Do You Have a Three-Year Plan?

Sept. 1, 1997
Dental practices tend to operate on a day-by-day basis. Think about it: We come in as doctors, look at the schedule and determine our self-worth. If the schedule is full, our self-esteem immediately rises to 150 percent and we feel confident. If the schedule is not full, our self-esteem drops according to how many openings are in the schedule.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA

Dental practices tend to operate on a day-by-day basis. Think about it: We come in as doctors, look at the schedule and determine our self-worth. If the schedule is full, our self-esteem immediately rises to 150 percent and we feel confident. If the schedule is not full, our self-esteem drops according to how many openings are in the schedule.

Actually, I am quite serious about this. Dentists evaluate their daily success levels according to certain criteria that are not necessarily about short- or long-term success.

What about three years?

When is the last time you came into the office and looked at the schedule for the next three years? Now, you may think this is a strange concept, but as a speaker who presents over 110 seminars a year, I already am looking ahead to 1999 and 2000. Although I still find it hard to believe, I have numerous bookings in each of those years.

The point is that, as dentists, we tend not to look ahead three months, let alone three years. We look only at today. Many management experts have said that today is the only day that counts, which is a fairly ridiculous statement.

It is time to take a look at strategic planning for your practice. In our dental-business consulting program, I teach the values and goals section at the beginning of each new consulting group`s experience. I am an avid believer that having a vision statement (a definition of where you are going) is essential if you want to get somewhere and have your staff commit to following you.

I am equally emphatic about the need to have specific goals, which act as the building blocks or steps to help you achieve your vision.

It is almost impossible to gain true commitment by everyone on the team if they do not understand the vision. It often has been said that no one will care about your practice as much as you care about it. However, we find that many staffs do have an ownership mentality when they understand the vision and where the practice is going.

Creating a strategic plan

The purpose of a strategic plan is to focus on the major goals of the next one, two and three years. In any business, it is becoming increasingly difficult to set goals beyond three years because of the rapid changes that take place in technology and other areas of the business. Dentistry now is like all other businesses in that we dentists are facing rapid changes and many decisions over the next few years.

The above questions may look simple, but they are not. They address the heart and soul of the practice and require answers that are very specific.

Many practices do not have an income goal for the year. Approximately three-quarters of the dentists with whom I have worked do not take a regular salary. This means that these individuals are incapable of economic planning throughout the year as they are simply "taking what`s left."

Strategic planning is different from simply "taking what`s left." Instead, strategic planning attempts to identify the specific directions and then monitor what must take place for the practice to achieve the goals. I strongly encourage each of you to answer the above questions.

Where do you want to be? This is a broad question that addresses everything from your annual revenue to the types of services you want to provide. I recently had the pleasure of working with a practice that was providing drill and fill middle-level services to a very large volume of patients. The dentist was growing tired of running extremely hard every day and not having the profitability equivalent with what he felt were his efforts. We were able to convert the practice to a lower volume, less stressful situation, with 71 percent higher profits, by changing the service mix of the practice and the comprehensiveness of exams and case presentations. While this is not always a simple process, the patient load was significant enough to allow this transformation.

Strategically, the dentist had set a goal of reducing his schedule by four hours a week, seeing 25 percent fewer patients, increasing his income by 10 percent and reducing the number of new patients. The results were monitored on a weekly and monthly basis to implement the steps that the practice was taking to achieve the goals. In this particular case, the dentist exceeded all goals in a one-year period rather than in the 24-month time frame that had been allotted. Always remember-there is nothing wrong with exceeding your goals!

Strategic planning begins with certain questions, including:

- Where do you want to be?

- How are you going to get there?

- What resources do you need?

- How will you know when you have arrived?

Dr. Roger Levin is founder and president of The Levin Group, a national, dental-management and marketing-consulting firm. He can be reached at (410) 654-1234.

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