Crafting a Turnaround Plan

The turnaround plan for a company in decline is like a recipe to a cook. The effective restructuring of a business requires the preparation and implementation of a viable plan. The plan must be based information gathered from financial, operating and marketing sources. Good plans must also address cost containment and revenue enhancement, providing the executive team with a step-by-step process for reversing decline and stabilizing the business. It must also lead to orderly growth promoted through a flexible strategic plan.

In turnaround planning, objectives are created that can be accomplished quickly. Therefore, a turnaround plan should be direct, with a limited life not to exceed one year. Teams should initiate tactics (for example, increasing traffic to one’s website) on a weekly basis, then shift to biweekly and monthly to keep pace with the rate of change within the business. When objectives must be accomplished over a longer time span, it is time to prepare a flexible strategic plan.

The Purpose of a Turnaround Plan

The purpose of a turnaround plan is to provide an organizational focus and a timetable for all recovery activities. For example, measurable performance standards must be enforced. Therefore, key personnel should set objectives before the actual plan is drafted to encourage employees to commit to levels of performance that they believe are attainable. The team management approach will generate the ideal environment for enforcing the mandates of the plan, since every key employee will have been involved in its formulation and implementation.

Time and Money

Because turnarounds are time and dollar critical, the team should stick to the originally drafted plan as long as its underlying assumptions remain valid. When the parameters upon which the plan has been based change, it is time to modify all portions of the plan affected. However, the team should not abandon the plan upon first confrontation with undesirable results.

Outside Parties

To satisfy outside parties interested in the cause for company decline and the solutions underway to reverse it, the plan typically contains a brief section describing the background and historical evolution of the company. Additionally, some discussion of prior operating performance and an objective assessment of the current condition can help the team highlight the events that have caused the problems. Management should then state the problems that caused the decline and follow up with the solutions that have been implemented to address it. Sections on the vision and philosophy of the company are unnecessary, though some do outline the thought process that led to current strategies and goals. However, these thoughts may be more appropriate in a flexible strategic plan, since a turnaround plan is action oriented.

Reaching Ground Zero

In environments in which the business has always made money (and may still be making marginal, though unsatisfactory, returns), it may be difficult to deal with declining profitability. Reading financial reports that signal what may be the first downturn the company has suffered is not sufficient preparation for the struggles to come.  Some find it difficult to believe that what they are reading is accurate. The impulse to ignore the signals and hope that the situation improves can be overwhelming. At some point, however, the team must deal with the facts and acknowledge that money is being lost–either as a net loss or as a smaller return–and that radical change is needed.

Being brutally honest and objective about the status of the business is hard. But, if “ground zero” is never reached, recovery cannot begin in earnest.

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