Delivering During Disruption

I’m moving house at the moment.  We’re not moving far, just a couple hundred metres up the road, but we still have to pack everything up, put it in boxes, shift it to the new place, unpack and resettle.  It’s a fair bit of work.

I’ve done a ton of things to try and make this move as easy as possible.  I’ve focused a fair bit of attention on throwing stuff away.  Simply not having to actually pack stuff up and unpack it is a massive time saver and there’s something to be said for decluttering.  We’ve got movers coming on Monday, we’ve got cleaners coming Tuesday to clean the place up and we took the new place a few days early so we could have some overlap to move a few things ourselves.

But it’s still a massive disruption, especially when you run a business out of your house AND you have a full-time job.

I want to talk about what this means for the business and how you have to cope with disruptions so that you don’t fall too far behind or worse, lose clients.  Some of this is going to be pretty counterintuitive and probably not the advice most people would give you, so sit back and enjoy.

My primary rule with this move was not to make a big deal about it and do something stupid like send an email to all of our clients telling them it was happening.  I didn’t hide the fact that we were moving and many of our clients get these daily emails, so they would know from reading these, but I didn’t run a full-page ad in the New York Times.

I think you have to be smooth in your operation and shield the bedlam from your clients whenever possible.  Telling clients about everything that’s going on in your crazy neck of the woods is a recipe for disaster.  Your clients and customers are paying you to be a safe pair of hands for them, they don’t want to know your gruesome details on the delivery side.

The second point is associated with the first; what do you do when a client asks about the disruptions or what’s going on.

I downplay it.  I actually did it in the opening of this email.  Yes, we’re moving, but it’s only a couple hundred metres up the road, no big deal.  We’ve given ourselves plenty of time and we’ve hired experts to help with the move.

I immediately try to reduce the risk by downplaying it and ensuring everyone that we have everything in hand.  The honest answer is, you either have it in hand or you don’t – no use worrying people unnecessarily.

The third rule is around what happens if the disruption causes a delivery delay or hurts your ability to do some work.  Again, being totally honest, this is happening to our business right now.  Some things that we wanted to deliver late this week and early next has just slipped behind schedule.

The way we’re dealing with this is again, pretty simple.  We’re calling people as soon as we realise we’re going to be late, telling them we’re moving house (and thus the business) and as a result, their delivery is about a week behind schedule.

Want to hear something funny though?  I’m not apologising.  Not at all.

That may seem weird, but the reality is, I’m not particularly “sorry” or even disappointed, it’s just a thing.  I’ve explained in advance that we’re not going to meet a date, I gave an alternative date and left it at that.  These things happen.  I’ve not had a single customer complain and in fact, three or four thanked me for giving them ample heads up.

The final rule for dealing with disruption is to cut back on what you’re doing until you’ve got things under control.  I like to write these emails daily, so I’m going to continue doing that, but a bunch of the other stuff that I do in the business will just be put on hold for a couple weeks.  In fact, I’ll probably take the rest of June off.  My wife has planned ahead with some of her deliverables in the business and worked ahead the last two weeks so she built some slack into her schedule for next week.

The key though is to not overload yourself and try to be superhuman.  You need to do make certain that you’re not putting yourself under so much pressure that you end up cracking and getting nothing done or you start rushing and the quality of the work suffers.  Just accept that you’re struggling with lower than normal capacity during the disruption and focus on getting past that so you get back to maximum efficiency as quickly as possible.

Sure, you may have to put in a bit of extra work here and there to dig yourself out at the end but it’s better than rushing around like a headless chook trying to do a dozen things at once and doing them all badly.

So the big takeaway from all this is, keep cool and stay focused.  Whenever you have a disruption that affects your business, the best thing you can do is to work on overcoming that as quickly as possible so that you get back up to full speed.  With respect to clients, sometimes too much transparency is a bad thing – just handle your stuff quietly and efficiently, there’s no need to “warn them” about stuff that may or may not impact them.  If you see the disruption causing something to slip, let them know as soon as you know.

Probably the most controversial part of this is my “no apology” stance.  Being Canadian, I tend to apologise for things by default, but in situations like this, I tend not say sorry on principle.  I haven’t caused anyone to miss their deadline, nothing that’s been delayed is going to cost anyone any money and out of courtesy, I warned them that things may be a few days later than anticipated.  No harm, no foul, so no need to apologise.  If on the other hand you’ve dropped the ball badly and caused a problem for a client, then you should apologise, but that’s not what happened here.

Disruptions happen in life and in business.  Ideally, you’ll have some slack in your systems and processes to make up for any unexpected delays.  If you know there’s going to be some kind of disruptive event take place in advance, then do your best to plan for it.  Above all else though, just try and keep yourself calm so that you can get past it and move forward.

Leave a Comment