Find your way: Develop a strategic plan for 2010

Plot your route for 2010 by developing a strategic plan for your practice.
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Dec 01, 2009

You made it through 2009. Chances are it's been one of the most challenging years for your practice in a while—maybe ever. You deserve a pat on the back. But before you decide to sit back and enjoy the ride, it's time to ask yourself some tough questions:

> Are you controlling the direction of your practice, or have you ceded power to outside factors?

> If you've switched into a higher gear to meet this year's challenges, how will you keep your momentum going?

> Have you mapped out your long-term goals and how you're going to achieve them?


Photo compiled from Getty images
Generally, you should hold a strategic planning meeting at least once a year outside the sphere of normal operations. That's right—road trip! The purpose of this break is to recapture or identify the focus of your organization; take an objective view of the operations, staffing, and financial position; and then plan for the future in light of the big picture.

Here's how to hold a strategic planning session that will put you in the driver's seat of your practices' destiny.

STEP 1: SELECT YOUR GETAWAY

First, you must schedule a date for the meeting, and you must resolve to keep the appointment. Consider the time you set aside for your strategic planning meeting as sacred to the success of the practice, and make sure everyone involved understands the importance of the conference.

Keep in mind that you're going to need to focus as objectively as you can on the direction your practice is headed. Distractions, especially those that come up in the everyday practice environment, can hinder your ability to create goals and plan for the future.

So try renting a hotel conference room or booking a retreat at a local facility. This makes the strategic planning process fun and productive—not to mention more difficult to reschedule. Fresh surroundings will also help open the door to creative, innovative thinking.

STEP 2: OUTLINE THE ITINERARY

Second, a practice's owners are responsible for defining the direction of the practice, so it falls to you (and your partners) to create the agenda for the strategic planning session. As you begin to brainstorm what to address in the meeting, consider situations the practice has encountered in the past year that reflect industry, economic, or practice trends, and note these on the agenda. For example, did the addition of digital imaging increase the number of radiographs taken this year? If so, what adjustments will you need to make next year to accommodate this increase? Do you need to reconfigure the facility to accommodate the increase? Maybe you'll need to hire another technician.

Also include a discussion of any outside forces that will shape your practice. For example, is a new, low-cost spay-neuter clinic opening in your community? Keep minor policy and standards of care discussions off the agenda, as these can be handled during your regularly scheduled doctor or management meetings.

Also consider broad questions or goals, such as:

> "What do we want this practice to look like in four years?"

> "Where do we want to be in terms of doctors in three years?"

> "Our goal is to provide the best quality of medicine in town. How do we define 'best quality'? What does that mean to us?"

The only specifics you should delve into are implementation processes, and generally implementation involves the dreaded "B" word: budgeting (see the Related Links, below, for some pointers on how to create an effective budget).

After setting your budget for next year, take a look at what you must do to implement the changes your budget requires. Focus on expenses that are considerably higher than the Benchmarks targets. Tackle these first, and you'll see a significant improvement in your bottom line. Keep in mind that the main reason budgets fail is that the bar is set too high. Pick two or three expenses and bring them down, then move on to two or three more. And be sure to monitor your progress so you can see how far you've come.