Oswald Letter

Focus on the Desired Outcome

You ever find yourself faced with situation that is so screwed up that no matter what solution you come up with, it’s guaranteed to be better than what’s currently being done? You think to yourself, “There’s no way I can’t make this better than it is today. It’s going to be really easy to look good no matter what I do.”

I was in a meeting the other day where a new marketing plan was presented. The persons who developed the plan put considerable thought into the approach and its merits. They had a great deal of experience with similar situations and had successfully dealt with them. And they were convinced that the plan they were recommending was the best course of action.

But there was one huge glaring problem with the plan — it did not contain a single benchmark that would allow the results to be evaluated. Since it was a marketing plan, I expected to see projections on the impact this change in strategy might elicit. Maybe a comparison of historical marketing expenditures and their effectiveness compared to the projected effectiveness of the new plan. Would we be spending less while generating the same number of new customers? Maybe we’d be spending 20% more but the result would be a 50% increase in revenue. Give me something as to why you’d suggest this plan over the current marketing plan or the dozens of other concepts you may have considered and discarded.

We got zip. Nada. Nothing.

When it was suggested that it was hard for the group to evaluate a plan that doesn’t include a single projection, number, or benchmark, the people who had conceived of the plan acted as if the thought had never occurred to them.

Suggestion #1: Never, ever, ever present a plan that cannot be measured. It’s the surest way to get a new plan shot down — even if the plan itself is sound.

Suggestion #2: If you work in an organization where you can present a plan that cannot be measured and get it approved, don’t celebrate your good fortune. Instead, run. If you’re working for an organization that is willing to expend precious resources without any accountability for the results, my guess is that the organization’s likelihood of success isn’t all that great.

Back to my story. While those who had hatched the new marketing plan readily admitted that it was a worthy idea to add some benchmarks so the plan could be evaluated down the road, they weren’t really necessary in order to approve this plan.

You might be wondering, as I was, what had allowed them to arrive at this conclusion. Well, I asked the question, “Why do you think that including projections in this plan is really unnecessary?” The answer came quickly, “Because this plan is much better than the status quo.”

Now I must admit that the existing marketing plan, or maybe it was the complete lack of an existing plan, wasn’t producing stellar results. And, I’d be willing to admit that the new plan would likely improve on the current results. So was this plan better than the current plan? Probably, even though we were never given any data that would support that claim. Not a single comparison of projected results versus the historical results under the current plan.

Was it the best plan for the organization? I have no idea. There was certainly more than one new direction in which the business could head. We weren’t presented with a number of options and then shown, quantitatively, why this one was being recommended above the others. We didn’t even hear that other plans were considered before arriving at the one being presented.

My advice to the presenters? First, focus on the desired outcome. What is it that you’re trying to achieve? What is your goal? Once you have that in hand, you work backwards to see if it’s possible and, if so, how you would achieve it. And, by the way, how long it will take to get to the goal.

All of this takes data. You must know what results you’re attempting to effect. Once you know what your current results are and how you’d like to see them change, you’re well on your way to a plan containing the proper benchmarks that will you allow you and others to measure the results.

Don’t present a plan that can’t be evaluated. Don’t present a plan without data that both substantiates its merits and the desired results you hope to achieve. Figure our first where you want to get and then decide the best route for getting there. You’ll be much better off than heading down the road not knowing where you’re going, just glad to be anywhere but here.