The Growth Channel

How good is your strategic plan?

by Kate Myers and Shay Pratt

As we approach 2017, lots of people are putting pen to paper on their strategic plans. We sat down with our strategic planning expert, Shay Pratt, to talk about what we can learn from those who do it best.

How has the strategic planning process changed in recent years?

Until very recently, I found that often the strategic planning process was a pro forma exercise. Everyone had the same strategy pillars—growth, workforce, quality, and cost control. Organizations would identify three to four strategic objectives under each pillar and move on. Some of these pillars may not have held equal urgency, but they were still included because executive teams felt they needed to have something under each one. I also found that many strategic objectives were only loosely tied to the organization's broader strategic ambition or statement of purpose.

That model probably worked for many organizations in the past, but now the landscape has become too complex and markets too different for everyone to follow the same formula. I think many strategy teams feel this way, and have broken away from the traditional approach to one that is more flexible and ensures they focus on the stuff that is truly most important.

I’ve seen more diversity in the strategic pillars people include in their plans. They also strive for more specificity. Instead of having a pillar on clinical quality (who doesn't need to improve quality?), they focus on a more specific ambition. For example, in place of general quality improvement, one organization includes as a strategic goal the need to have market leading performance across 90-day episodes for the highest volume admissions, which ties specifically to their overall vision of becoming the preferred system of choice within a 15-county area.

The second thing that has changed is the frequency. Many organizations had three- or even five-year planning cycles. You can still have those extended cycles, as your strategic goals shouldn't change that much year to year. But what is important is that organizations bake into the process an annual refresh on the different initiatives—the things they are doing to accomplish those strategic goals. The market is changing too fast to lock in initiatives over multiple years without a process for revisiting them.

What are the markers of a great strategic plan?

First, really good strategic plans don't take stock of just today's market, but include predictions of what the market will be like in the future. It's important that organizations make bets on what 2020 will be like, not 2017. Without such forward-thinking strategic plans, organizations are at risk of developing plans that don't adequately prepare them for future market conditions.

It's also important that strategic plans have a clear vision of what your organization wants to be and why. In such a rapidly changing market, you need a strong, specific mission and vision to help guide you to where you aspire to be. Remember that much of the value of a strategic plan is its power to communicate—to your employees and clinicians as well as to your customers and community—what you want to be. There are so many players now across the continuum that you can't be equivocal about your place within it.

Lastly, your goals, objectives, and initiatives should be extremely specific, and they should all tie back to the single statement of purpose. For example, I think Johns Hopkins does a great job of articulating clear goals and objectives in their strategic plan. The goals for each strategic priority are both specific and actionable.

What questions should a strong strategic plan answer?

To me, there are four main questions that every strategic plan should answer, and that all organizations should ask themselves when they are starting the strategic planning process:

  1. Where do we need to be, and where are we now?
  2. Why aren't we there yet?
  3. What will the future environment require?
  4. How do we get there, and what do we need?

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