I read almost every day about the obstacles and issues my physician clients face in trying to run a successful practice. Many busy physicians complain that they don’t have enough quiet time to make important decisions about their practices’ futures. They are so caught up in the day-to-day problems of their practices that they can’t step back and look at the big picture. Too often, I wish my physicians would stop their day-to-day push and take two days to assess their practice. Yes, I’m talking about a real retreat away from the office.
A practice retreat can be the perfect answer to these problems. A change of scenery and a block of uninterrupted meeting time can help busy physicians and their staff confront management issues once and for all and clear the air of nagging problems. A retreat can also enable staff members to get to know each other better and learn more effective ways to communicate and work with each other. However, a worthwhile practice retreat must be carefully planned.
To make a practice retreat worthwhile, begin by defining the real purpose of your retreat. Retreats are not just getting away for a few days and then going back to work. A successful practice retreat definitely is not:
- A series of half-hour department presentations
- A grievance session
- A projection of the next couple of years
- A summary of new projects under development
This sort of information is operational and should be communicated within the timeframe of your regularly daily, weekly and/or monthly staff meetings.
Because retreats are costly gatherings — both in terms of time and dollars — they should be used only to accomplish very important goals that can’t be reached through usual staff meetings. Here are some basic preparation steps:
- Interview a few experienced healthcare facilitators and select the one who has the energy and character to run a long meeting but not dominate the retreat. The right facilitator will want to know about you and your practice well beforehand. The facilitator’s efforts and cost will also force you to take all of this seriously and get more out of the time you spend on this. The facilitator should not have any predetermined agenda beyond guiding and questioning you.
- All retreats should be work-oriented. Hold a retreat only if you can develop an agenda around specific topics on which action can be taken.
- Select a location away from the office that provides drinks, food, snacks, etc. so you can focus on your discussions. It must be a place where you can talk openly and not be distracted by everyday matters — business or personal.
- Choose the right people to attend your retreat. How involved your CPA, attorney and other outside advisers are will guide you regarding inviting them. The key people who help run your practice must be there, even if there is discord between some of them.
- The timing of the retreat can sometimes be the most difficult thing to determine. The sooner the better is the immediate answer, but there must be enough time given to prepare, and the key people must all be available.
- Publicize the dates of the retreat well in advance. Make it clear that everyone is expected to attend. Pay for all expenses, and compensate staff for their time.
- Understanding what you want to accomplish in the retreat is where you tie everyone in to be truly involved and committed. This is where you must stop the world and think about what you want to accomplish. It might be better communication with staff, improved efficiency within office procedures, increased productivity in patient volume, greater net profits — maybe all of the above. You may want simply to assess the state of your medical practice and plan for the most likely scenarios that may affect its future.
- Following up after your retreat is everything. The best retreats lead to positive change. Assign a retreat secretary to record and afterward distribute copies of the proceedings and decisions. Within a week of the retreat, basic goals should be clarified, and specific work assignments should be given to key members to fine-tune decisions made at the retreat. Three weeks afterward, deliver specific assignments with deadlines to all staff members to confirm their assignments have been or are currently being implemented. Accountability for the things to be done is needed.
Get your business life where you want it to be. If all goes well, you will be looking forward to your next annual retreat.
Jim Rice, CPA, is a shareholder at Sol Schwartz & Associates, P.C. (email@example.com). He has 36 years of experience in public accounting, and he works with a high concentration of physician practices and high-net-worth individuals. Contact Jim at 210-384-8000, ext. 112.