Stop, Drop, and Roll

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By Randy Schmitke, CPA, MBA

When I was a kid, I remember being taught fire safety in elementary school. The fireman came to our school in full gear and explained that if a fire occurred in our house and we caught on fire, we needed to "stop, drop, and roll." The core purpose of this education was to engrain in my young mind that if I am on fire, I should not crazily run around and yell, "I AM ON FIRE--SOMEONE HELP ME!" Rather, I should calmly take inventory of what is happening and then take some logical action: "stop, drop, and roll." Maybe this is a lesson we should all carry through to our professional careers.

It seems that the business of healthcare is like a forest fire with some very big, hot fires and new fires that keep popping up in different places. Sometimes it feels as if these fires are out of control and sometimes as if they are contained. With all of these fires burning and all the pressures on surviving each day, we need to be careful to not just crazily run around simply putting the hose on the fires that are in front us today. Instead, we need to take time to assess the situation as a whole and then create a logical plan of action.

Too often we get so focused on fighting the fires that spring up every day that we do not stop and evaluate our fire management plan by asking, "What is the strategy that I am pursuing with my business?" Because if our fire management plan is not sound, fighting the daily fires may be futile in the scheme of the business. If the strategy that we are pursuing with our business is weak or flawed, then even with near-perfect execution, success may not be attainable.

For example, I have heard from a number of practitioners that the whole pedorthic portion of their practice is frustrating and financially draining. So the question is, are they taking the time to truly evaluate the fire management plan, or are they just trying to be better firefighters?

Granted, the issues associated with operating a successful practice can be complex. It is not an easy task to craft and execute a strategy to navigate through the known and unknown variables. However, in these times, we need to be more vigilant at scheduling time to think through the issues at hand and, if necessary, create a plan to change how the company approaches certain issues. Writing these strategies down on paper will then allow us to challenge whether we are doing what is necessary on a daily basis to achieve our desired direction. Writing down specific goals for the company is also a way in which to set a plan for how to achieve the desired overall strategy. And then we should communicate this strategy and these goals to the staff, so that the entire company can pull in the right direction.

Let me state again--because I think it is really important--when I say "schedule time," I mean just that: SCHEDULE TIME! Not just have these kinds of thoughts throughout a busy day, but actually schedule several hours on a given day or maybe a quiet Saturday morning in the office. Often, we just don't take enough dedicated time to think about what we are doing with our businesses.

A final thought: in a recent article about the United States policy/strategy with respect to fire management in the Outside journal, the author takes the position that natural fires in the forests are good--the fire clears the forest floor and prepares for future growth. Interesting thought...