Goal Setting and Strategic Planning
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2013
Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA
PAW Consulting, Irvine, CA, USA

I could summarize this discussion in two quotes:

 "Failing to plan is planning to fail."

 "You'll never achieve your dreams if they don't become goals."

These two concepts - goal setting and strategic planning - are integrally related. A goal is a dream with a deadline. It is a target that you are shooting for. A plan is how you will attain your global success. Let's address each one separately with some specific concepts.

Goal Setting

Successful people, as a rule, are goal driven. Metaphorically, consider a goal to be your destination when you get into your car. If you get into your car with no specific destination in mind, you will drive around aimlessly until, by luck, you will arrive at an endpoint. It will take longer, be more circuitous and may not be where you really wanted to end up. On the other hand, whether you use a map, a GPS, or the internet, if you have definite destination, plug this in as your desired outcome and follow the path, you will arrive at your destination in an effective, efficient, and timely fashion. And it will be the outcome that you envisioned. A goal is a destination.

To keep it as simple as possible, goals should be SMART. What is a SMART goal?


The more detailed, the more clear, the narrower the goal, the easier it is to attain. Vague goals, like vague destinations, are much harder to attain because you don't really know when you get there.

In life, a vague goal would be to lose weight. A specific goal would be to lose 15 pounds.

In business, a vague goal would be to have a better year. A specific goal would be to have a 10% increase in revenue; see 13% more new clients; perform 25 more dentistry procedures; etc. over the prior year.

Ask yourself - What specifically do you want to accomplish?


Not only should a goal be specific, but it must have a quantitative aspect. You need to create a tangible component to your goal, so you know when you have attained it. Seeing more clients is great; but seeing 100 more clients can be tracked, measured and celebrated once achieved.

Ask yourself - How will you precisely measure your goal?


It is great to shoot for the stars and to have goals that will really stretch you. However, goal setting is also about feeling good about accomplishing your goals. If your goals are too difficult or realistic to achieve, then goal setting will work against you. On the other hand, goals that are too easy and not challenging will not help you grow. To truly grow, you should also have some stretch goal - those that will take you out of your comfort zone. Attainable, but only with extra effort.

Ask yourself - is this goal achievable by me now?


When it comes to achieving goals, the more relevant it is to your big picture life or business plans, the more dedicated you will be to attaining it. Your priorities should dictate your goals and, thus, the relevancy is important to being able to attaining them. Is it relevant in your life to run a marathon? Is it relevant to add two full-time doctors in the coming 12 months? Relevance is to your personal goals and to your business goals. Relevance is not to anybody else's perceptions.

Ask yourself - is it relevant to your bigger picture goals?


A goal is a dream with a deadline. Goals really don't exist without identifying a timeline to accomplish them. Without a time for completion, there is less motivation to actually complete the goal. The timeliness should be neither too easy nor too challenging. Remember accomplishing goals and feeling good about accomplishing them is important. The timeframe should be motivational and energizing.

I will lose 10 pounds is not nearly as effective as I will lose 10 pounds by June 23, 2013. We will perform 400 annual physical exams is not nearly as effective as we will do 400 physical examinations between January 1, 2013 and March 31, 2013.

Ask yourself - by what time/date, will I accomplish this goal?

Each of your larger goals can readily be broken down into smaller goals, each of which must be SMART also. Each of your goals should have identifiable resources that will help you or are necessary to accomplish them.

Once you break down your large goals into smaller goals, these can be put into your calendar for daily, weekly, or monthly tasks to get you closer to your larger goal.

And most importantly, goals do not exist if they are not written down.

Goal setting yourself to personal and professional success will separate you from the people and business around you. Make it a goal to start to be SMART about goal setting.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is a process whereby you evaluate your practice's position in its competitive community, and subsequently define a game plan (strategy), actions, and resources to accomplish the course of action that is determined. Basically, you answer a series of questions to determine your situation:

 "What is it that we do? What is our primary reason for existence?"

