Strategic Planning- Preparing for Success – Part 1 of 3

Success Needs PreparationIn the last several articles we have discussed why all medical groups should conduct strategic planning processes and the 6 steps for developing a strategic plan:

  1. Developing Mission and Vision statements for the group.
  2. Identifying internal Strengths and Weaknesses and external Opportunities and Threats.
  3. Discussing Key Issues.
  4. Developing Objectives.
  5. Developing Strategies to achieve those Objectives.
  6. Creating Action Plans to implement those Strategies.

Let’s now turn to the “nuts and bolts” of how your medical group can conduct a successful Strategic Planning Process.

Retreat vs. Series of Meetings

Medical group strategic planning efforts provide an opportunity for the physicians to meet, discuss Key Issues and develop plans for the group.

The meeting process typically come in one of two forms: (1) a retreat; or (2) a series of meetings.

We believe that a retreat approach is the preferable process for the following reasons:

  • With a series of meetings, you will chew up a lot of time in the meetings re-orienting everyone to what you are doing and what has been decided.
  • Oftentimes the attendee mix changes from meeting to meeting, the result being that the group zig-zags in their decision-making.
  • Typically groups try to conduct these meetings in the evening when the physicians are tired or stressed. The result is that they often turn into the same discussions the group has at its regular meetings.

A strategic planning retreat might last one, one and one-half or two days, depending on the issues to be addressed and the time the physicians are willing to give to the process.


It is essential that the time at the retreat be used in the most efficient and effective manner. Why?

  • Most managers and group leaders know that it’s hard to pull all the physicians together, and when you have them together you want to make the most of it.
  • The most expensive part of the process is the time at the retreat. If you multiply the number of the people in the room, by an hourly rate, for an 8 hour day, you get to a pretty big number. For example, if you have 20 people in the room, and an hourly rate of $300 an hour, for 8 hours, that’s $48,000.

So the retreat time needs to be structured to be as efficient and effective as possible. That’s why preparation is key.

Preparation involves considering the following:

  1. Who will be the participants?
  2. What will be the timing of the meeting?
  3. Who will serve as the retreat facilitator?
  4. What data/information will be needed for the meeting?
  5. What are the Key Issues?
  6. What is the agenda?
  7. What other arrangements are needed?

We will cover the first two items in this article, and the remaining preparation steps in future articles.


Who should attend a medical group’s strategic planning retreat? Typically all shareholder physicians and the group’s manager attended. Depending on the situation in your group you might also consider:

  • Shareholder-track physicians.
  • Employed physicians.
  • Selected mid-level providers.
  • The group’s CPA.
  • Other advisers.

Typically we recommend the following:

  • The group should limit the number of attendees, especially those who are more likely to be “observers” (such as members of the administrative team beyond the Manager, employed physicians or mid-level providers). You want the physicians to have a free and open discussion about the issues – sometimes physicians “clam up” if there are many non-shareholders in the room.
  • If you include non-shareholder physicians, you might want to consider having a “shareholder-only” segment.


You will need to agree on the timing of the meeting – both when will it be held and how long the retreat will last.

Most medical groups conduct their retreats over a weekend. If the group plans to allocate 1 ½ days to the process they sometimes start on a Friday afternoon and finish on Saturday, and sometimes a full day on Saturday and half day on Sunday. The Saturday/Sunday option is preferable because occasionally physicians don’t make the retreat a priority, continue to see patients on Friday afternoon, and show up late.

You will need to pick a time when most, if not all, of the physicians can be present. However, every group has some who are more involved, or more vocal than others. The timing should be planned to make sure they attend. If you try to avoid the “nay-sayers” they will use that as an excuse to not help implement the plan.

Logic would say the retreat should be held in the Fall of the year so that once it is complete management can develop the annual business plan and budget, and implementation of the plan can begin the following January. However, we find that most groups conduct their retreats on weekends in January through April hoping to avoid giving up weekends when the weather is nicer.

Coming Up Next

In our next article we will address the retreat facilitator, pulling together data and information to support planning process, and the Key Issues to be discussed at the retreat.


Please contact me if you’d like to discuss this post.

Will Latham

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