The hearing care industry has seen plenty of change lately, and it shows no signs of slowing. Is this a cause for concern — or a chance to embrace opportunity?
Recently, Julie Culp, director of Audigy’s Strategic Business Unit, and Mason Walker, president of Audigy, sat down for a wide-ranging discussion about the state of the industry and where it’s heading, your “why” and how to get your team behind it, how to determine what’s possible for your business, and why you should be excited about the future.
Understanding courage, fear and why we do what we do
JULIE: Mason, a lot of private-practice owners we interact with talk about everything that’s going on in the industry, and they sometimes feel nervous, or they’re struggling to find the courage to continue in their business. They’re thinking maybe now is the time to just sell. Have you been hearing any of those concerns?
MASON: I would say since the day we launched Audigy some 14 years ago — and probably for many years before that — courage about or fear of the unknown has played a part in our profession. So yes, every year has been dynamic. When you have a profession that is continuing to grow and evolve, and the needs of the consumers and patients continue to expand, you naturally start to ask yourself, “Am I changing at the rate or pace necessary for me to be the most relevant I can be at this stage in my career?”
JULIE: So, for folks asking that question right now — or maybe from 14 years ago with your experience at Audigy — how do you help people through that?
MASON: Before we even approach courage, I think we take one step back and we think about what is really at the base of that courage. What is needed to set that courage up for success so I can actually take action? Well, in my own particular case, before I could take action, I’d probably have to have a level of self-awareness: Why am I showing up and doing what I do each and every day?
So, before I can be courageous — before I can take action and do something even bigger and greater than what I did yesterday — I ultimately have to take the opportunity to really understand, at the core of who I am, what it is that drives me. Why am I showing up and putting forth the effort that I do to be a part of this team or this practice, to serve my community and my profession in the way that I do? Do I understand why I do what I do and what my passion is? Also, what do I want my purpose to represent as I look at my legacy and the career that I’m pursuing?
Understanding your role as a leader to get your team moving in a new direction
JULIE: And after you have that purpose and value, or maybe your own personal mission, how do you get your team behind you? How would you recommend somebody share that with their team to get them excited about moving in a different direction?
MASON: It’s a great question. A business doesn’t simply grow because of a strategy or a plan. Or we sometimes think execution is the key to being able to take our business to another level of success. But it really comes down to whether we have a level of alignment between the business objectives, the opportunities associated with our respective practices, and those that are at our base level, the foundation of our organization — our people and our teams.
So in order to really create that level of alignment, we have to understand our role and our responsibility as leadership. Not simply management, not just a business owner, but as a leader. What’s my responsibility in unifying my team — bringing them together so they are personally committed to what’s possible — before I set a professional expectation? And most of the time, and for us in particular, I believe that comes down to understanding the goals, at an individual level, of each member of the team.
What is it that drives them personally? What is it that drives them professionally? And what is it that drives them financially? Not everyone is motivated by the same things. If I, as a leader, simply approach the team with, “Congratulations, team, we have the ability to grow by 30% this year, and that means that we need to increase our flow and our conversion at these thresholds and at these KPIs, and here are new targets,” most likely, my team members aren’t going to resonate with that.”
But if you can start culturally, creating that foundation where that team is actually naturally ready to embrace their opportunities for growth — not starting with the operational and the financial expectations — I think it paints a much different picture of success when it comes to growing our practices.
JULIE: So after an owner has their why — why they’re coming to work and running the practice — and they have the goals of their team, how do you create a strategy that aligns both of those things together into the day-to-day?
MASON: For many years, we’ve worked with a methodology and approach that there’s three lids to a business the first lid being your belief lid.
- The first lid being your belief lid. I have to establish a level of belief with my team that this is what is possible — not simply what is realistic, not simply what we’ve done for the past two years, four years, six years — but what’s still possible in our marketplace, in our community. I have to establish a level of belief in the lids of my team members that is hopefully as high as it can get, inspirational even, where they see the possibilities along with me and go, “Wow, we still have this much opportunity for growth and accomplishment left in our practice and in our marketplace.”
- Second is the operational effectiveness lid. We ask ourselves, “What does that next level of operational excellence — that greater commitment in our practice and in our areas of operations, marketing, finance, and the patient experience — look like?” We know what good looks like, because hopefully that’s the level we’ve been operating at for the last two, four, six years. But if we’re going to push that envelope and achieve what is possible, we have to really understand what that next level of operational excellence looks like.
- The last lid is leadership. From a leadership perspective, we consider what we’re willing to commit to, whether as a business owner or as front office staff, back office, or office managers. What levels of accountability, discipline, and support am I willing to demonstrate that go beyond a belief of what’s possible, that go beyond my ability to execute at a great level or a very efficient or effective level.
But we look bigger even than that. We look hard and ask ourselves, “What’s ultimately my responsibility as a member of this team to influence the opportunity for all of us to grow, not just myself?” So for us there’s a recipe and an opportunity to really consider, “How do we bring these pieces together?”
