Backward Goal Setting: The Guide to Goal Setting for Dental Practices

Posted By

Brandon Jones


August 18, 2020

You should be setting your goals backward. It’s really not as complicated as it sounds. Backward goal setting is nothing more than starting by setting your biggest goal, then aligning all your smaller goals to help you reach the primary goal. Let walk through the process. 

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Dental Practice Goal Growth Plan Workbook

The SMART Goal Formula

Before you jump straight into setting goals, it’s important to get a feel for what makes a good goal. That’s where SMART goal setting comes in. 

Setting goals with the SMART formula in mind is essential to setting goals that will excite and energize your practice instead of just being a chore. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. 

Unlike the steps we’ll look at after this, applying the SMART formula isn’t a step you do one time in your goal setting. These are principles that you apply throughout the entire goal-setting process. So let’s take a quick look at each element and what it means for goal setting.  


The more specific, the better. Goals like “I want to make more money,” or “I want more time with my family,” are good places to start, but they’re not specific enough to serve as the foundation for a plan of action. A little bit better is a goal like “I want to grow my revenue by 15%.” But it can still be more specific. Best and most specific is a goal like this: “I want to grow my revenue by 15%, from $1,200,000 to $1,380,000 by the end of 2020.” 


Don’t set goals for things you can’t measure. Statements like “I want to be happier” or “I want the office to be more unified” are too hard to measure to make effective goals. Instead, translate those broad ideas into specific actions you can track. If you want to be happier, what kinds of things will make you happier? Time with family? Set a goal to spend more time with your family (don’t forget to be specific!). What is a key indicator that your team is more unified? The answer will vary from practice to practice, but whatever you decide, make sure you’re setting goals you can measure. 


Goals that we don’t feel we can achieve are goals that we quickly abandon. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t set goals that stretch you and your team. Goals that put everyone outside their comfort zone can be good as long as they don’t feel impossible. Want to grow 100% this year? Maybe that’s achievable if you’re a new practice that has only barely tapped into the local market share or you’re planning to double your locations, but probably not for most well-established practices. This is why the first step listed below—Know Where You Stand—is so vital. 


Do you want a new Tesla? Me too. Or maybe you’re thinking if you do well this year you’ll pull the trigger on building that custom house you’ve been dreaming about for years. Those are good goals. They’re not good goals for your dental practice. The goals you set for your dental practice should apply to the entire practice. More to the point, if you want your team to buy into your goals, make sure the goals are relevant to the whole team. Without that buy-in from your team, your business goals are far more like personal-goals-that-happen-to-involve-your-business than true business goals. 


In order for a goal to be effective, you have to put a deadline on it. Without a deadline, there’s just no sense of urgency pushing you to work towards your goal. Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, or even farther out, choose the timeline that makes the most sense for each goal—but don’t ever set a goal without a deadline.  

Step 1: Know Where You Stand

Before you can actually start setting goals, it’s important to get a firm understanding of the context in which you are setting your goals. We’ll use a revenue goal as our example. To prepare for setting a revenue goal, you should gather as much relevant information as possible, such as: 

  • Current revenue
  • Historic growth percentages
  • Other relevant historical trends
  • Practice performance in key areas (e.g.production and collections)
  • Relevant industry benchmarks
  • Current economic conditions
  • Etc.

Having this information on hand does two important things for you. One, you’ll be prepared to set achievable goals that still stretch your practice. Two, you now have important data at your disposal that will show you what kind of supporting goals you should be setting to achieve your big goals. 

Step 2: Set a Few Big Goals

Your big goal or goals are your desired outcomes at the end of whatever deadline you set for yourself. Think as high level as you can while still following SMART principles. If you just want to set a yearly revenue goal and move on, you can do that. However, this is also an excellent opportunity to set other types of goals that aren’t strictly monetary. Consider setting goals around your team culture, work-life balance, or other areas relevant to your practice. 

Example Goals

  • Yearly Revenue Goal: $1.4 Million
  • Close the office on Friday afternoons by the end of the year
  • Decrease turnover by 30% by the end of the year

Step 3: Set Supporting Goals and Action Steps

Now that you know what you’re working toward, it’s time to plot out the path to get there. A big goal can look intimidating and impossible to achieve. So instead of staring down your big goals all year, break that big goal down into smaller, more manageable goals. 

To continue the revenue goal example, you’ll want to break your $1.4 million yearly goal down into something less daunting. Based on your historical data, what percentage of your yearly revenue do you typically make each quarter? Each month? Use that data to create quarterly and monthly goals that build to your yearly goal. Don’t stress too much about getting these monthly and quarterly goals exactly right at this stage. You may want to come back and adjust them after you’ve set action steps.


Suggested—New Patients Won’t Fix Your Dental Practice: Profitability Formula Part 1


Once you have your goals broken down into manageable pieces you can start planning how you will achieve those pieces. That means setting goals that ultimately affect your big goals—revenue, in this case. To increase your revenue, you have to set goals for more than just new patients. You should look at all the levers you can pull that will increase your revenue, determine the effect each has, and apply each of them in the amount needed to ultimately achieve your goal. The trick, as you can see, is to keep breaking your goals down into smaller and smaller goals until you have a list of specific actions you can take. 

Step 4: Review Often and Revise as Needed

Goal setting isn’t a set it and forget it kind of thing. If you’ve set proper supporting goals, your goals should stay top of mind without too much effort. Still, it’s a good idea to set aside time monthly to review the progress you’ve made on your goals thus far and evaluate any changes that might need to be made. 

Most of the time those changes will be to supporting goals and action steps that maybe aren’t having the effect you had hoped when you first implemented them. However, occasionally you’ll need to revise your big goals to make sure they remain achievable. If you’re lucky, you’ll be revising them higher because your year has been more successful than expected so far. But don’t lose hope if you find yourself needing to revise downward. Though it’s not ideal, revising to an achievable goal will give you and your practice much more motivation than sticking to the goal everyone knows you can’t hit. 


Not ready to stop learning about goals? Check out this article on how setting hard-to-achieve goals can be a huge boost for your practice: Breaking Your Four Minute Mile

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