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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor February 20, 2008 - Tip #316 
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Host an Organizational Retreat

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Do you ever feel like your practice is stuck in a rut? Do you ever find that your staff seems a little bored and lacks enthusiasm? Maybe staff morale is down and there is a lack of teamwork. Have you forgotten what your mission statement is... or maybe you don't have one?

Problems like these are faced by most eye care practices at some point and one of the best remedies is to step back and reassess. I have found that a special motivational staff meeting can play a big part in helping a practice break out of the doldrums and spark a new beginning.

The retreat concept
An organizational retreat is a special staff meeting that fosters introspection of your practice goals and encourages a fresh approach to business operations and marketing. The meeting often takes place at an off-site location and may occupy a full day.

A retreat may begin with a review of the strategic positioning of the practice. Management challenges are discussed openly and a brainstorming session with staff is usually on the agenda. A high level of staff training is provided on non-technical topics such as customer service, sales techniques and communication skills. The practice owner provides leadership and motivation. Additional speakers may be scheduled. This is an opportunity to focus on the small details that separate a great practice from an average one.

The logistics
There are many possibilities for how to host a retreat. Some of the concepts depend on your goals for the meeting and the type of practice you have. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Choose a location. The meeting could be held at your office, but taking it to a nice conference room at another location in your area elevates the importance and provides a new environment which may stimulate new ideas. Nice hotels in larger cities have meeting rooms available and there are other facilities in most towns.
  • Plan a date in advance and arrange to have the office closed. I generally do not like to close the office on business day, but a special staff training event is a valid exception. I would mount a sign on the office door in advance telling visitors about the future event. Record a special voice mail announcement for that day.
  • Plan to have catering of food and snacks. This may be available through the hotel or use an outside service, but choose one that will do a great job. Consider breakfast and lunch as well as coffee, soft drinks and snacks at various points in the day.
  • Design an agenda. Consider who will chair the meeting and who will give presentations. See more on this below.
  • Print copies of the agenda and other handouts.
  • Have a whiteboard or large paper easels available for writing key points.
  • Use PowerPoint to make slides for some presentations and buy or rent an LCD projector and screen.
  • If you are a midsize or large practice, you may want to dedicate the retreat to your practice only. This has merit because you can discuss confidential business ideas openly. Another approach would be to band together with a couple of other practices in the area, but far enough away to not be your direct competition. An optometric practice could join with an ophthalmology practice to work together and learn from each other.
  • If financial resources permit, you could decide to bring in a powerful speaker and consultant to teach and inspire the group.
  • Assign the task of taking notes on behalf of the practice to a staff member.

The agenda
The sky is the limit on ideas to include in your retreat agenda. Plan the day on a time schedule by estimating how long each major topic will take. Allow time for meals and breaks. Here are some possibilities:

  • Ask for staff input to perform an objective evaluation of the current status of the practice. Using the SWOT analysis is a good format (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). Assure staff that you want to hear the good and the bad. Ask questions like why should a patient choose your practice over any other in the area?
  • Lead the group on writing a mission statement for the practice. How is the practice positioned in the marketplace and is the current market strategy the most desirable one? How would you change it?
  • The practice owner may present a list of business problems and coordinate a discussion on possible solutions. Talk about the need to increase income, patient demand and office efficiency. Brainstorm.
  • Focus on customer service and how that drives patient loyalty. How can you improve? How do current office policies affect the patient's perception of service?
  • How could you change your appointment schedule and office procedures to increase delegation of duties to staff? What are the roadblocks to increased delegation?
  • Discuss a marketing plan to include internal and external marketing ideas. How does the recall system relate to marketing? What printed materials and web-based concepts should be used?
  • Describe what your practice would do in creating the perfect patient experience.
  • What investments in equipment or furnishings would have the most impact? Get input to develop a priority list.
  • Have role playing sessions where staff members act out difficult scenarios. Develop scripts that can help employees say the right words.
  • Is there someone on your staff who is excellent at selling? Could he or she give a brief presentation?
  • Consider inviting one or two sales reps to present a brief talk, but be very cautious if you go this route. The representative could be from contact lens, frame, optical lab, pharmaceutical or other companies. Be very selective and only invite reps whom you know are excellent speakers and have a message that will benefit your practice. Some reps are truly great speakers, but many are not and they will only bring your program down. Don't let the presentation be a sales pitch for the rep's products; this is about your practice and if they don't get that then take a pass.
  • Do you have a friend or business associate who could deliver a motivational speech about great customer service, even if it's about a field other than eye care?
  • Develop a plan for change implementation and for additional training. What are your staff's concerns about changes and what resources are needed to overcome those issues?

The practice owner must wear many hats, but perhaps the most important one is not that of eye care practitioner, but rather that of practice leader and chief executive officer. Exercise that role and your staff and the practice will respond in a very positive way.

Best wishes for continued success,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week

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Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.
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