Yellow Brick Road: How to Run an Effective Strategic Planning Meeting

a yellow brick road under a bridge

Eight essential steps

By Joseph Newcomb and Rebecca Blacklidge

Whether or not your goal is to make it to the Emerald City to meet the wizard or just make it back to Kansas, you need a plan. You need a strategy. Why do we need to do strategic planning? Strategic planning aims to take a step back from the day-to-day and determine the development and direction you want your organization to go. Strategic planning is an important business practice for several reasons:

  • It helps company leaders identify goals and objectives that will lead their teams in the right direction.
  • It allows an avenue to receive feedback and other important information from your staff, including executives, and team members.
  • It encourages team members to work together to think strategically, resolve problems, and develop new ideas on how to improve the organization.

Strategic planning is taking calculated steps to define your organization’s vision and its future while developing an action plan to accomplish that goal. Planning helps to set priorities, direct resources and energy while ensuring that everyone works towards a common goal.

The success of a strategic planning session relies on more than gathering a team and facilitator in one place. A strategic planning meeting requires clear action items to carve the path forward.

A strategic plan outlines and communicates an organization’s goals and actions to achieve them. Typically, a strategic plan includes short-term objectives, long-term goals, vision, measurements of success, and a timeline.

Here are eight essential steps to take if you’re holding a strategic planning meeting.


It’s important to have a primary goal for the meeting. No leader should walk into the meeting not knowing the goals and objectives of the session. They should know what they can expect during the meeting and help to facilitate the direction toward the goal(s). Maybe your goal is to develop a new product or service line that will help to separate you from other outpatient physical therapy clinics and help to better align your company’s overall vision. It can also be useful to establish specific strategy planning themes to help to direct the team toward the goals.


Engaging participants as a group can sometimes be difficult, especially if they do not work together regularly. Start by breaking the ice with some conversation starters, or an icebreaker activity. You could also ask participants to complete an activity that requires them to interact with one another and learn more about the role they play in the company. Make sure that you also set up an easy way for everyone to contribute and do not let anyone sit in the back without contributing to the meeting. Establish a safe environment where hierarchy does not play a role. Have people check their titles at the door and provide equal say from all of your staff. Some easy questions that you can ask your attendees are “What is working well?” and “What can we do better?” It is easier to use this to facilitate conversation and clean up the dirt than to sweep things under the rug and allow things to undermine your company’s vision and strategy for progress.


Set clear expectations for the meeting to ensure that all participants can prepare in advance. For this to happen, the agenda should include the expectations and provide attendees with the information they need to have a productive meeting. It is imperative to provide the agenda with enough time to allow your staff to prepare. It is recommended to provide a week lead time for the best preparation, but don’t provide it too far in advance because it can get pushed off and then the amount of preparation will not be ideal. Clearly assign roles so everyone knows their responsibilities during the meeting and use timelines to ensure that goals are met in a specified timeframe. Once your responsibilities and tasks have been assigned, schedule regular intervals for appropriate check-in based on the tasks. This will ensure that employees are accountable, and the management can provide any guidance or assistance for a successful completion.


A great meeting should be celebrated! Take time during the session to praise the work that has been done. Be sure to take breaks throughout to allow your staff to stay focused. Providing food and access to coffee, water, and a variety of snacks will help to fuel your team and allow additional interaction with your team members during break times. These breaks will also allow you to recap and repeat the information for better retention and to enable everyone to see how the meeting is progressing and how we are accomplishing what we intended to.


Everyone should have a voice during the strategic planning meeting. Allow each attendee the chance to discuss their thoughts and ideas for the company while still adhering to the agenda. Assign one person to take minutes and a second person to jot down ideas on the whiteboard during the meeting so that they can be reviewed later. A great leader will ensure that everyone gives input while staying on track. They will also provide a review of the meeting to their employees so there is a good record of what occurred during the meeting as well as the action items that were created and who was responsible for them. This recap needs to be in writing and provided in email or hard copy as well as placed in a common area for all to see regularly as a reminder.


