Mike Berlin, Executive Partner of Briteskies, shares his personal story of a health emergency and the lessons he learned along the way to recovery.
As business leaders, we are optimistic and persistent by nature. After all, that is how we achieved success. Yet this very strength can put our organizations and ourselves in harm’s way, especially when it comes to preparing ourselves and our businesses for an unexpected life crisis.
We often watch as other people face health scares, family care challenges, or sudden accidents and think to ourselves, how terrible for them, but it will never happen to me.
I learned this lesson the hard way. Having suffered fromCrohn’s disease since my twenties, I should have seen something coming and planned for it. Yet I didn’t. On Easter Sunday 2011, a fever of 106 degrees, caused by numerous serious side effects from my disease, landed me in the hospital for 30 days and snowballed into two surgeries, one of which took nine and a half hours, and an unexpected five-month absence from the company I founded.
Here are four valuable lessons I learned from my experience that can get you thinking about whether you, and your business, are prepared for the unexpected.
1. Have Difficult Conversations Now
You don’t need to suffer from a chronic disease like Crohn’s to be at risk. People get cancer and have heart attacks. Accidents happen. People die. No one really wants to talk about these unpleasant possibilities, but we need to.
Whether you’re dealing with business partners, an executive management team, a board, or other key members of your organization, talk to all of them to determine who the company can and can’t run without for an extended period. Having these difficult conversations now will allow you to develop an emergency operating plan to prepare for the five D’s: death, disability, divorce, distress, and disagreement.2. Get everything in writing.
Although verbal agreements are nice and worked out for me—as it happened, my partner and I had had one of those difficult conversations just a week before I was hospitalized—I would still recommend that you put everything in writing, with good documentation and signed.
There are many areas you’ll need to address. You may consider performing a formal company risk assessment. For smaller companies, I would recommend that you keep your operating agreements up to date and make sure they address situations like these. Conversations with other entrepreneurs have shown me that many don’t have these in place. Also, many small to midsize companies don’t have the life, disability, or income-replacement insurance to handle these situations. But once something happens it is too late.3. Ask the right questions.
There are a few basic questions you’ll need to answer about running the organization:
- Are the roles and responsibilities in my organization clearly documented?
- Do people have the necessary items, like authorization to deposit money, pay people, have access to checks, sign agreements, access documents, or open the necessary doors?
- Can every process in the organization be mapped so that the next person in line will be able to pick up and move forward should the person ahead of them fall down?
- Who is going to take care of the business’s clients, from both a strategy and a day-to-day perspective?
- Do we have the right people on the team?
The single most surprising lesson for me was that coming back was the hardest part.
In my absence the company had had to get along without me, and it did. When it came time for me to return, I was out of the loop, and my reintegration was less smooth than it should have been. In fact it was very painful for many people within our organization, including me.
We leaders of the organization should have planned for my return by talking about what had happened since my departure, what changes had been made, where people were going, and how they were getting there. Once we were all on the same page, we should have created a detailed plan for my reintegration into the organization, just as if I were new to it again. I could have met with people to let them know what I had gone through. I could have done a better job of easing in instead of depending on a big bang theory.
Consider such things carefully when you plan your reintegration.
In conclusion, don’t procrastinate. Don’t keep your head in the sand. As an entrepreneur, you must recognize that your company’s success—and its very survival—could depend on your tackling life’s uncertainty head-on.This articles was originally published in Forbes Magazine (March 12, 2013)