Plans Are Meant to Be Modified

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I’m a big believer in planning. I’m a bigger believer in the ability to turn on a dime and change a plan, when circumstances dictate.  This is true for plans that range from annual strategic plans to detailed five- and ten-year projections.

Twenty years ago, I was the CEO of a startup in the dental field, called Renaissance Dental. My company put a lot of time and effort into developing a plan to aggregate lots of small dental practices and achieve savings by centralizing functions like billing and appointments. From the outset, we met a decent amount of resistance to the concept. Funny, but there was a reason so many dentists practiced on their own. They wanted to! So, we went back to the drawing board. The reality was that our original plan, no matter how invested we were in it, wasn’t appropriate for the existing circumstances. Meaning, it wasn’t likely to succeed.

So, instead of pushing forward with the plan despite the resistance we were experiencing, we “did a 180,” scrapped the old plan, and came up with a new one. The first Internet boom was underway, and we decided that we would be more successful as an Internet services company for the dental field than as a practice aggregator. We had several tough decisions to make. For starters, we didn’t have anyone with website design experience. Additionally, we had a high-priced director of operations for whom we no longer had a position.  Within a few months, we had parted ways with that director and decided to send another employee to school for web design. To this day, that woman is a talented and successful web designer.

The take-away from this story is that it’s important to recognize when a business plan needs to be modified. How do you know it’s time? Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan until you’re punched in the face.” But, what if you aren’t metaphorically punched in the face? What if it’s much subtler, to the point where you don’t even know for sure whether to stick with the plan or modify it? Here are some tips to help you work through the process:

  • Get objective input. When you are trying to determine if it’s time to change a plan that you came up with yourself, or one that you’ve been working under for a long time, it’s likely that you are too close to the situation to be sufficiently objective. If it’s a major work initiative, your colleagues may be too close to it as well. Your spouse or significant other may not be especially objective either. This might be a good time to tap into a mentor, outside consultant, or former colleague. When we first considered making the change discussed above, I enlisted two of my conservative lawyer friends for advice and counsel. When they both signed off on the wisdom of making the change, my confidence soared. 
  • Put together competing business cases. What will the business look like in a year, three or five, if you stay the course? How about if you initiate the change in plan? This is exactly what we did with Renaissance Dental. We did two detailed five-year plans, complete with pro formas. Then, we presented them to friends at an outside investment firm for their analysis, as though we were seeking financing.
  • Be bold, but don’t underestimate the human toll. Some people are energized by change, but others are petrified by it. Take stock of your staff and try to assess how they will respond to a change in plan. Give all employees the time and space to process the change, and make sure to tell each one what it will mean for them, personally.  It’s important for everyone to be on board.  Even one outspoken critic can diminish a project’s likelihood of success tremendously. At Renaissance, we had a very willing group, for the most part. Still, we explained the possible risks and rewards to each person individually.

So, as you can see, my company altered its business plan, following the points above. Renaissance Dental became rdental.com. We changed roles and, in a few cases, personnel, including terminating a loud, unrelenting critic. We then attracted an $8 million investment from WebMD, which, at the time, was the preeminent company in the field.  

If you need an objective set of eyes to help you come up with a new plan, either for your job search or for long- or short-term work strategies, email bob@epi.coach or give us a call at 301-520-9511.

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