Strategic-planning Meetings for Radiology Groups: Best Practices
Chip AndersonIn today’s challenging business environment, it is more critical than ever before that radiology groups engage in strategic planning. Ironically, the same factors that make strategic planning so necessary to a group’s survival also make it difficult to dedicate resources to the process. Those practices that do carve out the necessary time will see their efforts pay dividends in the future. Though the process can be challenging, the application of best practices (based on experience) can significantly augment its effectiveness. Strategic-planning sessions should take place during a period of time that has been reserved for this purpose alone; groups that attempt to tack strategic planning onto the end of scheduled board meetings, for instance, will see business-critical issues given short shrift. Before the Meeting The first step toward a successful strategic-planning meeting is selecting a dedicated date and time for the event. For many radiology practices, this will be a Saturday, so that most physicians will not be working and those who are on call can participate in at least part of the meeting. The meeting should be held near the practice facility to ensure that everyone can attend, but off the practice’s premises. This will enable all participants to leave behind the day-to-day concerns of their customary environment and focus on the task at hand. In the weeks leading up to the meeting, groups should take the second step by distributing a questionnaire on strategic planning to all participants. Sample questions might address whether participants feel that the group’s compensation system is fair and whether the group needs an exclusive contract with a particular hospital. Each respondent should also be asked to perform a brief analysis in which he or she identifies strengths and weaknesses of the group, as well as opportunities and threats that the group is facing. In addition, each respondent should list one to three goals that he or she thinks will be important for the group to meet in the coming 12 to 18 months. These responses will be collected, aggregated, and analyzed by the meeting facilitator. Appointing an outside facilitator for strategic planning is the third (and perhaps most critical) step to be performed before the meeting. The facilitator should be knowledgeable about the group and the radiology industry, but should have no personal investment in the group (to remove any potential perception of bias). The facilitator should be able to communicate well, to keep the discussion moving in a productive direction, and to handle any disagreements between members of the group that might arise. During the Meeting A typical strategic-planning meeting for a radiology group might begin with the introduction of the facilitator and participants and a brief overview of the ground rules for the day. These might include reminders to listen and not to interrupt; to attack the issue, not the person; and to accept new information from others. These rules might sound intuitive, but reminding participants of them at the outset of the day helps create an open environment in which they can be more receptive to each other’s ideas and ensures that the meeting will be as focused and productive as possible. Next, meeting participants should review where the practice stood in the previous year, going over revenue, charges, and other financial measures and comparing them with the previous three years’ results. Operational reports should also be reviewed and compared with industry standards, such as those released by the Medical Group Management Association. A detailed market analysis should be shared; it should include information on top payors and employers in the area, the group’s locations, and the demographic characteristics of the population that the group is serving. Meeting participants should then discuss common themes and ideas derived from the feedback provided in the questionnaires. This conversation will be the foundation for the primary objective of the meeting, which is setting one to three important goals for the year to come. Goals may be structured to capitalize on opportunities or to shore up areas that multiple participants have identified as threats. It is critical to limit the number of goals, focusing only on what is most critical to the practice’s success; having too many goals will result in a lack of focus in the execution stage. The one to three goals upon which the group has settled should be synthesized into an action plan for the year to come. An easy way to develop this plan is to locate a document centrally and add to it based on the discussion between meeting participants. If a group’s goal is to galvanize its relationship with its main hospital in pursuit of an exclusive contract, for instance, the action plan might include such points as implementing compensation for group members who attend hospital staff meetings, having a shareholder run for department chair, and establishing monthly meetings between the group president and the hospital CEO. In addition, a completion date for each action plan item should be determined, and the members of the group who should be involved in the process should be identified by name. After the Meeting The facilitator should remain engaged following the meeting; he or she will help members of the group stay accountable to the action-plan items that apply to them. The facilitator also will meet with the group’s high-level decision makers on a regular basis to review where the group stands on its goals and what, if anything, needs to be done to ensure that they are met by the completion dates established in the meeting. The action plan should be revisited monthly, ideally at board/shareholder meetings, for discussion by the group. Execution of the points outlined in the action plan should be tracked, and any measurements related to achievements should be shared with the group—both to chart progress and to maintain meeting participants’ investment in the group’s goals. At the next year’s strategic-planning meeting, the action plan should be reviewed (so the group can identify any aspects of the process that went awry and can plan more knowledgeably for the coming year). In an increasingly difficult business environment, radiology groups can no longer afford to relegate strategic planning to short segments of time integrated within other meetings. Implementing best practices to ensure that strategic-planning meetings are as productive as possible will enable groups to coordinate their efforts to succeed in an uncertain health-care future. Chip Anderson, CPA, is director of practice management, Medical Management Professionals (MMP) Inc, Atlanta, Georgia.