Staff Management

How & Why to Do a Staff-Planning Retreat

By Ken Krivacic, OD, MBA

May 2, 2018

Your staff is your partner in keeping the practice working for both patients and profitability. For that reason, it’s essential to make sure everyone is working effectively toward the same goals.

In our practice, twice a year we involve the entire team, doctors and staff, in looking back on the previous period and planning for the months ahead. We call these meetings “staff retreats,” but you could just as easily call them “planning sessions.” By involving the entire team, we find that this planning time propels our growth and success. We go offsite for one day, cover all expenses and pay our team for their time.

Set a Budget
We usually pick a venue that can seat and feed 25 people. We also like to be able to have fun, incorporating team-building activities whenever we can. Venues over the years have included local country clubs, restaurants and even a movie theater.

Our budgets vary depending on the activities, but for the past few years it has ranged between $1,200 to $2,200 for 25 people, or about $48-$88 per person. Also, keep in mind there is a cost in lost revenue for the day.

The cost may seem steep, but we have continued doing these retreats because we see a benefit in the communications the sessions open between staff and management (managers and doctors), and the positive effect it has “refreshing” the staff.

Our most recent event was held at Pinstack, a combination bowling alley, arcade and restaurant in the Dallas, Texas, area, where we are based. The venue was able to provide a meeting room that could accommodate 25 people with audio-visual capabilities, and also provided breakfast and lunch. Our retreat began at 7 a.m., with a working breakfast, lunch at noon, and after the meeting concluded in the late afternoon, a few hours having fun bowling. The entire package deal at the venue ran close to $1,900 total.

Click HERE, or the image above, to read the full agenda of Dr. Krivacic’s last staff planning session retreat. Dr. Krivacic says such sessions set the stage for a profitable practice.

Planning the Planning Session
There are two main steps in the planning process. The first step is to locate a space that can house our staff, and hopefully, provide food and entertainment. This task is delegated to the office manager, and she is given a budget.

Once she narrows down the search to no more than a few locations, the owner-doctors and office manager decide together on the final location. The entire process takes 3-4 hours depending on how many locations are researched, and whether we have used the finalist locations before.

The second step involves coming up with an agenda. This is usually done in collaboration between the doctor owners and the office managers. Since we have been doing this for just over 10 years the process has become easier, and we tend to follow a format that is slightly revised from meeting to meeting. This step takes approximately 3-4 hours also.

We usually ask the heads of our departments (optical, contact lenses, front desk and business office) to provide an overview of how their department performed over the past six months, and to share plans for how their department will continue contributing to the overall success of the office.

Set Goals for Planning Session
In each retreat we have several agenda items we cover. We start with a recap of metrics that we maintain on how the office is doing. These include items such as revenue, exams performed, staff hours and doctor hours. We compare those to the previous period – in this last retreat we reviewed the metrics from 2017 (one reason why the meeting is in February is so we have time to finalize the previous year’s numbers), and we use those to establish goals for the upcoming year.

Another area we cover is what we call the “Wish List.” We open it up to all staff and doctors, and ask “If there are no limitations, what would you change, or add, to our office?” I preface this by saying there are no bad ideas because even an outrageous idea (open an office on the moon) might lead to something constructive (open a second location). In most cases, this involves adding a new piece of equipment and/or a new procedure.

We also want to establish a “marketing calendar.” What are we going to do this year to promote the practice, and how do we stay on track and follow through? We have found that there are great marketing ideas, but if you don’t write them down, and set dates for implementation, those great ideas fall through the cracks. We bring a calendar in, and write down dates for events we are going to organize and implement, such as trunk shows, fundraisers and ocular-health awareness campaigns.

We also want to include education. We have done this several different ways. At some planning sessions, we provide the education ourselves. For instance, my practice partner, Jon Park, OD, did a segment at the last planning meeting about how to enhance the “customer experience.” Sometimes we bring in an outside speaker.

We try to learn from what other practices have done in their planning retreats. A friend, Howard Doleman, OD, who practices in Ontario, Canada, and has conducted staff retreats for over 15 years, once invited a financial planner to discuss “Strategies to Save for Retirement.” Dr. Doleman also has organized sessions to educate staff on financial literacy, such as a presentation on “Understanding a Profit and Loss Statement.”

Finally, we want to have fun. After our last planning session, we bowled for a couple hours. There were a lot of laughs, and a lot of gutter balls, but you get to see each other in a different light, and that, in itself, is beneficial, and has led to greater bonds between staff and doctors.

I asked Chris Furey, OD, a friend, who practices in Goodyear, Ariz., and has been holding staff retreats for 10 years, about the benefits of these events. He noted: “Re-energizing the staff is the primary goal. We all get burned out doing the same thing day in and day out. Having a day devoted to the staff helps recharge us all.”

I could not agree more with Dr. Furey. Think about how you feel after you’ve gone to an out-of-town education session or trade show. If you’re like me, you usually come home with ideas that you can’t wait to implement when you get back to the office. What if you could provide that same enthusiasm to your staff twice a year?


Ken Krivacic, OD, MBA, owns Las Colinas Vision Center in Irving, Texas. To contact him:

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