Don't drive your practice without GPS: Why goals are a must

If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.

Jim Philhower

If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.

The same is true in our business life, too. Few people have clearly stated goals; even fewer have them in writing. When I ask a dentist about yearly goals, he or she typically responds, "I would like to do more than I did last year," or "I hope to get back to where I was," or even worse, "I would like to take a paycheck." To help them clarify that goal, I ask what they collected last year. Most answer vaguely: "I think it was x" or "We did a little better last year."

In this case, ignorance is definitely not bliss. We wouldn't consider hopping in our cars and driving to a different city, or even to a restaurant in our own town that we haven't been to, without calling ahead for directions or typing the address into our GPS. Yet on January 2 this year, the vast majority of dental offices opened their doors and just hoped 2015 would be a better year!

Think back to when you wanted to become a dentist. When did you decide that was your goal? Didn't you then focus on the grades and coursework needed in high school that prepared you to attend the college of your choice? Were you not focused on the undergraduate courses required to prepare you for acceptance into dental school? You knew where you were going, and you had a plan. Yet, once most dentists become practice owners, they spend very little time setting goals.

Can you imagine any major corporation or professional sports team simply hoping for a better year? Clear, written goals keep us focused and on track. Without them, we are like a rudderless sailboat, at the mercy of whatever winds blow, good or bad. Writing down your goals helps to create commitment and forms a visual bond with your subconscious. Your subconscious will go to work to complete the picture. Written goals can and should be reviewed on a regular basis. This will help you stay the course. We become what we think about and plan for, not what we hope for.

You must have a plan: without it, your goal is just a wish. So many doctors tell me, "Our practice used to have goals, but then we quit doing them. It got too depressing because we never hit them." Your plan needs to include the specific action steps needed to achieve your goal. These should include daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly strategies.

If your goal were to lose weight, would it look like this? "I will weigh x amount by a certain date. I will adjust my eating habits to x foods. I will exercise x number of days each week." Your practice goals and plans can easily be approached in the same manner.

Your goals must also be shared. Sharing your goals will attract the people and circumstances into your life to achieve them. Without sharing your goals, how can your team know why they are being asked to do certain things and what outcome is expected? You cannot achieve goals without your team's help; they will be able to contribute more effectively if they are all on the same page with a shared vision. Sharing your goals also holds you accountable for achieving them.

In years past, a dentist could get away with just showing up and "doing dentistry." The dental business climate has changed rapidly and permanently over the past few years. PPOs have reduced reimbursements 20% to 30% from the average dentist's full fee schedule. Dealing with insurance payers has become more complicated than ever as they find ways to reduce employer costs. Patient visits are down, as are patients with dental benefits. The need for clear, written goals has never been more important than it is today. The good news is, once you complete the process, the odds of your achieving them are incredibly high!


Jim Philhower, a 28-year veteran of the dental industry, is the director of North America Dental Sales Leadership and Development for Henry Schein Dental. Jim teaches dental teams throughout the world techniques to help them reach their practice goals. Contact him at (800) 372-4346 or send an email to jim.philhower@henryschein.com. Learn more at www.HenryScheinBusiness Solutions.com.

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