David Allen said “You can do anything – but not everything.” In strategic planning, I call the actual document “the yes, no, not yet document”. Once you have documented the plan into an actionable plan, it really makes decision making much easier for the executive leadership team in an organization. The annual exercise of planning is not the point of the process. The point is to walk away from those discussions with an action plan that identifies the direction the organization is going to take. Detours happen. Life happens. Our job as executives is to have a response plan in place. Your strategic plan is a guidance system for your organization.
I worked with a rural community hospital that had many obstacles to consider during the planning process. They were the same issues plaguing many hospitals. They were facing revenue cuts, a frequent turnover of administrators, and multiple management companies within an 18 month period, a failed bond, not to mention the nursing and physician shortages. After discussion with the city manager and governing board, it was agreed that some of the problems identified were preventable if acted upon proactively. They committed the time to performing an operational assessment and developing a guidance device (strategic plan) for the community hospital. Through the process they identified their mission statement, vision statement, conducted an environmental scan, goals and objectives. We spent time identifying what obstacles the hospital currently faced and what was on the horizon. But most importantly, they identified what they wanted their hospital to be in that community. Specific goals were created and accountabilities were set. An actionable plan was written that communicated expectations of the city management and the governing board. That plan was used to hire a new administrator and was communicated to the hospital staff and the community at large.
That same plan was used to determine what would be accomplished and also, what would not be accomplished. Decisions were made based on the direction the organization would be moving. If it was in the plan, there was no question as to whether an activity would occur. In the same vein, if another problem arose that needed attention and therefore, resources, decisions could be made to determine reactions to the event. If the board was not willing to withdraw resources from one planned activity in order to respond to the newest distraction, the decision was made to NOT be distracted to the unplanned event. There were also times that it was appropriate to determine it was not appropriate YET to withdraw resources but would be considered in future discussions and meetings.
Having an actionable strategic plan creates an environment of transparency, expectations, accountability, resource management, and fiduciary management responsibility. Valuable time is minimized in the decision making process and limits crisis management. An organization within any industry is stressful and chaotic enough without creating more due to a reactive environment. The community hospital was able to focus their time getting a qualified administrator that understood rural medicine revenue problems, restored confidence to the community which resulted in passing the building bond, and stabilized staffing within the patient care areas. Do they still have problems to deal with? Absolutely! But having a plan in place, allows decision making to be simplified and less time consuming. Life happens but having a plan in place will make you a more successful organization.