Posted February 23, 2015

Strategic Planning That Gets Results

By Lynne Cunningham, MPA, FACHE

Does the invitation to a strategic planning retreat fill you with dread? It doesn’t have to be so scary. In fact, you can streamline strategic planning using just five key steps to engage internal and external stakeholders in the case to support change, identify a shared vision, and take decisive action in the coming years. Here’s how:

  1. Begin by aligning strategic planning processes with the organization’s budgeting process, organizational responsibilities, and strategic timelines. Studer Group recommends using an 18-month planning horizon because it offers enough time to set or update the strategic framework and budget and then launch new initiatives with an approved budget. Frequently, organizations assign multiple executives shared responsibility for a single organizational goal, or what we at Studer Group would call a Pillar Goal.

    In our experience, that usually isn’t effective. When multiple people are responsible, no one is accountable. Instead, identify a single executive team member as the “owner” for each Pillar Goal. While others should support strategic efforts, the results would roll-up to one leader who can track results across the organization. Additionally, as timelines are set for the strategic plan, consider what else is going on in the environment. Is this the year for your periodic accreditation review? Are you implementing a new IT or HR system? If so, key team members will be focused on these initiatives and may not have the time or resources to fit the timeline. As much as possible, try to plan other initiatives around organizational priorities.

  2. Hold leaders accountable for achieving goals. Although strategic priorities are set by the Board and executives have accountability for moving the strategic plan forward, results must be achieved organization wide. Cascade tactics to all leaders, and to the employee level where possible. If your employee evaluation system doesn’t support individual employee goals, connect the dots so that every employee understands how they impact organizational priorities. A series of tools can be used to track results and progress monthly and quarterly, such as metric-based leader evaluations, monthly meetings between executives and leaders to discuss progress on goals, and department meeting agenda that include updates on how the leader is progressing in achieving goals. (Don’t wait for an annual review!)

  3. Recognize that the most significant strategic goals will take multiple years to accomplish. We recommend establishing a three-year goal and then setting interim annual goals based on current performance and ultimate goals. These should be realistic and positioned to set leaders up for success. Due to the changing external environment, we suggest working with a three-year planning horizon.

    Annually, the Board reviews progress and updates goals, but the entire plan shouldn’t be re-evaluated more than every three years. If the three-year plan includes a major building project or fund-raising effort, it may have a five or 10 year horizon; however, annual goals should still be set in order to achieve the ultimate outcome. As results are achieved, remember to celebrate the successes. (Too often we ignore this critical step. As a result, leaders and staff don’t understand how much progress we really are making!)

  4. Clearly define the Board’s role in the strategic planning process. The Board is responsible for setting the strategic direction of the organization and hiring the CEO. The Board is not responsible for daily operations. Whether your organization is a for-profit or not-for-profit community-based healthcare provider, both Board members and leaders will likely hear comments from satisfied and dissatisfied patients in the community.

    As leaders, it’s our job to follow the prescribed service recovery policy to respond to such concerns, and also to pass along compliments to the appropriate leader. Board members, on the other hand, should show interest, take notes, ask for clarification, and then follow the organization’s prescribed policy for immediately channeling these comments to the appropriate executive. If your organization doesn’t have a Board-level compliment/ complaint policy, Studer Group recommends that you develop one.

  5. Create a Decision Making Matrix. The decision making matrix will guide the executive team and Board’s discernment process and conversation when considering a course of action. This might be adding or stopping a service, acquiring a new business or merging with another organization. Developing the decision making matrix proactively will ensure that sound decisions are made that are consistent with your organization’s missions, vision and values before you are under pressure. (Access a Studer Group insight on using a decision making matrix.)

By following these steps, you’ll find that strategic planning can be a painless process and one that yields great results for your organization. Study current trends, best practices, and do an environmental assessment so your plan is based in reality. Then align it with your budgeting process and accountability system to ensure it can be implemented. Most importantly, make it an ongoing process, with annual updates and recalibration to discuss results, identify new trends and opportunities, and celebrate milestones. By basing it around sound decisions that result from your decision making matrix and sprinkling in some fun and team-building opportunities, you have a sure recipe for success.

Additional Resources:
  • The topic of strategic planning is addressed at Studer Conferences. Choose your location and build your agenda to attend the sessions that matter most to you and your organization. Learn more at studerconferences.com.
  • Access the article “6 Steps to a More Effective Strategic Plan” by Studer Group Coach, Debbie Cardello (registration/login on the Studer Group website is required)


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