A guide for your practice in 2014
RAYMOND J. BRILL, O.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.O., F.O.A.A., MISSION, KAN.
“The best way to predict the future is to create it,” wrote businessman and author Peter Drucker. The best way to create it is with a strategic planning road map. A common mistake business owners make is to use strategies from the past to approach present and future issues. Contending with new laws, rules and regulations, as well as powerful competitive forces, mandates that you, the doctor, formulate a new strategic plan — a plan of action to achieve your goals that takes into account your specific practice situation.
Strategic planning allows you to counter excessive focus on short-term problems and be more omniscient in viewing your practice. It enables you to ensure that the solution to a new problem falls within the scope of your long-term view. For example, it is better to be magnanimous in dealing with an unfair Google review vs. publicly chastising the poster. Being a class act is better for your business vs. retaliating against the adverse reviewer. Planning for or solving potential problems helps in communicating with staff and patients your brand of eye care.
• Use strategic planning to counter excessive focus on short-term practice problems.
• Carrying out a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) assessment enables you to plot a course.
• Once you’ve reached your objective measures, start the process over again and plan new goals for future practice growth.
Also, strategic planning enables you to consider which matters are important, such as deciding to participate on an insurance panel or lowering prices on the spot for a contact lens patient. Finally, strategic planning allows you to identify mission-critical equipment vs. “toy-value” instruments.
Here, I discuss the steps required to forge a strategic plan so you’ll have a prosperous 2014.
1 “Know” your practice.
Consider the total scope of your business: Do you want to be all things to all people, or cater to the needs of a segment of your potential database? For example, do you want to emphasize pediatric care by providing orthokeratology and vision therapy? Do you want to see an elderly population that has cataracts, dry eye disease or AMD? Do you want to focus on fashion-conscious customers through a high-end optical?
What’s your value proposition in the marketplace? Do you deliver more services for less money (watch out here) or more for more? Do you deliver a basic, quick exam, or do you offer differentiated and comprehensive care by providing ultra-widefield retinal imaging and aberrometry on all your patients at commensurate fees?
Also, be familiar with the systems that run the practice — such as your appointment-making and recall procedures. Knowing your practice is an important starting point to achieving the next step.
2 Complete a “SWOT” assessment.
Go through a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis. The reason: A strategic plan addresses how to emphasize strengths, improve weaknesses, capitalize on opportunities — often born from the analysis of perceived threats — and handle threats.
To identify practice strengths and weaknesses, ask:
▸ How organized are the practice’s systems?
▸ What financial resources does the practice have?
▸ How valuable are the practice’s employees, technology and corporate culture, and are they in harmony with the practice’s goals?
▸ How important are the practice’s suppliers, labs, referral sources and other partnerships?
▸ How effective is the practice’s location, visibility, website, social media presence and community profile?
Show this analysis to a trusted colleague or a business advisor. Being objective about your business is difficult.
Opportunities and threats comprise the external assessment of your practice. To identify these, consider your specific marketplace and the current economic cycles. For example, did your former partner move across the street, poach your receptionist and optician and pirate your database? These external threats may be critical to your practice’s future.
Also, take into account the dynamics of your local community (such as whether your practice is comprised of mainly transient college students, making it difficult to build practice loyalty), your competitors, social trends (such as the importance of social media in your area) and norms (such as whether you practice in a primarily non English-speaking neighborhood and are expected to speak the language, but you don’t). Also, examine the local regulatory environment.
In addition consider managed care’s influence on patients and the mandate of how O.D.s will process glasses and contact lens orders. You want to determine your practice’s role in the commoditization of health care and the coordination of healthcare information in the marketplace.
Some doctors reflect on their practice’s SWOT through careful observation and solitude to reduce their thoughts to paper. Some achieve it via a retreat with staff and a facilitator. Others hire an objective observer, such as a business consultant or knowledgeable colleague. (The latter may require an investment of $30,000 or more.)
3 Turn SWOT answers into a plan.
The strategic plan generally has these components:
▸ Mission statement. This is why the practice “exists.”
▸ Vision statement. This identifies what you want the practice “to be.”
▸ SMART goals statement.
This is the specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART) goal or goals you want the practice to accomplish. Long-term goals are linked to specific short-term objectives that can be quantified in numerical terms. For example, if you want to increase your collected revenue by $120,000 in the next year, break that goal down to how many extra exams and glasses that converts to per day.
Establish goals for different time periods so that you can have incremental successes and your staff can celebrate the interim achievement of the short-term goal.
Also, be realistic. For example, instead of seeking to double your practice revenue in one year, why not aim to increase your practice’s size by 25% for each of the next three years?
▸ Action plans. These are the operations, procedures and processes necessary to execute the plan to achieve the goals. They outline staff roles.
Multiple action plans require a prioritization process and ongoing assessment of if and how the execution of the plan is proceeding. Strong communication between staff members is required throughout this process to know what works and what doesn’t. It is not uncommon to revise action plans when compared with actual results, because not all externalities can be predicted.
▸ Objective measures. Set targets in advance to know when your practice has achieved the desired level of performance and timeliness.
Call out interim milestones or benchmarks as you go through this process, even as you make course corrections, to keep everyone motivated. Once you’ve reached your objective measures, start the process again, and plan new goals for further practice growth. Post a visual dashboard of your goals, such as a poster depicting a baseball diamond and indications of when a first-base goal is achieved, etc. Provide small rewards, such as pizza, for interim achievements, and a cruise, when all goals are achieved.
Greater levels of achievement in 2014
While creating this road map may seem daunting at first, it will result in greater levels of achievement in 2014. So, make your own strategic plan, and happy travels. OM
Dr. Brill attended Illinois College of Optometry and received his Executive MBA from the Henry Bloch School of Management. He founded Brill Eye Center in 1983, where he enjoys all aspects of optometry and is an early adapter of technology. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send comments to email@example.com.