Zeroing in on your goals


Work better with goal planning.

Ever feel like you're working harder than ever without seeing any progress? Yet colleagues around you seem to be moving ahead and getting so much more done. What's their secret?

Quite simply, doctors who thrive work on their practices not just in their practices. They don't run in circles because they're following a plan.

Remember when you decided to become a veterinarian? What did you do? You put a plan together, at least mentally, to accomplish this goal. You decided that to achieve your goal you needed excellent grades, specific courses, experience working at a veterinary practice, and a degree from a graduate school. And those are likely only a few of the steps you took to achieve your dream.

Practice tool, Goal planning form

Well, what are your goals now? Maybe you'd like to become board certified, offer a new service, hire an associate, open a satellite clinic, or make your practice more profitable and efficient. Whatever the goal, your first step is to identify it and make sure it's realistic.

Identify your goal

Spend 15 minutes writing down all your personal and professional goals. Then break your list into one-, three-, and five-year goals. If you have a partner, ask him or her to do the same, and then discuss your goals together. It's important to consider both your personal and professional goals, because they're often interdependent.

When you define your goals, you need to follow five rules:

1. Be specific rather than general. Define your goals and objectives in detail and indicate the means for attaining them.

2. Distinguish between the known and the unknown. You've picked a goal, but you must know what's needed to achieve that goal and decide whether you're up for the task.

3. Make your goals logical and practical. Be realistic about what you can accomplish. You can't become board certified if you don't have any time to devote to the effort. And you can't expect to graduate from veterinary school and open a five-doctor practice a year later.

4. Build in some flexibility. Recognize that no plan is infallible, nor can it cover all contingencies. So make sure you can modify your goals if that's what the circumstances require.

5. Make sure your new goals correspond with the focus of the practice. This is why you and your partner need to discuss your personal and professional goals.

Plot your path

I recommend using a goal planning form to outline your path. (You'll find an example on the previous page, and a downloadable form in Related Links below. This form helps you think through the steps you'll take to accomplish your goal and spot potential obstacles that you may encounter along the way.

Retreat to plan your advance

In our goal planning example, the team's goal is to increase clients' awareness of the importance of preventive dental care. That's a good start. Next you need to define the goal more specifically, so you know when you've accomplished your objective. How will you determine that clients have become more aware of the importance of preventive dental care?

In our example, the specific goal was to perform 60 dental cleanings during February. This is a SMART goal, meaning the goal is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time bound. If the goal isn't SMART, it'll be nearly impossible to accomplish. So before proceeding to the next step, reassess your goal and decide whether it meets this criterion.

With your SMART goal in place, outline the steps you'll take to achieve the goal, and choose a facilitator to take charge of each step. Also note the people who will be involved and the time frame for accomplishing the goal.

In our example, the action steps were:

  • Educating the healthcare team about the importance of preventive dental care.

  • Offering a free preliminary dental exam to patients older than four. (A technician will apply a blue disclosing dye to the pet's teeth. If there's significant tarter, the blue dye will turn red—a great show-and-tell exercise that educates clients about the need for a dental cleaning.)

  • Sending a letter to all patients older than four that the practice team saw in the past 12 months.

  • Providing a complimentary weekend of pet boarding for clients when they have their pets' teeth cleaned. (An incentive is key in any successful new service. Another example: giving clients home dental kits.)

Remember for effective goal planning, you must also analyze potential obstacles and devise plans to overcome them. Will clients think you're being too pushy? Will your healthcare team be able to handle the added workload?

Ask your team members to help you spot potential pitfalls and suggest solutions. This approach helps you build a better plan and gain support from your team.

Of course, their support requires more than just participation. You'll never achieve your goal if your team members are thinking, "I'm already working hard, so why should I do more work just to line the doctor's pocket?" You must understand their perspectives.

So as part of your planning, ask and answer this question: "On attainment of this goal, how will we reward our team?" Again, your team should be involved in the decision process. I know some practices that have given their employees a monetary bonus; others have gone out to an amusement park or dinner.

For your team to succeed, you also need to know how close you are to reaching your goal. This is where score boarding comes in. How well would a basketball team do if it didn't know the score until the end of the game? The same holds true for healthcare team members, so keep them informed. In our example, a wall chart showing the number of dental cleanings accomplished each day did the trick.

Then comes the review. A month or so after completing a goal, go back and review what worked and what didn't. Use these findings for your next goal plan.

Start achieving your goals

When the chief executive officers from top Fortune 500 companies were asked what one strategy contributed most to their success, they overwhelmingly cited goal planning. And the sad truth is that most people invest more hours planning their vacation than they do in the success of their business. Don't fall into the same trap! Stop chasing your tail—and start chasing your dream.

The bottom line

Achieve your goals the SMART way:

  • Make sure they're Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time bound.

  • Outline the steps you'll take to hit your goal.

  • Get team members involved, and explain what's in it for them.

  • Celebrate your achievements.

Hospital Management Editor Mark Opperman is a certified veterinary practice manager and owner of VMC Inc., a veterinary consulting firm based in Evergreen, Colo. Send your comments to

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