Avoiding the monsters under the bed - your strategic plan for 2007

I’ve previously discussed the merits of creating an annual plan to indicate the goals for your practice and forecast them numerically for 12 months.

Sudden-Impact Solutions | Amy Morgan

I’ve previously discussed the merits of creating an annual plan to indicate the goals for your practice and forecast them numerically for 12 months. If you do only this, you’ll discover that the numbers by themselves - such as the forecast of a 20 percent increase in production or a 30 percent rise in new patients - do not ensure success. The rubber only hits the road when you create a solid strategy for achieving your goals and numbers, which is the purpose of strategic planning.

The planning process reminds me of one of my favorite business quotations that begins “A task without a vision is a drudgery.” For those who feel overwhelmed with practice activities and have no future outcome in mind, your labors will seem like the ultimate eat-your-spinach moments. The quotation continues: “A vision without a task is but a vacant hope.”

I know many dentists with illusions of great outcomes; however, they fail to develop realistic strategies to support the changes. This leads to a lack of credibility in the leader’s words, frustration, and failed efforts for the team, as well as a continuation of the status quo. The end of the quotation is: “A vision combined with a task is a dream fulfilled.” Success comes from identifying a future that you badly want, and then creating actions that focus on achieving that vision.

Consider worst-case scenarios

I recommend dentists begin their strategic planning by considering worst-case scenarios and developing ways to deal with them. Why? Because my definition of optimism includes preparing for the worst. When you strategize with your team on how to attain the objectives, the most courageous thing you can do is ask: “What possible obstacles can prevent us from accomplishing our goal?” Most dentists shy away from asking this because they don’t like confrontation. However, it is the obstacles - such as systems breakdowns, outside economic factors, or staff issues - that can become the monsters under the bed if they are not addressed. Unexpressed misgivings can be amazingly powerful in blocking the accomplishment of goals.

For example, let’s say you intend to give you and your staff members a significant salary increase and invest in new technology that reinforces your vision of excellence. You forecast a 20 percent increase in production to pay for these proposed improvements. The wrinkle is that for the past six months, due to job layoffs and an economic slowdown in your area, new patients have decreased. So, at a time when there are valid concerns about maintaining the status quo, you propose a significant increase in production. If this issue isn’t confronted head-on, your strategic plan is flawed and your goals are unattainable.

When you provide a safe way to examine all potential obstacles to your strategic plan - from the ridiculous to the sublime - people feel more comfortable following their leader into an uncertain but desirable future. I recommend having what we at Pride Institute call a “vomit and spew session.” (Disgusting, yes, but the name does aptly describe the process.) Use a flip chart or dry erase board to list all of the team’s fears and misgivings, as well as the potential benefits of the objectives.

There is tremendous relief in pulling the monsters out of hiding. Once that’s done, ask each staff member to choose the three obstacles most likely to interfere with accomplishing the objectives. Once there is a consensus on the most serious obstacles, discuss possible solutions.

Focus the staff on systems and behaviors they can change. For example, if the obstacles include “What if the Homeland Security alert goes to red?” or “What if our patients say no to discretionary cosmetic dentistry due to our economic slowdown?” direct the team’s efforts to the latter concern. Your practice has no way to monitor national security, but it has every way to adjust financial arrangements to make cosmetic dentistry affordable. You may think I’m exaggerating, but we often see practices fretting over situations beyond their control. A solid plan addresses what can be controlled, focuses everyone’s knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes on issues they can influence, and supports achievement of the new goals.

Once you have chosen your three major obstacles, what should you tackle first? For example, if your key issues involve a scheduling, marketing, and treatment-presentation problem, ask: “Which of the three key issues will provide us with enough productivity and efficiency to help tackle the other two?” Scheduling is often a good system to address first because improvements here create the efficiency and profitability to support the difficult, longer term, comprehensive changes, such as treatment presentation and marketing plans.

Force field analysis

A useful tool to help set priorities is the force field analysis. This allows you and your team to analyze all of the forces, or reasons, why a situation should be addressed versus all of the reasons why the situation should not be addressed. Let’s say you want to implement digital charting. If you can cite 10 reasons to move forward in the implementation and only three reasons against, then you have strong justification for making the improvement a key part of your strategy.

Short term and long term

I also recommend that a strategic plan be a combination of short- and long-term steps, with a limitation on the long-term ones so that your strategy provides you and your team with enough immediate results to keep spirits high and provide a sense of accomplishment. Most practices attempt to solve all problems at once, which invariably results in nothing changing. So, choose your battles wisely, then single-mindedly follow your plan to completion without letting new issues distract you.

The main resource needed to implement a successful strategy is the hardest one to find in a dental office - time. All too often dentists and teams feel they do not have enough time for analysis, prioritization, and implementation. I ask, “Do you have enough time not to begin implementing your goals today?” What better way to ring in the New Year than with an effective strategy to realize your dreams?

Amy Morgan is chief executive officer and lead trainer of Pride Institute, the practice management firm that helps dentists better their lives by mastering the business side of their practices. For more information on Pride’s seminars, management study programs, and the firm’s products call (800) 925-2600 or visit www.prideinstitute.com.

More in Practice