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Builders: How to survive when your business plans fail

Get perspective in business

Revised business planning is best done at a higher altitude

The New Year (or new financial year)  is when we think about the future. We kick back, talk over BBQs, strategise and set huge goals for life and business. Great!

Yet sometimes, our plans get shot up at the first engagement. So, how do we get my new year’s business plan back on track? What can you do when adverse weather, supplier delays, staff mistakes, or any one of the hundreds of other things that can go wrong do, and threaten the very existence of your business?

Yes, it happens. It’s not unusual for small businesses to experience sudden disruption. It can be scary and the financial implications can be huge.

But it need not be the end of the road. When your business plan gets derailed you can take action. But before you act…

1 Acknowledge the frustration

Admit your irritation. You need to face your annoyance and your anger before diving in to effect change. If you act before surmounting these you are likely to over-react and maybe even augment the problem.  So deal with your frustration – where you won’t say or do something you will regret. Then get over it!

2 Define the mountain

Get a realistic measure of the true size of the “mountain.” It’s likely you’ll need to make changes, but first make a short list of the things that have gone wrong and their impact, so your intervention will be based on reality. Under pressure it’s easy to awfulise.

This list is now your “new” current situation. Hopefully things won’t get any worse, but if they could get worse then add them to your list as worst case scenarios. Writing it all down not only helps you get a better idea of what is actually wrong (the true reality), it also helps you see the upper limit of the damage. Once the worst is defined (the mountain) it can’t get any bigger.

But you can.

3 Change your view point

Take a lesson from the beewolf, a wasp that builds nests in the sand. Before leaving the nest the beewolf notes the tunnel’s position by proximity to local markers (stones, cones etc.) and makes her return by reference to these marks. No lesson there!

Intrigued by the beewolf’s ability to find its way back to a specific spot in the sand, Dr Nicolaas Tinbergen (who was studying the beewolf) moved some of the markers to another place. Not surprisingly the beewolf returned to the wrong spot in the sand. What is remarkable though is that the beewolf didn’t give up. Rather, the Beewolf flew to a higher altitude and referenced more distant markers (bushes, shrubs etc.). Relocating the tunnel entrance, it then flew directly to it.

Here’s the lesson: Revised planning is best done at higher altitude.

So before you re-act, step up and look at the bigger picture. Get a clear picture of the new situation in relation to your long term plan and hold onto this as you move into “fix-it” mode.

4 Major or Minor

Changing  your perspective will help you determine if it really is a major event in the greater scheme of things. It will give you a better sense of proportion and protect you from over-reaction should it just “seem like” disaster.

Ask questions: Do I need to make drastic or just temporary changes? Is this event life-threatening to the overall direction of my plan, or just to the timing or the means? e.g. Do I need to change personnel immediately (e.g. replace a foreman) or persevere with who I have?

Do a quick assessment of the critical nature of each element and determine whether they need major or just minor intervention.

5 Correct the long-term faults concurrently

Disruptions are also a good time to reflect on whether they might be indicative of a major failing that could be repeated, such as mistakes in pricing method, design or scheduling or inadequacies in quality management, reporting or training.  

Ensuring the appropriate action is taken is just as important as taking action itself. While of course you need to take responsible action immediately, and fix what needs fixing, it is important that you don’t stop once you have “fixed it.” Should you move on without making definite plans for correcting any deeper issues that have arisen, you may set yourself up for a similar thing to happen again. Disaster!

For example. A builder I work with discovered floor joists fixed 25 mm out and a retaining wall 50 mm out of position at one end. Unnecessary mistakes that skilled tradesmen shouldn’t make. Was it a real significant error? No, not really. But did it reveal an underlying cause? Yes. There were no checklists requiring sign off. Solution? Create and train the team in their use.

So, to sum up

There are times in the year (e.g. new year’s day, beginning a financial year) when it’s traditional to make plans and dream about what could be. But sooner or later those plans will be challenged. Don’t be surprised. Few business plans ever go “according to plan.” And success is less about getting the plans right as about handling the disruptions that cause plans to go wrong!


In the comment section below, share your recovery story.

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