The Strategic Thinking Doctor


It never hurts to evaluate new opportunities in your medical practice and in your life. In coaching and consulting with small and large practices, I tend to find a common weaknessâ€"difficulty evaluating opportunity.

It never hurts to evaluate new opportunities in your medical practice and in your life. In coaching and consulting with small and large practices, I tend to find a common weakness—difficulty evaluating opportunity. I tend to see a lot of blue sky thinking in January, boredom and distraction in February, and abandonment of plans thereafter.

When evaluating opportunities for your practice development, it's best to think strategically. Who thinks strategically that you can model? Military generals do. I often urge physicians to read the book, Clausewitz on Strategy: Inspiration and Insight from a Master Strategist.

General Thinking

Carl Von Clausewitz was one of Napoleon's generals. Many say he was the driving force behind Napoleon’s success. It may seem esoteric, but this will help you learn a different model for thinking about your practice. For example, Clausewitz developed the concept of the force multiplier.

Rather than fighting on a large front, Clausewitz would use the majority of his available men, weapons and horses in a small concentrated area. He picked the area that would give him maximum leverage from which to fight the rest of the battle. Having achieved the position of leverage early in the battle, the rest was easy going.

Whether you realize it or not, you are fighting a battle for brand recognition of your practice. Are you getting maximum leverage out of your resources? Einstein said the same mind that created the problem cannot solve it. If you want to get more out of your practice you will need some new ideas, new energy, new leverage and enough resources to get the job done.

I'm no fan of blue sky thinking. I prefer my doctor-clients model proven successes and only take on projects that have a high success probability and a significant return on investment.

The strategic planning process is a collaborative one. Free-form, divergent thinking is necessary. This is very different from the thinking process that clinicians use in their daily practice. I recommend you get out of your office and get your decision makers and consultants working collaboratively on a plan that's big enough to get everyone motivated.

Small goals and small plans are harder to achieve than big goals and big plans. Big, audacious, lofty goals draw the team together and build excitement. If you're having trouble following through on your practice goals, maybe they're just not big enough.

Strategy & Tactics

Another lesson learned from Clausewitz is that battle plans never survive the first encounter with the enemy. No matter what you plan, you will always have to make adjustments, recalibrations and reassessments of your position. Your strategy won't change, but your tactics will, according to prevailing circumstances.

Let’s take a concrete example. Your strategy is to become preeminent by educating your patients better than any of your competitors. You plan a lecture at a local school, but it is poorly attended. You have to change your tactic (how it’s advertised, where it’s held, the title, etc.) but you don’t abandon the overall strategy.

I recently worked with an 11 physician group that was attempting to develop their own multispecialty medical office building. They had teamed up with a local developer, who had originated the concept. But this group had no expert counsel of their own to guide them through the process. They had virtually no real estate development experience and no basis to question the developer’s projections.

The developer promised this group a 10% return if they invested $1 million into the project. The downside was a 50% higher lease rate than they were currently paying and very high finish out costs.

After I spoke to the developer for about 15 minutes, I was able to negotiate $100,000 off the overall costs for this group. I went back to the group and asked them why they didn’t have an independent professional negotiating on their behalf. The said they were afraid they would offend the developer and lose the opportunity.

A Thinker Needed

In my opinion, every practice needs a strategic business advisor—one with a successful track record. Most clinicians are too busy with their practices to effectively evaluate and take down the right opportunities. Good professional help is never cheap—you either pay up front or through missed/mishandled opportunity.

Tax savings is another prime example. Why work hard on increasing gross practice revenues before taking advantage of all the tax strategies available to you? I have an adviser on my dream team that helps my clients achieve tax brackets of 20% and below even while they earn into the mid-six figures.

It turns out it is who you know that matters.

Dr. Zahaluk is a practicing physician and the founder of MIP Consulting Group, a coaching and consulting group for physicians only, offering innovative solutions to practice marketing and staff development. The website offers free practice-building tips, a practice diagnostic, and a Make My Practice Work Harder Than I Do individual practice consultation. His new book is, The Ultimate Practice Building Book. He welcomes comments at 800-297-0711.

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