Developing an Action Plan for Your Business, Part IV

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By Chris Field, MBA

In the preceding articles in this series, I have presented a framework for reviewing the operations side of your business and determining actionable objectives. Now begins the real work of developing a plan of attack, a strategy, and executing that plan to see your vision become a reality. You and your team may develop a great plan to transform the practice into the object of your wildest dreams, but if you fail to execute the plan, or execute it poorly, all the effort put forth will have been in vain.

 We begin with you. Based on over 25 years of upper-level management experience, I believe the most important criteria for implementing an effective change strategy is having a leader who is passionate about the company, believes in its mission, champions change, and is realistic about the current state and future potential of the business.

Why would your employees go the extra mile if they haven't seen the company leaders demonstrate a sense of urgency and meaning in what they do? Of course, you know that you are fully invested in the company, but it is patently unfair and unrealistic to expect your staff to attain some herculean level of performance if they haven't been exposed to the vision or goal you have for the company. It is your responsibility to cast the vision. It is your responsibility to set the standard of performance and expectation. You are to lead. It may feel like an awesome load to carry, but that is what you signed up for, isn't it? If you have doubts about carrying the weight of the company, or your portion of it all alone, be encouraged. Part of your overall responsibility as a leader is to identify the doers in your organization. These are the people who have caught the vision you have cast and are now running with it. In smaller companies, these individuals will often be the employees who already have the most work on their plate. Rather than just saddling them with more, try this radical approach: Free them up. Find ways to remove routine tasks from their day-to-day work to allow them the freedom to institute change, to make things happen, to focus on what's really important. Then, as they begin to succeed, reward them abundantly. Praise their efforts, give them a bonus, let them park in the coveted spot next to the entrance. Find out how they would like to be recognized for their efforts and then act on that intel. Failure to recognize those who are accomplishing great things in your organization will serve to extinguish the flame of initiative. Instead, fan the fire, and seek to replicate your passion throughout the organization.

The means to accomplish this is by developing employee accountability.

It's your people, your staff, those you have hired to be on your team. If these aren't the right people, then all the planning and strategy sessions will amount to nothing more than empty rhetoric, wasted resources, and unrealized dreams. If your desire is to excel, then hire the right people for the right job. It may take more time and effort on the front end, but it will pay dividends over the long haul. Remember, employee accountability begins with hiring, not after. Upon making a good hire, we often feel it is a struggle to goad performance out of the staff. They may be busy and hardworking, but are not achieving objectives. Did you share the objectives with them, provide them with the tools necessary to meet the objectives, and personally or through their managers, guide them toward meeting the objectives? Most importantly, have you trained them to do the job? Early in my career, at a new job, I was shown into my office—my boss provided me with the password for the computer and then left the room with the words, "You're on your own." I hope your training program is more comprehensive than that. Training needs to be thorough, repeated, and understandable. It will make the complicated seem easy. View it as an ongoing investment in the person you have hired. Did you catch the word ongoing? Training doesn't end. Good training will allow employees to not only master their current task but also allow them to move on to higher levels of accountability and responsibility. The goal should be to encourage growth in your employees, and to challenge them with new and interesting tasks that will keep them engaged. Seek to foster an environment of continued learning and education, not only about their specific job but also about the industry and the overall state of healthcare. By doing so, employees will understand how they fit into the big picture and as a result, these educated and connected individuals will contribute. Think back to the earlier articles about reviewing the business; an engaged workforce will provide abundant material and information about the daily operations that will be key to improving processes and growing your business.

Once they have been hired and trained, ongoing follow-up is critical. Don't shortchange your employees by not providing regular reviews, feedback, and communication. Employees need to know how they are doing and, often, they want to know how they are doing. Treat them with respect and dignity. They should always be praised when warranted, reproved when necessary, and treated fairly. Compensation levels should be monitored and adjusted as growth and performance merit. Don't fall into the trap of simply applying a yearly cost of living increase across the board, which provides little incentive. Remember, you are investing in the key component of the success or failure of the company. Invest liberally. Invest wisely.

Now that the operations have been reviewed and the right people are in the right job, it is time to bring it all together.

Execution

Identify what is important. You've reviewed the business from top to bottom and the resulting to-do list seems impossible. Don't let the wealth of information and ideas you have generated fall by the wayside due to work paralysis, that enigmatic condition where there is so much to do that a person ends up doing nothing, or busying him or herself with unimportant tasks to avoid the more challenging ones.

After careful consideration, select the highest priority actionable objectives. Determine whether your team can accomplish the task in-house or if it would be better to outsource? Be realistic about the capabilities of your team. For example, based upon your marketing segment review, you may determine that a new website is needed. If no one on your staff has any experience designing a website, that task should be outsourced. Instead, focus on an achievable goal such as developing a top-notch new employee orientation program that ensures new hires are aware of what is expected of them and understand the company culture immediately.

An effective method for prioritizing tasks can be as simple as ABC. Under the letter A, list all the tasks that are mission critical—the tasks that are imperative to keeping the company moving forward. Letter B will include important objectives that must be met to ensure operational objectives. Letter C will be populated with all the things that need to get done but are not critical. Set a goal to accomplish the A tasks within a day or a week. This method has proved invaluable even in my personal life. Each day starts out with a quick list compilation. The As must be completed. You may find, as I have, that you are spending time and resources on tasks that fall under the letter C because there are so many of them. Accomplish your mission-critical A tasks first, then move on to the Bs and Cs with the unrivaled satisfaction of knowing the high-priority tasks have been accomplished.

Once priority objectives have been identified, delegate the duties. Who will be responsible, who has taken on ownership, and do they have what is needed to accomplish the task? Is there a clear timeframe? Are the expectations clear to everyone who has a part in achieving the objective?

Next, follow up and see the tasks through. Don't let projects or initiatives die on the vine. If an endeavor, for whatever reason, is not going to be a success, admit it and learn from it. Do not simply begin to ignore a task or a project that was once heralded as a major priority. In his book, Mastering Leadership, William A. Adams wrote, "When a promise of leadership is neglected or unfulfilled, trust is broken, engagement erodes, and performance suffers." Don't let this be the epitaph of any of your initiatives. Rather, heed the words of Tony Robbins, business strategist and authority on leadership psychology, who says, "Lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action." And when action produces a bountiful harvest of results, don't neglect to share the rewards with all who have partnered in the journey.

Chris Field, MBA, has worked for Boas Surgical, based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for over 15 years. He serves as the treasurer of the Pennsylvania Orthotic and Prosthetic Society and was named the CFO of the Year by the Lehigh Valley Business Journalin 2014. He can be contacted at cfield1185@gmail.com.