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Strategic Planning in an Ever-Evolving Medical Field

May 13, 2022 • Advocacy • Heidi Jannenga

I believe that change is not only good, but a necessity. Change is prerequisite for growth, after all. Whether you are a gardener who is clearing out old foliage to prepare for spring growth, a person who is questioning their personal beliefs to make way for personal growth, or a company that is changing processes to evolve into a better organization, change is central to all.

WebPT has undergone significant change during the past year: we have assembled a new leadership team; we acquired Clinicient and Keet Health; and we began restructuring our internal organization to better support our employees (and ultimately our Members). This round of change will fuel new growth for us, but it never would have been possible without a strong overarching unwavering strategic vision. Throughout the years, my team has found stability in WebPT’s North Star of empowering therapists to achieve greatness in practice by providing exemplary technology solutions and service. The strategic plans we’ve built to support this mission are never static and tend to evolve alongside the PT industry’s and our Members’ changing needs.

As such, our strategic approach has been a lynchpin to our success and continual growth, and I want to share some insights on how to craft a strategic plan that will fuel exceptional growth with more satisfied customers, employees, and ultimately better outcomes.

Communicate with intention.

Before entering the early stages of crafting a strategic plan, commit to communicating with intention. You could have the most robust, attainable strategic plan imaginable, one that pinpoints goals, outlines an action plan, and identifies potential pitfalls. But your ability to execute on said plan hinges on how well you communicate it to every business stakeholders— the board of directors to the entry level employees.

Communication breakdown between a plan’s creation and its dissemination is surprisingly common; an overwhelming number of employees report feeling disconnected from their organization’s strategic vision. According to old research cited by the Harvard Business Review, “95% of a company’s employees don’t understand its strategy.” As employees—from the people in the back office to those on the treatment floor—are typically the people who must implement the strategic changes concepted by leadership, it comes with little surprise that, “67% of well-formulated strategies failed due to poor execution.” It’s difficult to attain strategic goals when you’re unclear about what you’re aiming to accomplish—let alone why.

Communication Best Practices

Communication breakdowns can create a lot of strife in an organization, but leaders can mostly circumvent these issues by following a handful of communication best practices.

  • Share the organization’s strategic vision in a dedicated environment, like at an all-hands meeting or in a mandatory-to-watch video shared organization-wide;
  • Provide a framework for strategic changes (e.g., instead of saying “we plan to reduce patient dropouts by 20%” and leaving it at that, say “we plan to reduce patient dropouts by 20% by ramping up our email patient outreach”);
  • Explain the “why” behind the plan and “how” each employee, team, or department will be contributing to that plan; and finally,
  • Revisit the plan in future communication by sharing progress or celebrating major milestones.

And above all else, keep the door open and encourage employees to approach leadership with constructive questions, concerns, or suggestions about the clinic’s or wider organization’s strategic vision. You may find that a section of your strategy needs clarification or tweaking in order to reach peak effectiveness.

Root your plans in your organization’s “why.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were rumblings indicating that workers—especially millennial workers—were seeking out jobs that aligned with their personal values and that prioritized purpose over profit. This picture solidified after the tumult of 2020 and 2021; research conducted by McKinsey indicates that, not only are 89% of people seeking more fulfillment and purpose, many are looking to their career to meet that need.

To help garner buy-in from your employees and encourage them to feel motivated and fulfilled in your clinic or organization, center your strategic vision by asking yourself “why.” Why have you chosen this particular strategic end goal? Your answer should bring you to a purpose that clinical and administrative employees can all stand behind, like “to help patients” or “to improve access to care.” An altruistic purpose has the power to motivate employees to dedicate themselves to something bigger than just your clinic—and to get on board with your strategic plan and long-term goals to help accomplish that vision.

Create a strategy using The 4 Disciplines of Execution®.

When it comes to crafting the actual strategy, I’m a big proponent of following the guidelines outlined in The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals, an excellent book that’s dedicated to tackling the aforementioned 67% gap between strategy creation and successful execution.

1. Focus on the Wildly Important

The first discipline encourages strategists to pare down the frivolities and identify one significant goal to pursue at a time. Ambitious leaders have a tendency to stretch themselves too thin—overcommitting to multiple exciting and innovative paths that an organization cannot realistically follow at the same time.

Per these guidelines, strategic planners should, “identify the most important objective that won’t be achieved unless it gets special attention. In other words, your normal course of business won’t make it happen.” Then, define a starting point, an ending point, and a timeline, along with a single measure of success.

It may feel impossible to choose one major project to focus on at a time, but remember that this is a lesson in restraint and an attempt to break any habits of taking on too many responsibilities at once. This by far is the hardest part in our process as well, but it sets the tone for the rest of the planning session.

2. Act on the Lead Measures

The second discipline is all about identifying metrics that allow you to proactively adjust course so you meet your goals. Many leaders track their success using metrics they can’t directly influence (e.g., revenue, profit, patient satisfaction). By the time leaders have these numbers in-hand, it’s too late to influence them because “the performance that drove them has already passed.”

Instead, try focusing on metrics that “drive or lead” to major metrics that you cannot directly affect. These leading metrics are directly influenced by your clinic’s team and can ultimately help predict the final results of your actions. Think about tracking patient dropout, front desk administration times, or the number of Google reviews your clinic receives each week. It’s easier to be more proactive when targeting these metrics and to see changes that will filter down to major, less flexible metrics.

3. Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

Emotional engagement is the third discipline to remember when crafting a strategy. How are you going to encourage your therapists and administrative workers to engage in your strategic goals? The original four disciplines strategy recommends using a physical scoreboard to update and track progress. I’d also recommend returning to your “why” and incorporating that into your scoreboard. Instead of tracking patient attrition, reframe the metric so it tracks the number of patients who complete their plans of care. Or, track arrival rates vs. cancel or no-show rates. We want people to show up and complete their plans of care—tracking and celebrating those metrics should align with your company’s overall purpose.

4. Create a Cadence of Accountability

The fourth discipline centers around accountability. Essentially the team meets for a brief period of time on a regular cadence, perhaps weekly or biweekly to “[highlight] successes, [analyze] failures, and [course-correct] as necessary.” During these team meetings, people offer updates about their in-clinic progress and identify the task (or blocker) that they can focus on during the upcoming week or two that will make the biggest difference to the scoreboard. We call these team “standups.”

This open forum environment invites discussion and idea-generation—and it allows the team to flex their priorities based on need. It’s a great way to empower teams to adapt to change.

Keep your budget top-of-mind.

Finally, this may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning: When crafting a long-term strategy, keep your budget top of mind. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the excitement of pursuing a compelling strategy, but you must adhere to the confines of your resource pool—even if that means scaling back your immediate vision. It’s best to know if your eyes are too big for your stomach before finalizing your plans and executing them halfway. Far better to identify the blocker beforehand and either scale back your goals or go out in search of additional resources.

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Effective strategic planning is an art as much as it is a skill. Time-tested leaders know how to work with the push and pull of the demands of the market, employees, the industry, and their own internal resources. But with practice and a little bit of intentionality, any aspiring PT leader can craft a strategy that will launch them toward success

Heidi Jannenga

Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC, is the co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer of WebPT, the leading practice management solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Heidi advises on WebPT’s product vision, company culture, branding efforts and internal operations, while advocating for the rehab therapy profession on a national and international scale. She’s an APTA member,...

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