By Roger P. Levin, DDS
The COVID-19 crisis has changed orthodontics and dentistry permanently. One of the biggest effects of the crisis is that dentistry has probably advanced five years in about ten weeks. This means that certain inevitabilities, trends, and market positions have already changed even if supporting data is unavailable and the trends are not yet obvious. As a result, it will never be business as usual again.
Understanding the Competition
Competition is simple. It’s when someone does something just as good or better than someone else. In orthodontics, competition began to grow well before COVID-19. There are other orthodontic practices, referring doctors increasing their use of aligners, and direct-to-consumer orthodontic companies that now operate through dental practices. These rivals are all part of the competitive landscape taking place in the orthodontic specialty, and the reason that strategic planning is so important to the future.
What is strategy? It’s about defining the actions and directions that an orthodontic practice should take to put itself in the best position for the future. It’s about setting goals and objectives for those actions and directions. Lastly, it’s about identifying who will be responsible for each goal and measuring results. If this all sounds complicated, it actually is not. Following this process will allow any orthodontic practice to place itself in the right position to achieve and maintain success in a post-COVID-19 world.
The most important factor in orthodontic strategic planning is to answer this big question: What do you want the orthodontic practice to look like in five years?
This is the opportunity for the practice to look out five years and decide what it wants to look like, and what it wants to achieve. The practice can then outline specific actions and steps (a strategic plan) that will allow the practice to reach the five-year vision. Keep in mind that no plan is perfect and every strategic plan must be modified to meet new and unexpected challenges. It is fair to say that until March 2020 no strategic plans for dental practices included a pandemic. However, it is arguable that practices with an excellent five-year strategic plan will be able to pivot and transition faster as new events occur.
So how does strategic planning really work? Is it a bunch of people sitting around throwing out ideas? Does it involve copying other successful business models and applying them to orthodontic practice situations? The answer, of course, is none of the above. Strategic planning is a process that employs data analysis and a number of key exercises which allow the practice to develop an effective five-year plan. Consider the following key actions in your strategic planning:
- Identify and establish a clear vision for the future. What should the practice look like five years from now? Make sure all of the individuals that need to be involved are on board with this vision.
- Do thorough data analysis. Your financials, referrals, patients, insurance, and staff must all receive deep attention in order for your practice to understand and categorize the current situation. If the practice does not fully understand its current situation, than the strategic planning process is flawed before it even gets started.
- Complete a SWOT analysis. When properly performed, a SWOT analysis takes the time needed to identify all of the practice’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and prioritize the top factors within each of these categories. This will become the backbone of the strategic planning process.
- Establish clear goals for the next five years on an annual basis. Understanding what has to be achieved each year to move toward the vision is critical. Goals should be measured in a monthly strategic planning meeting for the next five years. Annually, a strategic planning meeting will take place to identify whether the plan is on track or needs modification.
- Select appropriate strategies annually. This approach uses the top priorities from the SWOT analysis, meshes them with the goals that need to be achieved, and puts them all into a timeline. As the strategies are developed, the plan begins to come together, and clarity begins to emerge.
- Assign each strategy to a responsible party. We have learned that when no one is responsible for a specific strategy, there is a much higher likelihood that it will never be completed. Orthodontic practices that want to successfully complete their strategic plan within five years must assign the right people to the right strategies. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the individual has to do the work. It just means that they are responsible for ensuring that the work gets done.
Strategic planning helps practices to create an opportunity to compete effectively even if they don’t fully understand the competitive forces that affect their practice.
COVID-19 has increased the already growing level of competition that orthodontic practices face. We encourage every orthodontic practice to complete a five-year strategic with monthly reviews and annual updates to the plan. This is how good orthodontic practices become great and stay there.
Roger P. Levin, DDS is the CEO and Founder of Levin Group, a leading practice management consulting firm that has worked with over 30,000 practices to increase production. A recognized expert on dental practice management and marketing, he has written 67 books and over 4,000 articles and regularly presents seminars in the U.S. and around the world. To contact Dr. Levin or join the 40,000 dental professionals who receive his Practice Production Tip of the Day, visit www.levingroup.com or email email@example.com.