Knowing what really drives your team members
JULIE: So if I’m trying to raise my own belief lid, or if I’m trying to raise the belief lid of my team, how do I know what’s possible? How can Audigy help me identify what’s possible? Because all I know is what’s happened previously in my business.
MASON: Well, let’s stay on the path of looking at our people and our teams. One of the things we like to focus on with our own Audigy family — and I encourage everyone to do this with their team — is what we call PPFs: personal, professional, and financial goals.
My first initiative and my first desire is sitting down and understanding what motivates you, as a team member, on an individual level. My responsibility as a business owner and a leader is not necessarily managing you or asking you to do things on behalf of this practice. I want to hopefully show you, through inspiration, how you can grow and what it’s possible for you to achieve as a member of the team. In order to do that, I need to understand what motivates you. And really, at the end of the day, you and I know at our core our own answers to the question
I show up, and do what I do based on these personal, professional, and financial goals?”
So when I sit down with you, I’m sharing with you through a conversation — not necessarily a meeting — what my picture of success looks like, what my aspirations are for this business, and what I ultimately want this business’s brand to represent in this community as a legacy. In that conversation, I love to also ask, “How do you see yourself being able to grow and achieve your goals as a member of this team? What are some of those goals that you have?”
As you share your goals, it’s my responsibility to really listen and really understand those personal desires that you have, or those professional aspirations you have to move into leadership or move into other positional opportunities. And, of course, financially, what drives you? What are you wanting to attain or achieve? Then I want to consider, “What can I do to support you as a business owner at an even greater level than I have before? How can we as a business better invest in you as you invest in us?”
And as you start those conversations with team members — without any algorithms, without any data, without any KPIs — around what they see, I think you’ll be amazed when you sit and have a very genuine, authentic, sincere conversation. They’ll see that your desire as a business owner is to help them achieve things that are personally, professionally, and financially important to them, but by doing so, the business needs to grow as well. And so, asking them to share with you those opportunities they see for growth — whether in flow, conversion, or greater retention in the services and the quality of care that’s provided — I think you’d be amazed at the good ideas that might come from that one conversation. Because they themselves live it, breathe it, and do it every day.
The future of the industry and the new opportunities it brings to practices
JULIE: We have practices that share with us that the industry is changing, and there are a lot of different types of competition and factors that weren’t a concern when they started their business 15, 20 years ago. What do you see as the future of this industry? Where do you see it going? And why should we still be excited about it?
MASON: From my humble belief and perspective, when you see an industry like ours go through the level of change and innovation that is continuing to occur, it is an exceptional thing to be a part of. And it’s a rare opportunity for us to be able to be in the driver’s seat influencing that change. So as we sit back and look at our offices, our practices, and our teams, we have a choice: We can show up and pretend everything is just a version of what it was the day before, the week before, the year before, or we can show up and see that we have the opportunity to create a path that we’re defining, and not waiting for somebody else to define it for us.
So we need to look at and understand where the opportunities are. When you look at the change that is occurring, where is it occurring? Why is it happening in the capacity or in the ways that it is? And then, what can we do to create a vision of how can we better serve these needs that are obviously coming about? We want to be two steps ahead and proactive, not two steps behind and reactive, simply trying to respond to what has already occurred, to what has already taken place around us.
As you think about your business, there are three core ingredients for being able to grow, drive, and, in return, influence change.
- First is people. Hands down, number one, you have to really understand how you’re creating a culture, and a team, and a level of alignment with your people such that they truly feel like they are in complete complement with your objectives, your purpose, and your why. And that starts with communication, with understanding their goals. It starts with understanding how you can better support them and the needs that they have in their training and their development. When you go through that process, it’s not a one-time thing. We don’t simply focus on our people, our culture, and our team at a milestone, such as the end of a calendar year or the kick-off of the new year. It’s something that we have to be committed to and working in our business, as well as working on our business throughout the year with our team.
- Second, you focus on strategy, you focus on your area of opportunityS. What do you do extremely well? Once you know your why, your purpose, then you know what you have that’s unique compared to the rest of the competition. It’s that special something that allows you to successfully operate a financially sound business. You need to hone in on that strategy, that core ingredient that is your secret component, your secret sauce that is associated with you being able to achieve the results that you have.
- Third, now that you have clarity around your strategy for the segment of the area that you want to really own throughout the entire operational plan of your business, you can focus on execution. You know what drives your team, and you know what they’re passionate about and what they aspire to in their goals. You know your strategy and what you do really well. Now you need to focus on flawless execution.
Together your team can look at this and ask yourselves, “If you think about all the things that we do each and every day as a team, as a business, what is the third that we do really well? What is the third that we think we do pretty well? Maybe good, but it’s not excellent. And what is the third that we’re really struggling with that we know is maybe broken, fragmented, and maybe we need to reconsider how we do it?”
