Planning for Your Year End Retreat
By: Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA
Businesses, large and small, need to look at where they are and decide where they want to be. Each year, a group of leaders within the business need to get together and set the direction of the ship away from any visible or invisible icebergs and towards an agreed upon nirvana, the desired future. This is a Retreat. What? Your practice doesn’t have one? Most veterinary practices don’t. However, those that do are the most successful practices in the country, financially and workplace satisfaction.
First of all, why is it called a RETREAT? According to the dictionary, retreat has multiple definitions:
For the past year, you have been working your tail off to keep moving your practice forward in spite of economic hardships, personnel challenges, legislative efforts, escalating bills, etc. There is no way that YOU have retreated. But has your practice. Are you closer to your long term vision now than you were this time last year? You do have goals, don’t you? There is no way that you are retreating!! So, with poetic license, let’s rename this article:
- The act or process of withdrawing, especially from something hazardous, formidable, or unpleasant.
- The process of going backward or receding from a position or condition gained.
- A place affording peace, quiet, privacy, or security.
- A period of seclusion, retirement, or solitude.
- A period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, or study:
- Withdrawal of a military force from a dangerous position or from an enemy attack.
Planning for Your Year Beginning Advance
Why do you need an Advance? The same reason you plug an address into a GPS system—so you have a target to shoot for. You gotta be careful if you don't know where you're going, otherwise you might not get there” (Yogi Berra)
If you are not convinced that you need one, keep chasing the status quo. If you are ready to get the car out of PARK and get things into gear, an Advance helps you take your foot off the brake.
Things you need for your Advance:
1. The right attitude
You can’t enter an Advance thinking about how things were, you MUST enter an Advance thinking about how things will be! This is NOT a re-hashing of issues from the past, this is the establishment of goals for the future. At an advance, you use your past as a guideline for future growth. You use your past as a baseline that you want to improve upon. The right attitude is one based upon improvement and advancing your practice to new levels of success. A positive attitude is imperative.
2. The right information
Information is tangible measurable data that you have collected over the last few years that indicate the successes and failures that you have had. These may be readily accessible financial data from your accountant. Or, it may require using your value added practice management software to create some reports on profitability centers; inventory control reports; and service code frequencies. You CANNOT make decisions in a logical fashion without information to base your decisions upon. You might include local economics reports on the growth, economy, etc. The lobby of your practice during lunch is not the right location. Neither is the treatment room at the end of the day. Consider investing in a location that is conducive to conversation, free from distraction, and easily accessible to all. Small conference rooms at hotels; private rooms at restaurants; lake houses; beach houses; mountain houses; any location that is NOT the same environment that you are in everyday. Why? New locations will frequently stimulate new thinking. Whether it is the mountain air or ocean air; the customer service at a hotel; or just getting away from your ‘cubicle’ new venues create new ideas. Besides, by investing in a location, you are telling your team that this is a serious, important time to be spent on brainstorming.
Share the information with the team beforehand so that they can review it and be better prepared.
3. The right location
4. The right people
This may be the hardest component. Who do you include vs. Who do you exclude? In a small practice, you may bring everybody. In a large practice, you may bring zone leaders, e.g. client service supervisors, tech supervisors, animal care supervisor, practice manager, hospital administrator, bookkeeper, etc. In some cases, associate doctors, partners, consultants, are a part of the Advance. You want to invite people that are open minded, problem solvers (vs. problem creaters). You may want to hire a facilitator to herd the cats. I would suggest between 7 and 10 people who can set the future direction of the practice. And pay them and for their time.
5. The right time
When is your problem solving at its best? After work? After a hectic morning at lunch time? After a jog on the treadmill? It is frequently dependent upon each individual. However, studies show that thought processes are best in early morning. You also need to work in blocks of time as working too long has its negative impact and working too short might interrupt good thought processes. Start early after a light breakfast and work in blocks of about 75 -90 minutes. Use the first 75 minutes to strategize and the last 15 minutes to summarize. Between working sessions allow for some fun time, game playing, team building, walking, exercising, etc. Plan on four 90 minute sessions with 45 minute breaks in between. This gives you a full 8 hour day of sharing each others energy.
Oh, and by the way, the time to have your Advance is October, so you can look at your first 9 months of the year and use these reports as a foundation for goal setting.
6. And most importantly, the right reason
Let’s start with the reasons NOT to have an Advance—to nitpick, complain, point fingers, accuse, denigrate, or gripe.
The main reason to have an Advance is to set some goals for the coming year. It is to determine your marketing plan; your budget; your personnel needs; it is look at what systems are working and what systems need to be re-written; it is to look at physical plant upgrades; and equipment purchases; it is to create the big picture so that the entire team knows the direction you are heading.
This is a vision planning, strategic planning, SWOT analysis, team building, opportunity. This is the time to plug the parameters into your GPS system (practice) and then spend the time in the practice ensuring that you get there in the most effective and efficient way.
It is never too late to ADVANCE. Create an agenda that addresses what you want to accomplish. Give everybody motivation to speak freely, share ideas, and realize that there are no wrong answers. Here is your chance to start taking steps forward. Schedule your Advance today to ensure your success tomorrow.