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Where Are We Going?

“Planning is bringing the future into the present, so that you can do something about it now.”
-Alan Larkin, planning consultant

Not long after I finished my residency, my wife Sandy and I decided to meet with a financial advisor to create a plan for paying down our student debt and buying a house. Prior to meeting with the advisor, if we were asked where we were going, we would have answered with the name of a grocery store, restaurant or movie theatre. If pressed for longer term plans, we gave the location of our next holiday trip. We were surprised when our advisor asked us where what our goals were for the 5, 10, 20, 40 years. The thought crossed our minds, who cares about the next 5 or more years, we are more focused on making loan and house payments in the coming months.  Furthermore, up to this point our paths had been determined by our college curriculum. Regardless, we sat down and answered a series of questions, and made assumptions about the future that prompted us to plot a path for our personal and professional lives. When did we want to start a family? When should we buy a new car? How would we advance in our careers? When would we like to retire (yes, we were asked when we would like to retire, even thought we had barely begun our careers!)? Fast forward 25 years. We are sitting at our dinner table with our children and I pull out the “life plan” that we created 25 years earlier. To our surprise, we had met many of our goals. Admittedly, my orthodontist wife’s “stretch goal” plan to own a shoe store had not come to fruition.

Why am I telling you this? Because the exercise of sitting down and thinking about goals for the future created a discipline that allowed us to plan for and realize goals that we had not, up to that point, even thought about. We came to see the value and power of a structured process for creating a plan.

In early September I had the honor and privilege to participate in a strategic planning session for the AAE.  It was like what Sandy and I had done over two decades ago, but on steroids. Under the guidance of Tecker International, the AAE methodically, thoughtfully, and inspiringly begun creating a strategic plan for the next several years.

The AAE is not new to strategic planning. In fact, the AAE has taken a disciplined approach to planning for over a decade.  Our current strategic plan, developed in 2017, set three goals:

Goal 1: The public will value saving their natural teeth and seek endodontists – the specialists in saving teeth – for their care.

Goal 2: The dental profession will value endodontists as partners with advanced expertise in providing patient care.

Goal 3: AAE and its members will be recognized as the global leaders in advocating the value and quality of endodontics.

The successes of the AAE 2017-2022 Strategic Plan have been numerous and impressive. We launched a multi-year public campaign that has helped put endodontists on the map through a robust digital presence and media tours, placements and stories. We’ve dispersed thousands of copies of educational newsletters and position statements. We’ve partaken in international conferences and launched – and then relaunched a new and improved 2.0 version of – AAE Connection, where members can search, find and connect with peers worldwide via the Membership Directory.

There are many other wins, and to help discover them, I suggest perusing the comprehensive – which was redesigned in 2018 and is itself yet another award-winning success we can add to our long list.

Our current strategic planning process started months ago with an environmental scan and included surveys and discussions with AAE leadership and our corporate partners. Our Board members and staff were asked to identify key drivers of changes – conditions or dynamics that will make our relevant tomorrow very different then today. These included recognition of market forces including advancements in technology, and patient preferences. We also discussed how these changes would impact our specialty to determine the AAE response to these predicted changes.

With this background, the Board and staff spent hours creating goals and desired outcomes leading to specific strategies for their achievement. I was impressed by the creativity, commitment, and collegiality of the group as we tackled challenging questions. Our conversations were informed and enhanced by a diversity of opinions and experiences. Where there were differences of opinion, there was thoughtful discussion which led to a consensus. In the coming months the AAE Board and staff will share this new plan and produce a year-by-year strategies so annual progress can be measured.

Just as we set our individual goals help us to focus our time and energy, our AAE strategic plan will “bring the future into the present” and guide the use of our resources to increase the impact our organization and, improve the lives of the patients we serve. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Greatness is not in where we stand but in what direction we are moving. We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it — but sail we must and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”

I look forward to working with the Board and staff to finalize the strategic plan, presenting it to our members in the coming months, and working with all of you to get us to the exciting destinations identified in our plan.