So for us, people, strategy, execution. Once you align the people, once you have a picture of what the strategy is based around where your successes really do lie and where your opportunities for focus should be, now you can go to execution and really home in on the fine-tuning that’s needed to get that next round of results out of the practice and out of your team.
Understanding what keeps you up at night? What are your pain points? What are your challenges?
JULIE: How does Audigy help someone’s team move through those people, strategy, and execution steps that you just outlined?
MASON: It’s something that we’ve been thinking about for a long time as an organization. As we first kicked off Audigy, one of the exercises that we went through is we called and interviewed hundreds of practitioners from across the country. We wanted to really understand and hear from them firsthand: What is it that keeps them up at night? What are those pain points? What are those challenges? What are those frustrations that they face daily, weekly, and monthly that keep them from truly impacting their practice at the level that they want?
We used to do this exercise where we’d say,
Julie, why don’t you take a piece of paper out. I’d love for you to share with me on the left-hand side of that piece of paper all those things that you love to do. Why do you show up and do what you do each and every day?”
And for a majority of business owners — regardless of your profession or the market you operate in — we love the things we went to school to study, or the things we’re actually focused on in our day-to-day activities. So, in particular for audiology, it’s the ability to focus on patients and providing a phenomenal level of care for those that you serve.
And then we’d say,
On the right-hand side of that page, I want you to share with me, Julie, everything that keeps you up at night. What would you love to just take off your plate and not have to worry about anymore, and somebody else could focus on that? What would those things be?”
Generally speaking, Julie would share things like marketing plans, or comparing the ROI associated with her current marketing spend versus the return she’s been seeing on her investments. Or maybe it’s using a financial-modeling engine to forecast where the market opportunity is and what growth opportunity she has. She’d write down the business aspects of running a business, not necessarily the clinical aspects of being a phenomenal practitioner.
And then, we would follow up that question with, “Julie, how many years have you been in practice?” The majority of the people we’ve interviewed have been in practice for over 21 years. And I’d follow up with, “And after those 21 years, do you feel you’re successful today?” And Julie would share with me, “You know what? I do feel I’m successful today. I have a great team, I have a good patient following, and I have a pretty good quality of life associated with this practice.”
And we would say, “Congratulations, Julie, that’s absolutely exceptional, and I’m sure well earned. Now let me ask you this final question.
If you’ve been able to achieve everything you have over the last 21 years by really focusing on everything on the left-hand side of the page, where could you be if you had a team that was as committed, as passionate, and as focused on everything on the right-hand side of the page as you have been on everything on the left-hand side of the page?”
That, to me, is the power and the significance of Audigy. Knowing that for the first time in probably the history of her practice, Julie is going from a two-legged stool to a three-legged stool. The first leg has been — since she launched her practice and put up her shingle — her vision, her direction, and her leadership about what she wanted to achieve and grow. That second leg of the stool is the team she has slowly built along the way, a team of dedicated professionals helping her implement and execute to the best of their ability each and every day.
But suddenly the third leg of that stool finally comes into picture. That third leg being Audigy, and we’re there to provide the best practices — the systems, the processes, the tools, and the toolbox for her team to go to that next level by not working harder, but by working smarter, and finally having a picture of success. And now the resources and the investment are matched, not just simply by Julie’s vision as a business owner, but by her ability to match them with a resource like Audigy. All of a sudden, she’s exponentially expanded the resources that they now have access to in areas of marketing, operations, finance, human resources, and professional development.
JULIE: And one last question for you. How do you know when you need to stay the course — like when I hear you and Brandon talking about a 20-mile march — compared to when it’s time to pivot and do something a little bit different? What kind of questions do you ask yourself? Because your business has changed a lot over the last 14 years, although the core and the mission are still the same.
MASON: We used to go through an annual planning process where we’d sit down and assess the organization one time a year. We’d assess the marketplace one time a year. And we would then revisit our three-year forecasts and ask, “Do we want to modify or tweak anything based around our annual review process?”
But today, we are much more in tune with how we have to pay attention to the needs of our members, to the needs of our patients, to the needs of our teams almost daily to ensure that we’re staying relevant, that we’re staying on top of the changes that are occurring, but also being able to stay proactive about those needs and the trends that are occurring versus waiting until the end of the year. Like we do here at Audigy, I would encourage the leadership of any team to consider how they’re setting up this awareness and this commitment to constant innovation.
I don’t mean innovation where we’re changing the business model in its entirety, but innovation in that we’re always assessing whether our services and our offerings are still meeting the expectations of the market, the patient, or the consumer. And that requires you to be looking at the data and your metrics, plus understanding your KPIs, on a daily and weekly basis, not simply on a quarterly or annual-review basis.
If you’re interested to learn more about how Audigy helps its members achieve remarkable results, check out some of our members’ success stories!