When Should You Abandon Ship?

There’s an old adage in seamanship that you never abandon your boat until you have to step up into the life raft. That’s the benchmark—when the boat’s deck has sunk below the sides of the life raft, it’s time to abandon ship.

Many business owners and managers have established goals and action plans for how to achieve those goals. They have also established benchmarks to objectively determine when a particular course of action is considered a success. Yet how many have established a benchmark to objectively determine when a particular action plan has failed and should be abandoned?

Management guru, Peter Drucker’s theory of “purposeful abandonment”* counsels business executives to quickly sever projects, policies and processes that have failed to meet expectations or have outlived their usefulness. To benefit from Drucker’s advice, it makes sense to establish an abandonment point for every initiative along with its goal.

Include in each of your action plans benchmarks that clearly define when each course of action should be abandoned. Base those benchmarks on both internal measures and the external environment. For example, when sales of widget 37A falls below 10 units per month for three consecutive months, you stop offering it for sale. Or when the cost of diesel fuel climbs above $4 per gallon for more than 60 days, you abandon your free freight program.

Drucker also advocates setting aside one day per month for abandonment meetings. At each meeting you review various initiatives, and for each one you decide whether to stay the course, keep moving toward the goal but change tactics, or to abandon the effort all together.

By taking a concerted and proactive approach to identifying what you won’t do anymore, Drucker suggests, you avoid being overtaken by events and squandering your best resources on things you should never have been doing or should no longer do. As a result, you will have the resources and people you need to exploit the opportunities that arise.

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*Peter F. Drucker, The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done.

Bob Roitblat
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Bob Roitblat

Bob Roitblat is a Leadership Capabilities Expert and TEDx speaker. He helps organizations ignite creativity, overcome challenges and capitalize on opportunities. Bob is also the president of Mainsail Consulting Group, a business-advisory firm. Also connect with Bob on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.

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Bob Roitblat
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