Access to the right visuals and brainstorming tools can help to better communicate ideas in a way that everyone can understand. Visuals and collaborative tools also help you organize your work and relieve the stress of coming up with ideas on the spot. Leaders can also use these visuals to encourage team members to give their input and get involved in the brainstorming process. Some visuals that can be effective are whiteboards or flip charts. You can also project an electronic version of the whiteboard like Stormboard or Microsoft Digital Whiteboard, which can help you develop reports and keep track of ideas in real-time. This can be especially effective if you have some of your staff working remotely.


There are several steps involved in developing a strategic plan for an upcoming session. Start by determining your strategic position. Having a strategic priority sets the foundation for all work going forward. Next, prioritize your objectives and develop a series of steps for meeting these goals. You’ll then need to create a plan for executing and managing the plan, followed by a final review and revising. It is imperative to be clear about the tasks, the person(s) responsible for the task, goals for the tasks, and timelines to ensure that your strategies are carried out. Tracking progress and communicating progress to the team will also allow buy-in and show the staff the fruits of their labor.


Creating a list of goals and objectives to meet is just the start. Teams must also determine strategic solutions for accomplishing these objectives. This typically consists of creating smaller milestones that must be met within certain limitations, such as budget and timeframe constraints. Everyone involved should know their roles and responsibilities for accomplishing these objectives. Following up with attendees after the meeting is key to keeping goals on track.

An effective strategic planning meeting can boost business performance, align team members, and strengthen the company’s position in the community as well as in the industry. The timing of a strategic planning meeting is important but does not have to be the same time each year. Updating your strategy throughout the year can be important as factors change and you need to adapt to those changes. This is where tracking your objectives will come into play. Your statistics will help you to determine if your strategy is being followed, if it is successful, or if you need to pivot a little or a lot in response to how your strategy is being received by your patients and market.

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Joseph Newcomb is the president of Medicount Management, Inc., an emergency medical services billing agent for ambulance transports in Evendale, OH.

An Optimistic Approach to the Future of Physical Therapy

The author of this piece has requested anonymity.

A brief review of the annals of Impact yields hundreds of articles that lament the pending changes that will negatively affect the profession of physical therapy in the years to come. Writers share frustrations, pitch potential remedies, and commiserate with the reader in an attempt to reduce angst and offer hope. While the future is certainly harrowing, this article attempts to deftly sidestep naivety yet offer a slightly more optimistic view on what to expect for our profession.

Mellow Yellow: Staying Calm During A Crisis

Yellow Umbrella amidst a sea of black umbrellas

How to promote trust, empathy, and composure during difficult times

By Stephanie Weyrauch, PT, DPT

As a parent of a toddler, I now appreciate phrases like “pick your battles” and “don’t sweat the small stuff.” When a crisis hits, our first instinct is to react, which can lead to poor decision making, employee dissatisfaction, and frustration. Devon Kuntzman1 is an International Coaching Federation Certified Coach and founder of Transforming Toddlerhood. Chris Voss2 is an author and former FBI hostage negotiator. While Kuntzman and Voss are in very different professions, they approach crisis management surprisingly similarly. These are the questions they recommend leaders ask when faced with a crisis1,2:

Question 1


Human brains are wired to ensure survival. During a moment of stress, people are more likely to think with the primitive parts of the brain, like the amygdala and limbic system. This leads to rash decision-making. When leading people through a crisis, it is essential to create a safe environment for everyone so parties can access higher functioning brain structures like the frontal cortex that help with sound decision-making. Listening and validating others’ emotions creates enough trust and safety for people to have an open and honest conversation. This can lead to a deeper understanding about causal and secondary factors influencing the crisis.

Question 2


Leaders should acknowledge their feelings and needs as well as those around them. They can do this by practicing tactical empathy, which is the practice of understanding the feelings and mindset of another and hearing what motivations are behind those feelings. Voss suggests validating people’s emotions through labeling — which is the practice of giving emotions a name. Kuntzman emphasizes that labeling an emotion helps others feel heard and understood. Leaders can utilize phrases such as “It seems like…”, “It looks like…”, or “It sounds like…”; that way, if the label is “wrong” the person can provide a more accurate designation for their emotion. Additionally, labeling negative emotions diffuses them while labeling positive emotions reinforces them.

