by Wendy O’Donovan Phillips


dart hitting center of dart board

Start with vision.

“Imagine it’s December 31, 2021,” my General Manager Molly Waters, a trained business coach, recently encouraged me in the midst of a coaching session.

“2021?!” I retorted. “I’ll be glad when 2020 is over!”

She was right to focus me on the longer term, to coax me into vision work rather than crisis thinking, for this helps me step back into leadership state, the place from which I can truly guide my team to success.

Now is a time to reconsider 2020 goals. Back in January, Forbes writer Susan K. Wehrley fortuitously published “Goal Setting And Gut Intelligence: How To Stay In Tune All Year.” She suggests that we “break… goals down personally and professionally in seven areas of… life: vocationally, financially, relationally, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.”

As work and life meld into one, it makes more sense to holistically reconsider our goals. Wehrley suggests we start with “an overall statement for each of the goals.” For me, it looked like this:

Vocationally – Set up a new, highly functioning workspace at home. I’m currently working at a built-in desk in my basement more suited for a college kid than the CEO of a firm, and my vision is to convert a spare bedroom into my executive office.

Financially – Recalibrate 2020 revenue goals to be 70% of the original plan. This has helped my leadership team and me more accurately navigate budgets, PPP forgiveness and profitability planning.

Relationally – Connect more with my family and team. Daily lunch and dinner with my family give me much-needed breaks from working at home, and my new setup allows for more meals together. Weekly one-on-one calls to each of my team members continue to build on our strong culture and give me insight into their mental health, productivity and insights on the business.

Mentally – Continue strong mental health practices. Meditation, therapy, group sessions – whatever it takes. I’m not ashamed to pull out all the tools.

Emotionally – Call friends. When I am down, I reach out because I need them. When I am up, I reach out because they need me. We need each other!

Physically – Move my body 5 days per week. Long walks and yoga are my favorite.

Spiritually – Relax and look for the miracles. I can choose not to participate in the chaos, but instead to go with the flow and recognize how often in business and life there is a force beyond me doing what I cannot do alone.

In our coaching session, I was encouraged to think beyond the numbers when resetting goals. Wehrley writes, “While some might argue that numbers tell all, I believe your gut intelligence helps you to analyze those numbers, along with other factors, so that adjustments can be made to see the results you want.” She suggests a 3-step process:

  1. Own it. When you get that ping in your gut that tells you something is off track with your goals, own it. In my experience, this is your gut telling you it’s time to pause and reconsider your strategy.
  2. Ask it. Then, make sense of your gut alert by asking this focused question: ‘How might I adjust my strategy so I can meet my goal most effectively.’ Wait for… a heightened awareness that tells you your next best action.
  3. Voice it… This means you claim what you know and how you know it.

She suggests we all “pause and get curious,” and I have found that to be very fruitful over these last weeks. We don’t have a map of the future, but we do have great instincts, vast experience and strong support from our teams and peers.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) writers Mark W. Johnson and Josh Suskewicz take this concept further in their more recent article, “Leaders, Do You Have a Clear Vision for the Post-Crisis Future?

“Ideally, you should dedicate about 10 to 20 percent of your time on a weekly basis over the next few months to exploring and envisioning where you want your organization to be when the crisis passes,” they posit. In times of crisis, making space and time for vision work can feel like an unneeded luxury; by contrast, it is critical to healthy perseverance.
They encourage further, “Given the urgent demands of the present, some leaders may be tempted to delegate the responsibility for this kind of thinking to others, but it is critical that the CEO, CFO, CSO, and other key line leaders — the people who sign off on major resource allocation decisions — do this work themselves.”
Here are the steps they suggest:

  • Focus on what your customers will require, how you’ll meet their new and evolving demands… Consider both threats and opportunities. Below, I cover how to complete a thorough SWOT analysis to this end.
  • Develop a strategy to walk back your envisioned future to today. I love this line. The time to move toward the future is now.
  • Be prepared to learn and pivot. One of my trusted advisors always reminds me that a plan is meant as a basic way forward and always needs adjustments as more data becomes available.
  • Rally your team around your vision. In so many ways, our teams are now our biggest assets. Get them to believe in what you see for the company vision, and it will more readily come to fruition and be a strong foundation for growth for years to come.

