There’s a time-tested piece of business advice that I learned from a mentor years ago called the “90-Day Rule”. The basic idea is that you can expect to see results 90 days after implementing a change, new program, or initiative. This rule has served me well over the years when I’ve taken on new leadership positions, started new business units, launched new marketing programs, and implemented new business strategies. The 90-day rule is pretty universal and even works in evaluating fitness training plans. Let’s stick to business for now.
While it’s important to keep tabs on 30-day and 60-day results, the 90-day mark allows for a more complete assessment of change. Too often I see business leaders wondering why nothing is going on in their business and why results can’t be immediate. Well, good things take time. Unfortunately, we’re now a little soft in society and seem to have lost patience. We want what we want when we want it. Sadly, that’s not how life works.
So what if you have an immediate situation that can’t wait 90-days? Well, that happens too and it’s called a crisis or emergency. Crisis management is different than regular management. In crisis management you’re typically dealing with an immediate situation that requires immediate attention – negative press, failed product launch, cash flow problems, injury to personnel or property, etc. All too often business leaders make everything a crisis – which wears down staff, so morale plummets. Save the emergencies for true emergencies. A one-month loss of sales is not an emergency unless the business is having other problems such as cash flow. Assuming you don’t have a true emergency, then consider the 90-day rule.
Here’s what makes the 90-day Rule special and realistic:
- People – it takes time for people to understand and implement change. Among other things, people vary in experience, personality, flexibility, attitude, and capability. If you are trying to implement change in your organization, you will have more influence over how change is implemented. If you are trying to implement change for customers or constituents, you will have to do that on their terms – not yours. That takes time.
- Inertia – you may recall from your high school physics the concept of inertia, which is the tendency of objects to do nothing or remain unchanged. This principle is very evident in business, especially if your 90-day plan involves a customer base. Most people are resistant to change – whether it’s price hikes, service adjustments, or anything that disrupts the way things currently are. A 90-day planning horizon helps you account for inertia.
- Trends – since we mentioned physics, we might as well mention math. A single data point is not a trend, it’s simply a fixed moment with no context. Two data points can be used to draw a line. If you have three data points then you have the makings of a curve or trend line. In assessing 90-day plan results, it’s more important to know the trend than the absolute value of a single fixed point. With trend analysis, you can establish cause & effect to truly know how things are working.
- Momentum – like most systems it takes some time for things to get up to a sustainable speed. If the speed is too high, then it won’t be sustainable over the long haul and people will burn out. If there’s not enough speed, it’ll be hard to overcome inertia and get things moving. Set a pace that provides the right amount of momentum for lasting impact. With terms like inertia, trends, data, and momentum this blog post is beginning to turn into a math & science lesson, although that wasn’t my intention!
So how does a business leader put the 90-Day Rule into practice?
- Be patient – understand that what you do today may take 90 days to achieve results. A planted seed doesn’t sprout immediately.
- Be realistic – look to the past for guidance, but apply current information to set up realistic expectations. No one can “win the Internet” but you can assert a positive placement in your local marketplace.
- Be informed – do look at the results before 90 days, but don’t obsess over them. Have awareness of what’s going on and why. Resist the temptation to want an immediate ROI. That’s not sustainable and it’s bad business.
- Be consistent – avoid the temptation to adjust the plan before the 90 days have transpired. Consistently take steps in the original direction and only make the minimum adjustments needed to stay on course, which leads to the final point next.
- Be flexible – understand that things don’t always go according to plan. Be willing to make adjustments to accommodate changing circumstances.
At the beginning of 2022, we implemented a 90-day plan here at Country Fried Creative. Although 2021 was a great year for us, we felt like we could do a few things better. The executive team of Lindsey, Janine, and I developed a 90-day plan of action that we then fine-tuned with our first-line managers. Once all of us were on board, we rolled it out to the entire company. We’re in the final 30 days of our 90-day plan. So how’s it going?
Even though it was a short month, February 2022 ended up being one of our best revenue months in the history of the company. That happened even before we implemented a long-delayed price increase this month (something we haven’t done in many years). I’m feeling very positive about the 90-day expected results based on what we’re seeing so far in the first 60 days.
Yes, we take our own advice here at Country Fried Creative! Can we help you with a 90-day plan?