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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Here’s how to navigate a negative business encounter

Allowing every challenge to serve its purpose will strengthen your company’s reputation in the long term.

Here’s how to navigate a negative business encounter
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]

Whether it’s the impact of a prolonged global health crisis or a mismatched partnership that was all wrong from the beginning, operating an organization on a daily basis, supporting your team, and meeting client expectations, through the good times and the bad, does not come without obstacles. What sometimes seems like a series of unforeseen challenges to test your tenacity, build stronger community relations, and demonstrate credibility on the core values your company represents can actually strengthen your company.

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Below, 16 Fast Company Executive Board members reflect on how their companies have been able to rise up and revamp a sticky business situation into something good.

1. STICK TO YOUR VALUES.

We were in an exploratory period with a prospective client. While the prospect was a good market fit, they were not a cultural match for our company. We chose to withdraw from consideration and doing so saved us from a bad experience. We always believe that values and a culture match have the most correlation to a mutually successful outcome. – Matt Domo, FifthVantage

2. BE TRANSPARENT.

Every company will experience negative incidents. The brands that recover the quickest with minimal long-lasting impact are the brands that exercise transparency to both employees and customers, own the negative incident, and learn what led to this negative outcome. This is when your organization is tested and innovation transpires. – Zack Hamilton, Stingray Group, Inc.

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3. SHIFT YOUR BUSINESS MODEL.

With my second startup business, by far the hardest situation was when our business was getting crushed by a massive shift in the landscape, running out of cash, having to lay people off, and pulling off a merger in time to save the company from going under. The silver lining was that we were able to shift business models from transactional revenue to SaaS, and ultimately delivered two years later on a successful exit. – Kathy Leake, Crux Intelligence

4. LOOK TO YOUR PARTNERS FOR INSPIRATION.

As an ingredient brand, product development with our partners didn’t match. In order to minimally disrupt the ecosystem, we replicated their buying patterns of purchasing from part suppliers, not ingredient technology providers. During this process, we discovered that our software modeling technique influenced speed to development and increased real-world accuracy. There began the pivot. – Maurice Kelly, Windpact Inc.

5. PIVOT TO MEET AN EMERGING NEED.

While the pandemic caused supply chain challenges around the world, it has proven to be a watershed moment for the 3D printing industry. I’m proud that my company, together with many of our customers and partners, rallied together to quickly design and produce 5M mission-critical applications, such as PPEs, nasal swabs, and more to help healthcare workers and deliver a real positive impact on society. – Sonita Lontoh, HP 

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6. STEP INTO THE UNKNOWN.

At one point, we were solving a dicey developmental problem in a way that only sufficed, but we knew could be more efficient and produce better outcomes. It was a difficult decision to let go and step into the unknown, but once we finally made the leap, productivity and spirit began to skyrocket. So, whether you’re facing marketing, development, or any other typical startup challenges, changing heuristics can be inspiring and profitable. – Michael Becker, GeoSure Global LLC

7. TAKE THE DEVELOPMENT OF DEI INITIATIVES SERIOUSLY.

Almost two years ago, we had a high potential young person of color leave our company in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Despite our public stance, they deemed our commitment less than inspiring. Despite our outreach efforts, they left the company. The departure began our development of what has become a vibrant and active DEI program and community. – Todd Slind, Locana

8. FOCUS ON MOVING FORWARD.

Last year, we lost a team leader and it threw everyone off. Instead of dwelling on the past, I encouraged everyone to focus on the future by channeling our energy toward our users and protecting this incredible product we built. Everyone felt more conviction and motivation that translated into better communication, and ultimately, clearer priorities. Because of this, we quadrupled our growth in 2021. – Greta McAnany, Blue Fever

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9. BE FLEXIBLE.

Cinco de Mayo is our second top consumption opportunity. Just days before launching our TV spot, we decided that the creative theme was not appropriate at the time considering the surge in Covid-19 cases. So, we threw it away, planning and executing a robust digital platform in only 10 days that perfectly aligned with the consumers’ mindset at that moment. It turned out to be our best-performing campaign ever. – Ivonne Kinser, Avocados From Mexico

10. CONSIDER EXPANDING GLOBALLY.

During a period of rapid growth, my company faced geographical location and bureaucracy challenges. The key here was turning the situation into an opportunity to become proactive and look to other regions for growth. This gave me the opportunity to open my eyes toward expanding the company on an international level with many new partners. It is said that the lower you start, the more you value success and progress, and this is also a reality. – Spiros Georgiadis, Powerside

11. DEVELOP DIGITAL SOLUTIONS.

Covid-19 required us to pivot into virtual consulting without eroding our client outcomes or experiences. Our investment in a new virtual facilitation platform and online learning portal took our in-person experiential learning solutions, including role-playing, shadowing, and more, to a digital platform. Now more than 95% of our clients use these technologies, and our company posted a record year and gained market share. – Ken Thompson, AlignOrg Solutions

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12. BE READY TO WALK AWAY FROM LIMITED OPPORTUNITIES.

As a brand new company, we took on a client that ended up accounting for 90% of our income. While this was an immediate blessing, it became clear that the client wanted to keep us entirely focused on their project. After three years, we had to make the choice to disconnect from that client. It was terrifying to see my income drop, but it opened up a multitude of opportunities to grow my business. – Hannah Fryer, Brambling & Co, LLC

13. LEAN IN TO MEET NEW DEMAND. 

The Covid-19 pandemic forced many companies to close because they were unable to adjust to so many changes. However, this negative crush on business accelerated Red Banyan’s focus on crisis communications, growing our share of crisis PR work from 10% to 50% in less than a year. The increased demand for crisis PR allowed our firm to reach its crisis communications goals faster than expected. – Evan Nierman, Red Banyan

14. FIND NEW WAYS TO USE DATA.

When the pandemic hit, our team came together. Instead of being hindered by the disruptions caused by the pandemic, we were even more resolute in our mission to use data for good. We funded and developed the Urban Health Vulnerability Index in just five days to identify and support high-risk neighborhoods. It helped communities and earned us the trust and new business. – Charles Rath, Resilient Solutions 21

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15. WORK HARDER.

Losing a flagship client, not due to any fault of your own, can be a scary experience, particularly when you need them to keep the lights on. We have had this happen on multiple occasions. Necessity is the mother of invention. We have found that when doors close, windows are opened, but it may be through a lot of grit and sweat that those window opportunities arise. – Tyrone Foster, InvestNet, LLC

16. PROMOTE A BETTER WORK CLIMATE.

Recently, we had to fire a client because she was abusive and a bully to one person on our team. While it was difficult to fire her, this was one of the best actions I could have taken to boost team morale. There’s a lot less tension among the group. – Kristin Marquet, Marquet Media, LLC

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