Question 3


Once leaders understand what they are feeling, they can take practical steps in self-regulating their response to those emotions. Self-regulation helps recruit neurons in higher areas of the brain, improving introspective resolve. One of the most effective forms of self-regulation is diaphragmatic breathing (also known as belly breathing or deep breathing). Diaphragmatic breathing helps to downregulate the body’s “fight or flight” response and upregulate the “rest and digest” parasympathetic response.

Another self-regulation method suggested by Kuntzman is to focus on the senses. Focusing on something you can touch, smell, see, or hear can help distract the nervous system and lead to a more mellow emotional status.

Additionally, Voss suggests use of “mirroring” to encourage empathy and connection with others. He defines mirroring as the art of insinuating similarity by repeating back the last three words or the critical one to three words of what people say. This encourages the other person to elaborate on their thought process and emotions while sustaining connection. It can help leaders understand others’ sensory needs and provide an opportunity to help with self-regulation.

Question 4


This is the final question leaders should ask when trying to remain calm during a crisis. By the time we get to this question, a leader has already established a safe environment, analyzed their emotions and the feelings of relevant stakeholders. Now, leadership must establish a priority list to manage the crisis.

Both Voss and Kuntzman stress that not every crisis is an emergency and not every situation requires an immediate response. Therefore, when making decisions about crisis response, it is essential for leadership to master saying “no” instead of giving into an immediate “yes.” “No” creates a path for all parties to clarify what each side really wants by eliminating options leadership may perceive as knee-jerk reactions. According to Voss, people have a desire to say no and getting other stakeholders to say it early allows all parties to work towards an amiable solution to the crisis.

To help reach a consensus, leaders should ask solution-based questions like:

  • “What about this doesn’t work for you?”
  • “What would you need to make it work?”
  • “It seems like there’s something here that bothers you.”

Solution-based questions encourage honest conversation, protects others from making ineffective decisions, slows down the decision-making process, and promotes emotional safety for all stakeholders.


Since adapting these strategies into my personal and professional life, I have noticed that my thought process is clearer, my resolve is more confident, and my ability to understand others is enriched. People experience large and small crises every day; it is the job of leadership to help others navigate through those difficult times. Crisis management requires leaders to be proactive, alert, and calm. By asking these questions, leaders can promote trust, empathy, and composure in order to prioritize solutions to the crisis at hand.

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1Kuntzman D. “How to Stop Yourself from Yelling at Your Child.” Transforming Toddlerhood. August 26, 2022.

2Voss C, Raz T. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As if Your Life Depended on it. United States: HarperCollins Press. 2016.

Stephanie Weyrauch, PT, DPT

Stephanie Weyrauch, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist at Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers in Orange, CT. She is a member of the APTA Nominating Committee and can be reached at and on Twitter @thesteph21.

Who Is Sitting on Your Bus, and Why Is It Important?

a bus with balloons floating out of it

A look into hiring for success

By Morgan Weinzapfel, PT, DPT

Your organization has been very successful, and you’re considering expanding. What steps should you take next? Often, physical therapy companies will, first, select a location where they think the clinic will be successful. They may research an area where their competition doesn’t have a clinic yet, or they may consider the big city next door as a good place to start up next.

Although location is a necessary consideration, these organizations will be missing a key component and the first step they should be taking. Instead of asking “where,” they should be asking “who.” Who is going to be employed at the clinic?

Good to Great by Jim Collins has been referenced many times in the past few years for this “bus” concept (I was even assigned to read it in physical therapy school) and for putting the “who” question above all else when it comes to hiring.1

Imagine potential candidates as passengers at a bus stop who can help your bus get to your destination safely and efficiently. Some important things to consider are how to get the right person on your bus, how to put that person in a seat where he/she can succeed, and how to make changes if you put someone in the wrong seat.


