In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross outlines the five stages of grief individuals experience when faced with catastrophic personal loss. The five stages are:
In one form or another, businesses too experience these five stages when faced with crisis or catastrophe. These 5 stages of business grief are related to loss. For a business, this can be loss of income, customers or the enterprise as a whole.
While an individual must progress through the grief cycle at their own pace, it’s important for businesses to arrive at the final stage of acceptance as soon as possible so that corrective action can be taken before things get too far out of hand. The following is an illustration of how each of the 5 stages of business grief might play out in a company.
Stage 1 – Denial
The first stage of business grief is denial. The business owner may try to shut out reality or create an alternate reality that is preferable. They may try to convince themselves that the situation is just temporary or that the crisis won’t affect them or their industry. Some may even hire consultants to validate the status quo rather than deal with the problem.
Stage 2 – Anger
The delayed reaction caused by denial gives rise to feelings of anger. At this stage of business grief, the business owner may start to play the blame game. Why are greedy suppliers flooding the market and driving down prices? Why are my customers so disloyal and squeezing me on my pricing? Why can’t my people just do their jobs right? Some owners may turn the blame inward and chastise themselves for not seeing the crisis coming.
Stage 3 – Bargaining/Rationalization
At this stage of business grief, business owners will often reach out to third parties to weather the storm. Some will ask vendors to extend payment terms. Some will negotiate with bankers for cushion on debt covenants or to extend lines of credit. Many daydream about the big contract they’re about to win that will turn things around.
Stage 4 – Depression/Despair
Oftentimes, bargaining during a crisis doesn’t solve the problem. Vendors are often over-extended to their suppliers, banks are having to tighten up on controls and customers are hesitant to take on new projects due to uncertainty. When the reality of the situation dawns, owners may fall into despair. After all, what’s the point in soldiering on if the underlying cause is out of your control?
Stage 5 – Acceptance
Most business owners are made of pretty sturdy stuff and will not allow themselves to wallow in self-pity for long. Consequently, they will make peace with the threat and begin to develop a strategy to deal with it. How? By focusing on what’s working and eliminating what isn’t. By transferring resources to more profitable products and eliminating those products that kill margins. By hugging their best customers and firing the problem ones. By unleashing the creativity in their best employees and purging the ranks of bad hires.
Crisis and catastrophe are inevitable in a business. The key is to recognize the crisis and resolve the 5 stages of business grief quickly to get back on track.