Effective Strategic Planning: Plan Your Work; Work Your Plan
Outline tangible goals to help you allocate time, energy, and resources
By Mike Osler, PT, DPT
A Google search for the phrase “strategic planning” yields more than 600 million results in less than a second.
Despite an abundance of resources, owners often grimace at the thought of creating yet another strategic plan. Why the tension? Perhaps owners were left disappointed after creating big goals a few years ago that proved to be a little too hairy and a little too audacious when they never came to fruition. Or perhaps the jaded feelings stem from memories of last year’s goals, thoughtfully created over several weeks, only to be hijacked by the day-to-day whirlwind that can consume extra time and energy, then forgotten three months later. Creating and successfully executing an effective strategic plan can be a challenge for practice owners. Here are a handful of key considerations to help owners not just make the planning process less painful but also leverage a strategic plan as one tool to help take your practice to the next level and deliver effective results.
START WITH WHO YOU ARE AND WHO YOU WANT TO BE
Ground your strategic plan in the identity and culture of the business. If you have not created a mission statement, a vision statement, and company values, start there. Be intentional about why the company exists and what purpose it serves to your community, to your patients, and to your team. Avoid boring, overused statements, and instead create inspiration with a fresh, engaging mission statement. Starbucks’ mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”1 Employees need to know specifically how and why their work matters.
Values create guideposts to outline how employees should behave as part of the team. Each employee behaves according to their own life experiences and personal values unless the organization clearly defines its own values. Outlining specific behaviors that are aligned (and not aligned) with those values increases clarity. For example, if “customer service” is a company value, one employee might define that as simply not being rude to a difficult patient. Yet another employee might define it as going the extra mile and walking a patient who asks for directions to their destination rather than pointing the way. Be clear about what the organization expects. The strategic plan is an opportunity to realign with your mission, vision, and values. As the year gets started, recognize and reward behaviors aligned with values and address inconsistent behaviors quickly.
CREATE AN ANNUAL TARGET FOR REVENUE AND PROFIT MARGIN
There is value in stepping back to cast a three-year or even a 10-year vision. Creating an effective strategic plan provides an opportunity to translate those bigger vision statements to a tangible one-year goal. First, determine a realistic yet challenging growth goal for revenue. Physical therapy is a growing industry nationally, which means if your practice is not growing year-over-year, you are likely losing market share to competitors. While the idea of increased profits may not resonate with every employee, the ownership team should not shy away from establishing targets for expected financial success. Establishing stable financial footing should be part of the plan and allows the company to survive payer delays, navigate unforeseen challenges, improve benefit packages, and invest in growth. Once revenue and margin targets are established, the meat of the strategic plan should outline what needs to happen in the next 12 months to be on track for the three-year vision. Be sure the strategic goals created are not simply shiny objects, but actually build value in the business.
BE OBJECTIVE IN KEY AREAS
A solid strategic plan will address key areas in the business, such as engaging patients and staff, growing revenue, and empowering the leadership team. When writing goals in these areas, be clear and specific by defining how you will know when you get there. For example, a common goal might be to increase patient engagement or create a better patient experience. These are admirable goals, but they need an “as measured by” statement to avoid subjective bias and rationalizing away underwhelming results. Visits per New Patient would be an objective measurement of patient engagement and indicate completion of intended plans of care. A well-written goal would be “Improve patient engagement as measured by increasing Visits per New Patient from 8.5 to 11.0 by the end of the second quarter.” To overcome the bias that comes with being emotionally connected to the business, resist the temptation to utilize subjective measurements.
IT’S NOT THE PLAN IT’S THE EXECUTION
Most of us are guilty of creating lofty goals only to see them fall by the wayside before achieving them at one time or another. On the personal side, look no further than the research on New Year’s resolutions getting off track after just a few weeks. Whether at home or in the clinic, our plans are often solid, but the execution is where we break down. Execution requires regular check-ins to measure objective progress toward strategic goals. We reevaluate patients regularly to ensure the plan of care is on track. Our objective measurements with patients might include strength, ROM, or standardized function tests.
Apply the same logic used in patient care to reassess the strategic goals at regular intervals. Quarterly rechecks are likely insufficient. Monthly rechecks are better, but to truly drive execution, quick weekly check-ins will yield the best chances of success.2 Measure progress for the plan, adapt actions as necessary, and create a cadence of accountability to ensure simple actions are taken each week to move toward the goal. Say no when the next great idea does not align with the plan. Break the annual goals down into 90-day initiatives with practical action steps to make the goal happen.
PLAN ACCORDING TO YOUR PPS PERSONA
Is there a one-size-fits-all approach for every practice? The short answer is no. The application of the principles above will increase the clarity and effectiveness of your strategic plan. These foundational principles apply regardless of practice size and type. The Private Practice Section has defined four personas reflecting the changing face of physical therapy.3 The perspective of each persona may slightly alter the emphasis of strategic planning.
Traditional clinic owners may elect to utilize external experts to assist in the planning process and ensure objectives are achieved. Solo/hybrid physical therapy practitioners may find themselves wearing multiple hats, and the thought of tackling a comprehensive strategic plan alone may feel overwhelming. Identifying one to two top priorities for each quarter as well as an accountability system to ensure execution will yield results over time. Next-generation physical therapists may find themselves outside the inner circle of planning, yet can ask engaging questions, seek opportunities to provide input, and learn how their daily actions can align with company strategic goals. Nonclinical physical therapists in leadership roles are likely well-positioned to initiate the strategic planning process internally or recommend the expertise of external resources. Regardless of practice size and goals, setting aside time annually to create an objective strategic plan with a process for execution can help your business live into its mission, vision, and values.
1Amabile T, Kramer S. To Give Your Employees Meaning, Start With Mission. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2012/12/to-give-your-employees-meaning.
2McChesney C, Covey S, Huling J. (2012). The Four Disciplines of Execution. New York, NY: Free Press.
3Black S. (2021, January). The Changing Face of Private Practice. Impact. https://www.ppsimpact.org/the-changing-face-of-private-practice/
Mike Osler is an active PPS member and serves as the director of business coaching at 8150 Advisors. Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.