Guide: Two Strategies to Make Progress toward Operational Goals in Radiology

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Leverage your team and the SMART methodology.

By Shelly Troutman, Executive Vice President of Operations at Outpatient Imaging Affiliates.

Most radiology administrators share universal goals of providing quality imaging services, and helping to improve overall patient care. Unfortunately, often we make little to no progress on these higher-level operational goals in radiology. Instead, we get mired down in the deluge of daily emails, the crisis of the day, and customer and physician demands. The demands on your time are even greater if you also work clinically.

Through my 30-plus years of experience as a leader in medical imaging, I have found two powerful strategies that help me and my team make actual progress toward our bigger operational goals. They are:

  • One, break down your annual plan into a quarterly goal program with defined and actionable SMART goals.
  • Two, don’t do it alone. Involve a team.
Image with quote by Yogi Berra
The first step toward making progress on operational goals is to have well defined goals and steps to achieve them.

1. Develop a quarterly program with SMART goals

As a radiology administrator, you likely know if your department is performing to budget, and you are well aware of any QA or compliance issues. But when was the last time you actually made progress on larger operational goals like reducing the number of compliance issues? Or had a plan to shift budget to an area where it is most needed?

If you are not making progress, it is possible that your operational goals – and the steps to achieve them –are not well defined. I recommend following the SMART methodology developed by Austrian born Peter Drucker who is often referred to as “the creator and inventor of modern management.”(1) The SMART Goals definition / acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Realistic and Time-bound. Each of your most important operational goals in radiology should be:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

In particular, I want to highlight the importance of setting goals that are “specific” and “achievable”. Let’s use the analogy of weight loss. Having a goal of losing 40 pounds is daunting. You will likely fail because the goal is so big that you feel you are unable to achieve it. But a goal of losing four pounds is sensible and achievable. After you have a reasonable goal, you need to map out actionable steps on how you will get there, such as exercising three times a week.

Now let’s apply this strategy to our healthcare environment using the example of improving patient satisfaction scores. If the national average is in the 75th percentile, and your facility is in the 50th percentile, it would be unreasonable to set a goal of achieving the national average within a short time. A more reasonable goal would be to move up your standing to the 55th percentile within 12 months.

Next, let’s talk about the steps to get there. Unlike a personal goal like weight loss, our goals as radiology administrators are dependent on others. Many of the factors that affect patient satisfaction scores are outside of our department.

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Identify high-priority goals and low-hanging opportunities

What can you do? Start with the factors that are in your control. Review patient satisfaction scores for your department from the last three months and identify areas that you have influence over. Look for high-priority goals and the low-hanging opportunities that your team can embrace to raise the score.

 For example, how can you as a team show more sensitivity to patient needs? Specific actions might be always providing warm blankets, have all staff members introduce themselves and narrate care throughout the process. Then lay out a plan to get the entire staff to take these actions every time, with every patient.

 Your plan also needs to include dates for achieving the different steps. This is the ‘time-based’ aspect of SMART goals. I recommend breaking your annual plan down into plans for each quarter. Set short-term goals for each quarter in alignment with your annual operational goals.

2. Don’t go it alone – get your team involved

Engage your team at the very beginning as you are developing your operational goals and defining the actions to achieve them. You will need their buy in and support to be successful. Equally important, they will have valuable insights and ideas to contribute to the plan for your radiology department.

In my experience, I have found that team members are eager to participate. They want visibility into management and departmental goals. Also, including them in the planning and execution helps build a culture of accountability.

Many people are surprised at how willing their teams are to help. Your team wants to succeed and often they want to help you and help each other succeed. People want purpose and want to feel good about what they are doing.

image of people's hands together as a team
Ask your team for their support and ideas for achieving operational goals.

Revisit and work the goals regularly with your team

Once you have defined your goals and the accompanying steps, you need to keep them front and center – for you and your imaging team. A common shortcoming is that people create their goals, but don’t revisit and work on them regularly.

Make your operational goals a regular agenda item for your staff meetings. During the meetings, review the actions everyone agreed on and check in to see who needs help. Tasks will get off track because people get sick, work crises arise, and other obstacles get in the way. If something is falling behind, collaborate on ways to improve and jumpstart progress. Perhaps some tasks need to shift to another team member.

If you make the goals a priority, you will find over time that the goals naturally become a regular topic at team meetings. And a note about team meetings – keep them sacred. Do not fall into the habit of canceling them. Remember that your staff follows your lead. If you actively show that the goals are important, your staff will support you.

Celebrate the wins

Lastly, take the time to acknowledge your accomplishments at the end of each quarter. I was pleasantly surprised at how excited my staff was at achieving goals when I first applied these strategies. Knowing we can be successful also motivates my team to tackle the operational goals for the department that we agree on for the next quarter. Be sure to document the progress too, otherwise it might be forgotten.

I hope these two strategies will be helpful to you in your role as radiology administrator. Creating reasonable and actionable quarterly goals is a powerful way to map out a path to achieve larger operational goals. Involving your team in the process helps create the alignment and common purpose required to accomplish them.

What are your strategies for achieving overarching operational goals in radiology? How do you align your team? Please share your ideas below!

What did radiology administrators at AHRA list as their number one challenge? Read the blog! #AHRA #administration #radiology

Editor’s note: Ms. Troutman shared more in-depth information on this topic in her presentation at AHRA 2018, “Driving Operational Results Through Quarterly Leadership Goals.”

Shelly Troutman, CRA, RT(R) (MR) is the Executive Vice President of Operations at Outpatient Imaging Affiliates (OIA) in Franklin Tennessee. Shelly is currently responsible for operational oversight, fiscal performance, and marketing of 35 imaging centers across 15 markets. Prior to joining OIA, she spent 14 years in varied leadership roles at the University of Virginia Health System’s Department of Radiology and Medical Imaging. She is a Certification Radiology Administrator (CRA), and in 2013 was a recipient of the American Healthcare Radiology Administrators Award for Excellence through the AHRA. This is one of the most prestigious awards in radiology management and recognizes those professionals who have made a difference for coworkers and colleagues through exceptional innovation, leadership, administrative capabilities, and sharing of expertise and experience.


  1.  Drucker Institute


  • reply

    Aldine C. Castillo

    Can you send me an issue magazine thru snail mail?


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