Last week I had the opportunity to help a client walk through the decision of whether or not to make an acquisition. A simple list of advantages and disadvantages is a typical step we’re all familiar with. But when an opportunity has enough potential risk I think processing the fears/risks is critical to making the decision. Or, if the decision has already been made, a process to get team-member fears out in the open and discussed eases people’s fears and helps them get on board with decisions more quickly and more passionately. To do this, I want a process that will help us not get stuck in what could go wrong but presses on to problem-solving and contingency planning.

Here’s the process I took the group through.

The first step is to list every fear you can possibly think of. Anything that could go wrong. Potential costs incurred. Associated risks. Feelings that could get hurt. Relationships that could go sideways. Problems that will arise. Disasters that could occur. Anything and everything goes on the list—you’re brainstorming so get it all out in the open. Get at least twenty items, preferably more than thirty. Once that’s done, and not until it’s done, select the ones that really matter. Usually, there will be about five.
Then for the ones you select, work through each asking how the problem could be avoided. More often than not it’s fairly simple to avoid—communicate with the right people, take appropriate safety measures, perform proper due diligence, make sure the right processes are in place, etc.

After discussing how the problem could be avoided, figure out your contingency plan for if the fear comes to pass. How would you repair the problem?

Listing fears, figuring out how they could be avoided, and planning how to repair them is a great way to ease the fear associated with opportunity.

-Eric Smith