It was not so long ago that operating a profitable optometry practice was relatively easy. Most optometry businesses provided a service that was in demand, our patients were prepared to buy our products and services provided we had some sort of relationship between quality and value, and our businesses grew if we didn’t make any horrendous errors. Competition was not a major consideration for most.
What happened? Economics…that’s what happened. There was an opportunity in the market and business moved to take advantage. Competing in a more crowded and complex industry requires a more rigorous approach and a determination to overcome new challenges
The quest to find strategies that create change can’t start with an inventory of best practices or problems. Our goal must be to create a business model that is forever changing and adapting, forever taking advantage of opportunities and trends. If we get this right there should be fast painless change. No major surprises, crises, re-organisations or trauma. It will be very exciting and stimulating.
The Worst Enemies Can Be Inside!
A core enemy of success is a creature called complacency. It is insidious and pervasive. It is very easy to be comfortable and accept what is rather than question and move forward.
Complacency has three little friends. They are called inactivity, nostalgia and denial. They support complacency in holding back change when it is most needed.
How do we deal with these little monsters? We need:
A management system that allows the practice to identify improvements and make them without undue restriction
A work environment that is the best it can be, and provides staff with the tools, knowledge and inspiration to be the best.
A culture of achievement, implementation and reward.
Acceptance and acknowledgement of informed risk taking
To identify how everything can be improved, not to question if anything needs improvement
To promise only what can be delivered and deliver what we promised
Create a Solid and Effective Machine
You will never win the Bathurst 1000 in a 1990’s Daewoo. You will not win the Sydney to Hobart yacht race in the next-door neighbour’s 10 year old catamaran.
You and your staff cannot provide premium services from a practice that has not changed for 15 years and does not have finely tuned and well-developed systems that have been set up to support excellence in service delivery.
As a business owner one of your primary tasks is to make sure your staff have the backing and resources in equipment, tools, environment, IT, systems and policies that will make a practice that runs perfectly. There is no point in tying ribbons on a pig. Fix the basics first.
Do Not Leave A Gap
If you are not actively working on your practice and patients, you can bet someone else will be trying to take your market share. A new competitor proposes to the patient that they can do it better than you. The matter is fairly simple in principle. Give your patients what they want and they will not leave. Do it better than the next fellow and your practice will grow. Understand your market and make sure you are fine tuned to it. As an practice owner it is your job to make sure this happens.
Shared And Clear Sense Of Purpose And Progress
Why we are here and what would you like us to do about it? There is clear evidence that what motivates employees on a day-to-day basis is the sense that they are making progress. The best thing you can do as a practice owner is to provide those important things that allow projects to move forward and remove obstacles that get in the way.
Provide constant feedback to your staff about how they are progressing towards goals and arrange celebrations when you hit milestones.
Have A Plan
The value of planning has been known for thousands of years. Why some still refuse to do it is a mystery. Its not like its a new idea that needs testing.
With tongue planted firmly in his cheek, the ex-spy and British businessman Sir John Harvey-Jones noted: “Planning is an unnatural process. It is much more fun to do something. And the nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and anxiety”.
General Dwight D Eisenhower also noted: “I have found that in battle, plans are useless, however planning is indispensible…”. In 500BC Chinese general Tsun Tzu, notes in his book The Art of War
“He will win who prepares himself”.
A successful practice needs an edge. Planning is the key to success – the direction of the business is clear as are the steps on how to achieve your goals. You can use your plan to communicate and assign responsibility to others, to compare changes in the environment, as a guide to managing resources and a measure of progress towards goals.
Use Information to Advantage
Take time to understand what is going on inside and outside your practice. Set up some simple measures and reports that you can access quickly to get a snapshot of where things are at. Read trade magazines and media, log in to forums on the Internet. Get media feeds to your mobile phone.
Also focus on your market. Understand what is going on in your local area. How is it changing? What do people think? What is happening in retail and health care locally? Network and speak to people. Information is the basis for decision making. The more information you have as a manager, the more effective your decisions will be.
Understand What You Are Dealing With
Know the marketing strategy of your competition. This is often obvious and sometimes publicly stated. You also need to know what drives your competitor’s business. How and why do they do what they do? What are their core competitive advantages? Understanding the environment surrounding your practice ensures you can direct the resources of the practice appropriately to best position your own practice
Focus on Implementation
Whoa! A big one. In my experience the best practices in optometry are masters of implementation. They make changes happen. Implementation or change management is a topic for at least 2 days of education in itself but besides patient care almost nothing is more important.
Start with something small but useful. Get together a small crew of keen staff who you know will get behind the project. If it’s just you and your dispenser you had better pull your finger out. Set aside time to work on the project. It will stall if you don’t. Be clear about the outcome and set a target for completion. A sense of urgency and impetus is important.
Get this right and you will be looking good.
Small Wins Are Important.
Pay attention to short term wins and small gains. They:
Provide accumulating evidence that the change was worth it
Reward and encourage the change agents
Help to fine tune the vision and the product – provide concrete data and evidence of viability
Undermine resisters and skeptics
Keep everyone happy
Build momentum – turning neutrals into supporters and creating active helpers.
A good short-term win is obvious and needs little explanation and is clearly related to the change.
Training and Education
You must educate and train yourself and your staff. You and your staff are different because of what you know. A Boston University report reviewing the S&P500 top companies showed that those investing 10% or more of turnover in education clearly out-performed their peers. This has been shown to be also true of optometry practices.
Marketing Is Essential
To grow your practice and maintain a market advantage you cannot afford to neglect marketing. For most large businesses marketing is a major activity and expense. It should be the same for optometry practices.
You need a marketing plan that ties into your practice objectives and strategies. There are many ways to market your practice and they do not have to cost gig dollars. Local direct marketing tactics that are low cost but more time intensive can be very effective. You can directly target service and product users close to you.
Electronic and social media are critical and will give your practice the opportunity to engage directly with patients on a very frequent basis. It’s not intrusive if done properly. You can also work on creating a database of potential customers to target your marketing.
Trust your Staff
In 1968 Frederick Hertzberg put forward a now widely recognised principle: “Your staff will be most satisfied with their jobs when their jobs allow them to achieve”. The hardest thing is to give someone authority and let them go with it, particularly if you own the business.
A successful practice can no longer be taken for granted but it can be achieved. The game has changed and its not easy, but you don’t have to change the world. Just be the best you can be and the best in your local market. You will succeed.