The interview process should look like the following: Asking questions that give you good information about how successful they will be in your specific organization, calling references to address any “yellow flags,” and looking closer into resumes and applications to identify community and extracurricular involvement. An article published by this magazine in March 2020, by yours truly, reveals questions that help you determine a person’s personality fit, performance capabilities, and team skills.2

Another tool at your disposal is seeing your potential employee in a clinical setting. Asking the interviewee to observe for a few hours in your clinic is a great way to get them around other team members and see their response to your current treatment style. We like to call this the “airport test.” If you had to spend 24 hours in an airport with this person, would your relationship be better or worse afterward? You should ask this question to yourself and each of your employees who spent time with the candidate during the interview process and clinic observation to gauge how your team feels about that person. If a candidate excels in the interview and observation processes, you may or may not choose to call references. If there are any mild concerns (i.e., “yellow flags”) then references should be contacted. Try to use references to further assess the candidate’s ability to build and maintain good relationships with coworkers and patients.

Something else you may want to include, as you are looking through a candidate’s resume and application, is community involvement. This could be pro-bono services through his/her former university, holding a leadership position in a club, or volunteering time at local events while in physical therapy school. According to an article published in 2020, we are seeing less than 20% of the roles posted are requiring GPA minimums. Recent data has shown that performance and GPA are rarely correlated, so we need to be looking elsewhere on applications and resumes.3 Community involvement will give insight into the candidate’s ability to multitask, work as a team, and give to something bigger than themselves.


The interview process not only allows you to see if the candidate is a good fit for your organization, but it also allows the candidate to make sure your organization is a good fit for her/him. To succeed as an organization and make sure that your new hire can help you do just that, there are a few things you need in place. According to Daniel Coyle’s Culture Code, to have a great group of people who succeed together you need to build safety, share vulnerability, and establish purpose.4 Just like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs demonstrates, employers should make sure work environments are safe zones for sharing ideas, challenging the status quo, and accepting feedback. Employees should clearly understand the purpose of the work they are doing.

Your organization should set clear expectations, so your employee knows what the goals are and the WHY behind them. These expectations should be attainable and realistic, connected to clear metrics, and reviewed regularly with the employee.

This is also a good time to assign a mentor for your new hire. Mentorship, aka socialization into your organization, can result in employee job satisfaction, internal motivation, and commitment to work.5 In practice, my organization has focused on the first month of mentorship on developing a personal relationship between the mentee and mentor. Eating lunch together, talking about the local area and community, and getting to know one another. Then, the relationship can evolve into clinical education and professional development guidance.


Most of this article has been focused on the first two points because if you do those well, hopefully you won’t end up here too often. A key component of this step is communication. Communicate the reason you think this person has not been put in a position to succeed, then review expectations and make an action plan for elements that are not being met. Set a date to reach these goals so everyone is on the same page moving forward. If goals have not been achieved within that timeframe, then you should move forward with staffing changes. This could be moving someone from a position like clinic director to staff therapist or removing a leadership role. Finally, if you think the person should no longer be on your bus, you should communicate this with them quickly and concisely. Then, evaluate if there is someone else on your bus who could do well in that role, or if that seat will remain empty until you find the correct passenger to fill it.

When you’re driving the bus and don’t know where you’re going yet, it can be scary. Just like when you’re starting an organization or expanding one, you may not know all the steps you need to take. Remember, putting the right people in the right seats is the most important thing you can do. Together, you will steer your organization in the correct direction. Utilize tools like the interview process, extracurricular involvement, and mentorship to make sure you put all your passengers in a position to succeed.

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1Collins J. Good to Great. HarperCollins; 2001.

2Weinzapfel M. “How do you Know if You Hired the Hero or Just a Person in a Cape? The Guide to Hiring Slow and Firing Fast.” Impact. 2020;3:26-29.

3Maurer R. GPA Minimums May Be Spoiling Your Diversity Goals. SHRM. Published June 24, 2020. acquisition /pages/gpa-minimums-may-be-spoiling-diversity-goals.aspx

4Coyle Dl. The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. Bantam Books; 2018.

5Kotter JP. “The Psychological Contract: Managing the Joining-Up Process.” California Management Review.1973;15(3):91-99.

Morgan Weinzapfel, PT, DPT

Morgan Weinzapfel, PT, DPT, is a co-owner and director of recruitment with Rehabilitation & Performance Institute in Newburgh, IN. She can be reached at or (812) 518-3246.

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.