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Columns, Leadership

What’s your game plan?

You can’t rely on a stroke of luck to get your practice to the next level. Strategic planning and written goals are essential.

What’s your game plan?
Strategic planning sessions on financial topics should define what success looks like. In what areas is the practice meeting, exceeding or falling short of goals?

When executed well, strategic planning sessions can be an invigorating experience where dreamers and number crunchers join forces to improve a veterinary practice. If these leadership meetings are not part of your hospital’s culture, here are ways to get started.

Review the Mission, Vision and Core Values

Formal leadership gatherings are a great time to critically examine any written statements regarding the practice’s overarching ethics, values and purpose. If a deeply rooted proclamation of what you do, why and how does not exist or no longer rings true, workshopping those ideas can be a great way to get into alignment and focus. The thoughts and conversations necessary to develop mission and vision statements or define core values are the most important aspects of the process. Wordsmithing succinct and catchy final products help to ingrain these ideals into the memories and culture of the team.

Solidifying the foundational concepts of a business helps guide all future decisions. When evaluating opportunities or troubleshooting conflicts of interest, the defined mission, vision and core values should serve as a litmus test for the best course of action. These living documents should be woven into daily operations and formally reviewed every few years.

Conduct a Financial Review

Another subject for strategic planning sessions could include yearly budgeting, profit planning and financial goals. While managers can be left alone to fine-tune the calculations, getting direction and support from the leadership team will bolster the adherence to goals set for revenue and spending.

Profitability and cash flow drive long-term practice health and security, and if left to chance, they often leave woefully underwhelming business valuations. Valuation matters significantly in the three to five years leading up to owners selling all or part of their shares. It also comes into play when a practice needs financing of a major expansion project. Getting a practice to a desirable EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) of 15% to 20% takes intentionality and prioritization by the entire team.

Strategic planning sessions on financial topics should define what success looks like. In what areas is the practice meeting, exceeding or falling short of goals? Where are the opportunities to leverage spending, and where has spending proved wasteful? When extra money is earned, where should it go? If times are lean, what gets cut? Values set in the mission and vision statements help guide the answers to these questions and provide ethical boundaries.

Develop a SWOT Analysis

A common exercise during strategic planning workshops is a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. This process gives structure to evaluating internal business strengths and weaknesses such as your team, processes, reputation, equipment and facility. It also is a review of external market trends (opportunities and threats) such as local and internet competition, supplier pricing, the economy and consumer behavior. Free online resources on this topic abound.

For the most comprehensive and honest picture of a practice’s position, include team members outside of leadership and consider bringing client and sales representatives to the table. Evaluating where the practice stands in the eyes of those in the know and outsiders can help prioritize planning decisions regarding team training, equipment purchases, service offerings, pricing strategies and marketing.

Set Goals

Harnessing the large concepts above and drilling them down into executable, measurable action items is where dreams become reality. This part can feel like pigeonholing to the free thinkers in the room, but as Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Midway through a strategic planning session, consider consolidating the list of exciting new ideas and sort by relevance. What ideas best meet the needs of the practice, promote its mission, step toward its vision and capitalize on opportunity? Select the top one or a few of these ideas and commit to formulating SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) goals.

Start by defining the desired outcome in writing. Written goals not only provide future references and reminders, but they also serve as a psychological tactic to improve success rates.

Do this:

  • Establish how success will be measured and within what time frame. Ensure that the goals are realistically attainable within the time constraints.
  • Specify who needs to be involved to achieve a goal. Create an action item to ensure the participants are thoroughly briefed and onboard.
  • Determine which resources the team needs — time, money, equipment or education, for example — and ensure that a path to providing these is mapped out.
  • Schedule periodic reviews to monitor progress.

Roll It Out

As you look toward 2020 and beyond, encourage the leadership team to take a break from working in the practice and instead work on the practice’s path to success.

Once leadership is in full agreement on a given plan, sharing the thought processes and goals with the entire support team is often appropriate, even when someone isn’t directly involved with implementation. When delivering news about goals, craft a narrative backed by passion, excitement and optimism. Hearing news of upcoming changes can be hard for a lot of people. Expect a level of resistance, and openly address areas of concern.

Leadership should commit to one another to stand united in the face of adversity and be ready to coach unwilling participants into becoming part of the practice’s victory strategy.

When goals are met, remember to celebrate. Review where the process started, the progress that was made and the effects that were felt. When goals are missed, review where the plan derailed and use the newfound understanding to improve future outcomes. Ultimately, strive for continuous improvement through frequent strategic alignment and goal-setting sessions, and then watch your entrepreneurial dreams become realities.

If you’re looking for a good read on strategic planning and other leadership topics, check out Dave Ramsey’s book “EntreLeadership.”

Take Charge columnist Abby Suiter is practice manager at Daniel Island Animal Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina.