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Practice Management

The SMART Art of Goal Planning

by Mark Opperman, CVPM

    As 2011 winds down, it’s a great time to think about your practice and its future. As a practice owner and/or manager, have you thought about what you wish to accomplish in 2012? Maybe you’ve gone so far as to sit down and write out a list of goals for next year. That’s a good start, but it’s not goal planning

    Goal planning is nothing more than planning for your future and its success, but there is an art to it. It’s not enough to know what you want. You must also work out the details of how you wish to incorporate your goals into your practice and the steps you will take to achieve them. Think about it: Most people spend more time planning for their vacations than for the success of their practices.

    Step 1: Choose SMART Goals

    In order for goals to be successful, they must be SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time bound. Any goal you set for yourself or your practice should be a SMART goal. For example, it’s wonderful to say that you want your veterinary practice to be the best in your city or state, but how can you measure your progress or know when you have truly accomplished such a goal? Wanting to have the best veterinary practice in your state is a great goal, but it is not SMART. On the other hand, planning to increase your client retention rate from 70% to 90% in the next 6 months is a goal that can be considered SMART.

    Let me suggest a few areas for which I think every practice owner or manager needs to state SMART goals:

    • The gross income you wish to achieve
    • How to produce this gross income
    • The net income you wish to achieve
    • The steps you are going to take to improve your net income, if necessary
    • Improvements you wish to implement in your practice this year
    • How much time off you need to schedule for yourself
    • The type of continuing education you wish to attend this year
    • Improvements that need to be made in the practice’s physical facilities
    • Changes to your health care team, if necessary

    Step 2: Know the Requirements of an Effective Plan

    In my experience, if you don’t plan for your goals, you won’t know if you’ve achieved them. It’s like going on vacation but not planning on going on vacation. How do you ever know if you are on vacation or not? 

    There are five requirements of effective goal planning:

    • Be specific rather than general. Define your goals and objectives and indicate the means for attaining them.
    • Distinguish between the known and the unknown. Thinking you know the business trends in your clinic is not the same as measuring them. For example, if your income is down and you believe a decreased number of transactions is the cause, have you run the reports to check? Or could the cause be something else, like increased staff costs?  Make your goal planning more than just anticipation and reaction—include the necessary homework. 
    • Make your plan as logical and practical as possible. Intelligent thinking should serve as the foundation for your goal planning.
    • Allow flexibility and looseness. No plan is infallible, nor can it cover all contingencies. So build in the ability to readily modify your plan if circumstances require it.
    • Be sure your goals are consistent. Your goals should be in accord with your practice philosophies.

    Step 3: Get Started!

    Once you understand goal planning, the next step is to get started. In my opinion, you should develop three different plans: 1-year goals, 5-year goals, and lifetime goals. You will find it is easier to develop the 1- and 5-year goals. The further out we look, the harder it is to develop a plan. However, lifetime goals are important because the 1- and 5-year goals will be stepping stones to them.

    I also recommend making your plans all-inclusive: think about your practice goals, but also consider your financial, physical, intellectual, family, social, and spiritual goals. They are all interrelated.

    Step 4: Make It a Team Effort

    If all this planning seems overwhelming, know that you don’t have to undertake it all by yourself. A great idea is to plan a practice retreat for the entire health care team in which everyone can get involved in planning for the future success of the practice. This goal planning form can help you think about all the components that go into successfully accomplishing the goals you have set for yourself and your practice, as well as what the rewards will be once you have done so.


    The bottom line is that goal planning is an important concept that you should consider, if you are not working it on already. What better time to start than the beginning of the year? Don’t just make a resolution to be successful—plan for your success!

    Best wishes to you for a very successful New Year!


    Did you know... Every time a veterinarian speaks with a client, the conversation represents an opportunity to market the practice and its services. Read More

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