Look to the future: Goal-setting essentials

April 1, 2006

Setting and achieving goals is important to staying focused and taking your practice where you want to go.

Start with a commitment

Reaching goals starts with clearly defining what your goals are, establishing a plan to reach them, and evaluating your progress along the way. Your success at goal setting depends on establishing well-defined goals. When goals are too broad or ill defined, they become ambiguous and difficult to accomplish.

But commitment isn't limited to yours. Commitment of all stakeholders is essential to reaching your goals. Failure to obtain their buy-in or lack of involvement by key players in your practice will compromise your success and may, in fact, indicate underlying practice problems that need to be addressed.

Set compatible goals

Physicians must understand the need to examine their professional and personal goals to be sure they are in sync. When personal goals are not compatible with professional goals, frustration and disappointment will result. Whether you are in solo or group practice, it's important to define personal and practice goals and determine how they complement each other and how they can be achieved.

If you plan to keep your practice small and sell it when you retire, allowing you plenty of time for family and personal pursuits, these goals may be very compatible.

By the same token, if your objective is to build a practice that will live on after you retire, it may conflict with your personal desires if you want to take more personal time off. Building a bigger practice, adding partners, expanding services, taking on a larger staff, and moving to bigger quarters will leave little time for personal pursuits. In this case, the practice goal differs from your personal goals.

If your goal is to build a larger practice, your first professional objective toward reaching your goal will be to build greater demand than you can accommodate for your services. Ideally, your practice will reach a point where you can no longer manage patient demand. This is when you may want to bring in a mid-level care provider and plan the steps for adding an associate with skills that broaden your range of services.

The process of setting goals for a practice is best achieved when you include key staff members. Begin with a planning session away from the office, where there will be no distractions. Select a professional facilitator or practice adviser to conduct the session and keep everyone on track.

Using an unbiased outside source will guarantee that everyone participates, that everyone is heard, and that everyone takes ownership of the goals for the practice.

Plan your approach

Approach short-term goals first. Short-term goals are the things you want to accomplish within 12 months. Once goals are set, the facilitator will help you determine the best way to accomplish them. The strategic action plan will list each strategic step, what actions are required at that step, and who will be responsible for taking each action. It is important to detail the strategic actions needed to achieve these goals and to determine what length of time each one will take.

The strategic action plan must be workable: If you are too ambitious, you are likely to fail. For example, consider the goal of "expanding the practice by merging with another practice group." While this is obviously an important goal, it is not hard to imagine months or years passing without making any real progress beyond the relentless "eating-and-meeting" sessions.