 "What is our target audience? For whom do we exist?"

 "What is it that we do better than anybody else, our position of excellence?"

A very commonly used methodology to create a strategic plan is called a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for:

 Strengths - what is the competitive advantage that our practice has that makes it better than anybody else out there?

 Weaknesses - what are our limitations? What are the characteristics of our practice that put it at disadvantage to those around us?

 Opportunities - what is it that we can do to improve our position in the community, or improve our overall performance in the environment?

 Threats - what is going on around us, at both a local level and larger level that could cause trouble for the practice?

By identifying factors in each of these areas, you can then create a strategic plan to address them and thus create a series of action items or goals to attain your ultimate objective.

How do you go about conducting a SWOT analysis?

A strategic planning session starts by setting aside time for the practice to meet and review the SWOT analysis findings. The session should be conducted away from the distractions of the practice and is best facilitated by a non-practice employee. If there is no outside employee available, the practice manager/administrator can facilitate. Expect this to take between 4 and 8 hours.

And, before you even physically meet, there is pre-work. Each employee, at any level, should conduct their independent SWOT analysis of the practice. Everybody must be asked to identify factors in each of the S, W, O and T categories. These results must be collated before the meeting, summarized, and shared for discussion. This part is the most important part of doing a SWOT. The pre-work will determine the ultimate success of the Strategic Planning Session.

For each of the SWOT categories, questions such as the following should be answered in writing:

 When doing your evaluation, the strengths and weaknesses should be evaluated from an internal standpoint, while the opportunities and threats come from outside the practice?

 What do we do so well that nobody else in the community can compete?

 What areas of our current situation warrant a significant evaluation because they are impacting our practice and causing us to falter?

 What haven't we tapped into yet as an opportunity to strengthen our position? What high-tech or high-touch developments are untapped in our practice?

 What is going on in the environment locally that could challenge our status? What might happen in the future that we need to be concerned about?

Creating boxes for each area of analysis helps to keep thoughts organized





Examples of each of these include:

 Strengths: long-term staff; modern facility; professional website; great social media presence

 Weaknesses: no street visibility; too much inventory overstock; medical recordkeeping is below standard; poor client compliance

 Opportunities: could expand facility and add new services; not using outreach to attract new clients; dog park opening in the community; pet store opening in the community

 Threats: efforts to take the pharmacy out of the practice; local economy with high unemployment; proposed tax on veterinary services; cost of providing healthcare to staff to go up

The facilitator collects the responses, collates them, looks for trends, summarizes, and shares with the team at the Strat Plan meeting. No idea is considered a bad idea.

Now the fun begins...The ultimate goal is take the results of the SWOT analysis and summarize it succinctly enough that it can be a resource for everybody to guide them in their day-to-day decision making.

What are the key factors that are important to achieve the practice's objectives/goals? What are the valuable strategies that come out of the SWOT that will direct the future of the practice?

As noted, the SWOT analysis is a tool to help you create the Strategic Plan that will guide the activities of the practice for the next year or more. The plan must tie into the vision, mission and values of the practice. Strategic planning is an essential business activity for a successful practice. It is said that:

Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail.

The action plans that come out of a strategic planning session will determine budgets for certain projects; hiring needs or firing needs; a marketing plan; a technology plan; and thus all of the priorities for the business in the coming year.


If you go through your business life wandering and wondering, you will find yourself unhappy, burned out, and just spinning your wheels with no forward progress. On the other hand, if you take the time to go through a planning process and set some targets to shoot for, you now have a reason to keep pushing forward. These targets are motivators, challengers, and stimulants for you and your practice to move to new heights. Take the time every year to create a plan and set some goals that will keep you moving forward with constant and never ending improvement. Your life and your practice will benefit.


Speaker Information
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Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA
PAW Consulting
Irvine, CA, USA

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