Next, identify opportunities.

With your vision clearly articulated and shared, revisit your SWOT analysis with a particular focus on opportunities. Those you serve have different needs now, and the best way to uncover those new needs is with programmatic surveys. From survey data, you see clearly the opportunities your organization has (and does not have) for meeting those needs. This approach will help you more readily hit both your revenue and profit projections.

Bring all key executives, stakeholders and perhaps a few ideal clients together for a meeting to brainstorm all of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This session will require independent work time and collaboration. Each person should be given time to develop a list of ideas to share with the group. One person should keep a log of all ideas shared, preferably in the standard SWOT matrix:

Once each person has shared and the matrix is filled in with everyone’s ideas, the group turns its attention to prioritizing ideas in the Opportunities section. Which will most readily help close the revenue gap? Which are underway already and need just a boost to be powerful? Which require relatively low investments of time and money to produce measurable results? Answering questions like these together as a group will help reveal the top 3 to 5 opportunities on which to focus the team over the coming months.

Consider, too, industrywide opportunities that your peers see for the future, as compiled in “WHAT’S NEXT: 200 CEOs look into the future of business” from Business Insider:

  • Tom Mihaljevic, president and CEO of Cleveland Clinic: ‘A lot of care will be delivered at home rather than in hospital.’ Before the pandemic, about 2% of our visits were based on the digital interface. Right now, 75% of our ambulatory care is being provided through digital. That’s definitely here to stay. What is also going to change is that a lot of care will be delivered at home rather than in hospital to keep the hospital environment safe as well as patients way less exposed to infections like this…
  • Lloyd Dean, CEO of CommonSpirit Health: ‘Healthcare should be more responsive to the needs of everyone.’ The new future will be one in which our operations will need to anticipate and meet the demand of rapid surges. Our sustained resilience in the face of unanticipated stresses on our system is going to be more important than ever. We are taking the lessons from these past few months and undergoing serious planning so we can flex our system in ways we haven’t needed to in more than a generation…
  • Judy Faulkner, founder and CEO of Epic: ‘The health systems in general are in financial distress right now.’ …There will be mergers and acquisitions, as some of the smaller providers will get purchased by larger health systems who can afford to stay afloat. There may be more interest in doing HMOs and other arrangements where the patients are capitated, because those folks didn’t get hit as hard financially…There’s… more creative thinking. There’s been better reimbursement models for digital health, new infection control processes, and far more video visits. We calculated there are 100 times as many video visits as there were in months before the pandemic. That’s a huge increase…
  • Gregory Adams, CEO of Kaiser Permanente: ‘We are deciding how to hardwire innovations and which of these we want to own.’ …Almost overnight we’ve gone from 18% virtual visits to 80%. That may not be where we stay long term. We’ve also had a strategy to accelerate the adoption of mail-order pharmacy. About 30% to upwards of 60% of our prescriptions are now being delivered to our members and our patients’ home. We are deciding how to hardwire innovations and which of these we want to own and be part of our business model going forward…

It can be easy to stay in crisis mode too long, so a focus on opportunities is a great way to show the team that while the crisis may not be over, it’s time to get all the minds in the room focused on the future.

Recalibrate strategies.

Traction is built on it. Franklin-Covey set the foundation for it. And any strong organization has one. What is it?
The one-page, organization-wide strategic plan.

We call it our Strategic Planning Model, a living document shared once weekly with the entire team and executives to show:

  • The vision and highest financial goal that all efforts are meant to produce
  • No more than three objectives, or destinations, that the team has yet to reach and that, when reached, will have them achieve the vision and highest financial goal
  • No more than five strategies, or actions, that the team can take to achieve each objective
  • The corresponding measure (quantifiable short-term micro-action) and goal (quantifiable desired long-term outcome) for each strategy

This is the “game board” for getting to the vision, capitalizing on the right opportunities and reaching adjusted revenue/profit projections. Given the turn in global events, we need to rethink what action is necessary for us to get to the goal. The Strategic Planning Model serves as a master communications tool to achieve just that.

