By Ken Krivacic, OD, MBA
April 3, 2019
Staff retreats give you a chance to spend time communicating with employees about how to best improve your practice. Here’s how my practice has used staff retreats to better our service to patients and our profitability.
Create a Regular Schedule & Choose a Theme
We have held staff retreats for over 10 years. We perform these meetings bi-annually, and for every meeting there is a certain theme, or subject, we focus on.
The first retreat is usually in February and the second in August/September. The primary purpose of the retreats is to review our key practice metrics, and strategize how to improve. The first retreat is held in February to give us enough time to compile our metrics from the previous year, and the second retreat in the late summer, so we can review metrics for the first half of the year.
For our last gathering, which we just held in mid-February, our attention was on improving our patients’ first impression.
Part of this theme was covered off-site through discussion and planning, and part was accomplished when we went back to the office and did a group”walk through” from the point of view of the patient. This started by walking through the front door, and proceeding from front desk to clinic to contact lens or optical, to final check-out. In the process, we noted things that distracted from making a great impression and developed a list of who was in charge of changing the distraction, along with a time table for when each improvement would be accomplished.
Set Aside Time & Venue
We have performed almost all of our meetings off-site. This is done on purpose. We want a different feel for the meeting. We want our staff to know that this is special and not just our routine weekly staff meeting. The change of venue is also to make the meeting more conducive to an open exchange of ideas.
One of the phrases we use is that there “are no bad ideas today.” My belief is that even if you started with the idea of opening a second location on the moon – even though that is crazy – it may lead to another idea, such as a trunk show at a local restaurant.
We block out the entire work day for the retreat, with staff getting paid as usual. Some might suggest this is crazy considering the amount of revenue you would lose for the day, but in the 10 years we have performed the meetings we have had a steady increase in revenue of at least 5 percent yearly. This past year we grew over 7 percent, which for an office that does over 3 million per year in revenues, with the equivalent of 2.5 doctors, is very acceptable in our industry. I’m not going to say the meetings are the main reason why we are doing well, but I believe they contribute to our growth.
Our average daily collection in an eight-hour day is over $12,000. We could move the retreat to a Saturday, but I would rather not have our employees give up part of their weekend, and I also want to emphasize that we believe the meeting is important and beneficial enough to sacrifice a short-term gain for a long-term benefit.
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When we first started doing the meetings we were concerned about the loss of revenue, and would work in the mornings and then go to our retreat. But after a few retreats it became apparent that a full day was worth doing. In reverting to a full-day retreat we eliminated the problem of starting the meeting shorthanded or late because some of the staff was still with patients, and were running behind schedule.
It also appeared that staff appreciated the change of pace, sharing ideas and learning and reviewing challenges related to growing our practice.
Since we have been doing this for a while, and I am a creature of habit, we have a format we follow. Click HERE to download the last planning session schedule that we used.
We usually start with a reminder of why we are doing the retreat, and what we hope to get out of it. That is usually followed by an ice-breaker exercise to loosen things up. During this last retreat we divided into groups based on our birth orders: first, middle, last and only child.
Groups were formed according to birth order, with the assignment to go over the pros and cons of their birth orders, and present to the entire staff. This was just to have fun and let people get comfortable with the meeting and learn something about each other that they may not have known before.
From there we move on to the subjects we want to cover. Every meeting covers office metrics. We elicit feedback from staff on the numbers presented, such as why we had more former patients this year versus last, but fewer new patients than the previous year. We also would ask: What is the advantage of that situation, and what is the disadvantage? This is the time when the big picture of an entire year can be reviewed, versus our weekly meeting where we concentrate on monthly numbers.
Another section of staff retreats is “Wish List.” This is when we open the floor to suggestions of how to make the office better by adding equipment or changing procedures. Not every item is going to be accomplished, in fact we usually implement a small fraction of what is suggested, but this gives the staff input into making the practice and their workplace a better place to be. We have learned that if you assign one person to be in charge of research and implementation, and assign a date to accomplish a goal, more of the suggestions will become real.
We also discuss how to market the practice. This could involve traditional marketing, such as ads in local publications, or changes to our web site, but it can also involve internal marketing, such as how to reduce the no-show rate. Again, the staff is asked for their ideas and insight.
Doctors will sometimes give presentations based on staff request. In February, for instance, two doctors presented on “Professionalism in the Workplace.”
In addition to our business agenda, we also sometimes tack on a social activity like bowling or volunteering together for a charity.
Personally, I’m more charged up about my work after I have been to a conference, and that same enthusiasm seemed to show in our staff. For that reason, we have made the function a full-day affair.