Focus on these key areas to maximize practice productivity
by Jay Geier
This is certainly the time of year for you and your team members to be more intentional about creating fond holiday memories with family and friends. But if almost everyone takes the last few weeks of the year off, your business will suffer some hefty unintentional consequences; come January and February, you’ll not only be lamenting credit card bills but also dealing with the inevitable damage to your practice and your bottom line.
You’ll be thinking, “How did I allow this to happen … again?!” Or, maybe you won’t recognize that something happened; you’ll just be disappointed with how the new year is starting out.
The “how” is always the same: You took yourself out of the race mentally and physically during the home stretch. You allowed yourself to be too distracted by turkeys, trees and the man in the red suit. You allowed your team to spend more time swapping cookie recipes than booking new patients. And you all took too much time off. Consequently, you suffered a double whammy: You not only lost the race to this year’s revenue goal but also ruined your momentum going into next year’s race. Combined, you negatively affected three to four months of production.
The bigger question is: why? Why do you do this to your business every year? Instead of ending the year with a bang, you go out with a fizzle. Instead of starting the new year with momentum, you spend much of the first quarter just trying to regain traction. When you have to repeat that cycle of damage recovery year after year, it’s virtually impossible to establish a long-term growth pattern for the practice.
It doesn’t have to be that way! It’s a lot easier to face all those holiday bills when you’ve ended the year strong and are already on a growth trajectory early in the new year. To help you do that, here are three key areas on which to focus that will not only keep you growing this year but also set you up for continued growth next year.
Focus on: your growth mindset
To be successful at anything requires the right mindset. Beyond just wanting to do something, you need to:
Set a goal.
Create a plan.
Commit to the discipline it will take to execute that plan daily.
Let’s take these one at a time. You undoubtedly already have a revenue goal for the year, but do you have one for the fourth quarter? Given where you are right now, what do you need to do in these last two months to meet your 2020 goal? If you’re falling short, don’t give up on the year! If you write off the last few weeks as a slow time, that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy because you won’t be of the mindset to do anything to change that expectation.
Instead, set a fourth-quarter revenue goal that gets you back on track for the overall year. Even if you miss the target, you’ll come out better off than if you weren’t shooting for a goal. And if you’re ahead of projection, fantastic! Set a fourth-quarter goal that capitalizes on that momentum, so your year ends up that much better than your original goal.
Now that you have a fourth-quarter goal, what will you need to do to achieve it? Set yourself up for success by being willing to invest in strategies that get and keep your wheels spinning. Involve your entire team in the plan so you get buy-in and everyone understands their roles and takes responsibility and accountability for agreed-upon targets.
Now comes the hard part: having the discipline to execute that plan on a daily basis. That means making yourself do what you should, even when you don’t feel like it. And conversely, not doing what you shouldn’t, even when you want to. Weight loss is an obvious illustration of this. Let’s say you set a goal to lose 15 pounds, and your plan includes 30 minutes daily on the treadmill and skipping dessert. Come Thanksgiving, have the discipline to make yourself get on that treadmill and push away that pie, in spite of what you’d rather do. And if you do succumb to temptation, don’t let one day’s overindulgence bleed on for days.
To achieve your fourth-quarter goal, don’t let distractions derail your intentions, or allow external circumstances to become excuses for not following through. Continually motivate your people to maintain their mindset and stay focused on what they’ve committed to do. To keep the holidays from being a major distraction, leverage the spirit of the season and everyone’s happy mood to motivate in fun ways that apply only at this time of year.
Focus on: the team
Everyone on your team could use some extra cash going into and coming out of the holidays, so incentives are especially motivating at this time of year. But they do have to be done right. It is statistically proven that incentives drive behavior, so be sure you’re driving the right behaviors. The easiest and most profitable incentives reward people for things within their control—smaller numbers within the practice that ultimately add up to collections. Incentives should only be paid when you
improve an existing number, not just maintain or hit the status quo. A great example is for the number of new patients that cross the threshold of the door.
Incentives are investments that provide a positive return on investment because the payouts come from new revenue generated. That’s why effective incentives are such a win/win for you and your people. Now is when a fun incentive will keep the team focused on business priorities at a time when it’s particularly beneficial to them. It will also give them the opportunity to partner with you in not allowing the bottom to fall out of the bottom line in the last few weeks of the year!
This is also an excellent time to be honest with yourself about the caliber of your team and replace those who need to go. Is each individual engaged, committed to delivering an outstanding patient experience, and respected by other team members?
If someone isn’t contributing in positive ways, they’re detracting in more negative ways than you probably realize. The labor pool is excellent right now, including a great many hospitality and retail workers who already have a strong customer service attitude. Don’t feel bad about making a good business decision just because it’s this time of the year; remind yourself that it’s not personal, it’s what is best for the practice, the team and ultimately your patients.
Elements of your fourth-quarter plan should also include setting up for growth next year—which necessarily includes staff training. Paying for first-quarter training now is a tax-deductible investment you can make this year that will provide considerable ROI to your bottom line early next year.
Focus on: the patient
Being a patient-centric practice is and always will be the key to a thriving and growing practice. Nonetheless, many offices pull back in this area because “our lives are so busy during the holidays”—in other words, what’s most convenient for the doctor and the team takes precedence over what your patients would appreciate.
The best example is when a practice reduces hours to give the doctors and team members more time off. And yet, many patients are trying to book appointments in the last few weeks of the year while they have time off, and so they can maximize insurance benefits. At the very least, you should be maintaining your availability, if not finding ways to increase it to accommodate your patients.
Continue investing in the patient experience—not with more decorations, but with a memorable giveaway or year-end appreciation gift. Get everyone on the team to understand you’re not trying to dampen their holiday spirit by asking them to stay focused. Quite the opposite: You’re trying to capitalize on that spirit to amp up the patient experience.
As with team training, make a tax- deductible investment in your first-quarter marketing pieces that will keep the momentum going. For example, if you add (or replace) a doctor or hygienist in the fourth quarter, send an introductory piece with a coupon. Or, if by achieving your fourth-quarter goal you end up having your best year ever, send a huge thank-you to all your patients.
Enjoy the season, but …
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Scrooge. Being a workaholic and taking too little time to rejuvenate leads to burnout—it’s bad for your health, your relationships and your practice. In fact, I’m a strong proponent that when you take time off, you should take time off! Be totally present with whomever you’re with and thoroughly enjoy whatever you’re doing.
Then, when you’re at work, be fully engaged and focused on driving to your goals. Don’t let playtime bleed into productivity time. Likewise, keep your team engaged with contests and incentives that reinforce priorities. Adopt a mindset that lets you and your team enjoy the season without being completely sidetracked by it.
As for next year’s holiday season, set a goal to grow your practice throughout 2021 so you don’t have to face these typical year-end dilemmas:
You believe it’s unfair to take time off yourself and not let the rest of the team take all the time off they would like, so your patients suffer the lack of availability.
Or, at the other extreme, you take no time off because you’re the only producer and the practice grinds to a halt when you’re not there.
Wouldn’t you rather not have to make those tough choices? We coach our top-level clients to turn their practices into true businesses that produce revenue even when the owner doctors aren’t there. With a 2021 growth plan that includes more producers, next year’s fourth quarter could be the exciting home stretch in the race to your best year ever.