While it’s nearly always best to have an objective third party outside your organization lead the process, HBR contributors Thomas Ritter and Carsten Lund Pedersen offer four dimensions as a basic framework in “Assessing Coronavirus’s Impact on Your Business Model” They are:

  1. Assess what the crisis means for customer demand.
  2. Think through how the crisis affects your value proposition.
  3. [Decide on your] value demonstration, [or your] organization’s sales and marketing channels.
  4. [Agree on your] organization’s capabilities… the fuel that drives the engine, allowing [you] to create value for customers.

Your team’s assessment of these four dimensions should point you to a set of actions that can be taken to reach the big goal and realize the vision. Those are your strategies for the rest of the year.

Reassess the leads funnel.

Many of our clients have full leads funnels but have not yet seen a rise in new patients, move-ins or sales. This is a good problem to have. You have strong awareness and interest, and you even have plenty of people considering or intentional about coming on board with you. You just need to work the funnel.
The first thing to ask is who is in each stage of the funnel?
Answers might take this general form, tailored to your organization:


  • Website visitors
  • Online ad and social ad impressions


  • Social followers
  • Remarketing ad impressions
  • Webinar signups
  • Content subscribers


  • Webinar attendees
  • Past event attendees
  • Past clients
  • Past prospects


  • Received treatment plan/agreement/proposal, have not yet signed
  • Filled out a contact form, have not yet scheduled

The next question is how do we move the middle/bottom of the funnel to close? Ongoing weekly touchpoints, requests for micro-commitments, increased online advertising and more frequent content marketing are all good solutions to the example shared here. 

Use data to answer burning questions.

Finally, before deploying the plan, vet it. Run surveys to gather data on what customers are really thinking now. Avoid making assumptions about their needs and fears and get right to the heart of the matter by gathering voice-of-the-customer data. Questions to ask might include:

  • Which of the following business (or personal) issues is most pressing for you right now?
  • What do you rely on from us that you cannot find elsewhere?
  • What changes are you making in your business (or life) to weather this storm?

Come at sales with a service mindset. Think in terms of what customers need now as opposed to what they historically needed from your company. The insights customers share on surveys from step one will inform your marketing and sales communications plans.

Encourage your front office or sales team to take it one conversation at a time. Resist the urge to send mass emails or communications. Start at the top with company executives calling the most loyal customers. Work on down, having team members make one-on-one calls to customers as well. The opening line on these calls is, “I wanted to check in on you. How are you doing in this moment?” Very few competing organizations are likely to do this, and it will go a long way in stabilizing the current customer base, building brand equity and even inviting referrals.

As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

To summarize…

As business leaders and owners, we have all made deep sacrifices this year. We have had to make myriad tough decisions we never thought we would have to make in such rapid succession, and there are likely more ahead. Yet, we do not have to make deep compromises on our goals. In reframing them, we will still persevere.
What have you sacrificed, and what are you not willing to compromise on this year? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Let’s talk! Book a 15-minute call with with a Big Buzz expert today. First come, first served.

Big Buzz is a marketing agency delivering a steady stream of move-in-ready leads to teams serving the senior living industry. For more than 15 years, Big Buzz has helped senior living marketing and sales teams nurture leads to increase occupancy, grow and scale. CEO Wendy O’Donovan Phillips is the author of the book Flourish!: The Method Used by Aging Services Organizations for the Ultimate Marketing Results, has been published in McKnight’s, has been a regular contributor to Forbes, and has been quoted in The Washington Post, ABC News and Chicago Tribune. The Big Buzz leadership team regularly lectures in front of audiences ranging from 25 to 3,000 attendees, including at Argentum and various LeadingAge chapters. Agency awards and accolades include recognition for excellence by the American Marketing Association, Gold Key Award Winner by the Business Marketing Association, HubSpot Academy Inbound Marketing Certification, and Top Advertising and Marketing Agency by Clutch. 

by Wendy O’Donovan Phillips



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