buy raw materials, subassemblies or finished goods from Mexico because of all the ease and free trade protections provided by NAFTA, the time to start planning for other scenarios is right now. Fact: We do not know what will happen with NAFTA, but we CAN DO these things to prepare:

  • Model the impact of higher tariffs into costs, and calculate the impact on your final price.
  • Explore alternate suppliers or estimate costs of moving production back to the U.S.
  • Make sure you have credit available with your bank in case you decide to make investments. It is always easier to get credit when you don’t need it.

Another example of economic uncertainty relates to immigration policy changes. We do not know what will happen on this front, but we CAN DO these things:

  • Estimate the impact in your business with possible changes to the guest-worker program or massive deportation.
  • Resolve not to be caught by surprise.
  • Reach out to your representatives to discuss the impact of immigration policy change in your district. Anytime is a good time to make your voice heard.

DO: Figure out different outcomes. Then line up your data and options for each one.


What I see most of the time on this point is avoidance. Owners or managers know which employees are coasting. Yet, if I look into the employee’s personnel file, you would not know anything is amiss. Why? Many managers expect the situation to magically resolve itself. The manager thinks: The employee will change, the situation will improve, the problem will go away.

It won’t. And it will probably get worse.

Take the tougher road. Have the conversation. Explain the disconnect. Give concrete examples. Outline expectations and a timeline. Set your employees up for success. Monitor and follow up. If all this is still not enough to turn the situation around, have the courage to set the employee free if they are unable to meet their commitment. Here are some other actions you can take.

  • Before hiring, take time to define the position. Ask: What are the requirements, expectations, metrics?
  • Invest time in interviewing and screening (you can use a recruiter or other outsourcing option here).
  • Perform pre-hiring tests if that is applicable.
  • Hire with confidence and review progress at predefined checkpoints.

DO: When an employee is not performing, forego wishful thinking. Turn it around – one way or another. When it comes to talent acquisition, hire slow, fire fast.


I see this one frequently. Resolving business issues can be even tougher for a family business. There’s an extra layer of complexity when personal and business lines blur. Tensions rise and those blurred lines end up looking like a Jackson Pollock drip painting – messy, disconnected and broken.

A lot of trouble can be avoided if you plan, track and talk.

  • Plan who’s responsible for what. Clearly define roles. Sounds easy, but there’s a lot of assuming that comes with a family business. (After all, you spent a lot of Christmas dinners together.) To avoid disagreements later, get agreements officially drawn up and signed on the dotted line.
  • Define and track metrics. Again, this goes back to keeping good data. Know everything about your business. You may have different options, opinions or oaths, but you should be disagreeing later on about the figures. Think of your business like a first date – venture to know everything about it.
  • A family business is not the time to keep family secrets of how you feel about the business. Schedule regular conversations – a small act that elevates the importance of communication among leadership.

DO: Embrace transparency. Know everything there is to know about the family business. Work hard to be on the same page early and often.

A word before we close. When you think you have all the answers, life changes the question. It’s rather demoralizing sometimes. Hey, I thought I had it, now what?

The good news is positivity is free and plentiful. If your reaction to adversity is “why bother?,” then adversity will win. What if, though, you welcomed uncertainty? Well, maybe you end up changing your business, figuring out your customers better, unraveling how the economy might work.

It’s not positivity for the sake of wearing a smile. It’s accepting that business comes in stages, like a game. You go from easy Sudoku to medium to hard. Really, it’s positivity born from layers of confidence.

As you get ready for the next lesson – with data in hand and positivity – you can handle anything. ANYTHING. Life is not a video game of Mario Brothers where you’ve got eight worlds to go through, then save the princess and it’s over.

Nope, you always have one more level to dominate over adversity.