Strategic Doing: Where Hospitals' Strategic Plans Go Wrong

Strategic planning at hospitals demands a great deal of commitment from the leadership and other stakeholders, as it can be a time-consuming, resource-intensive process. However, the results of a strong strategic plan are worth the effort if the hospital follows through on its planned tactics. One of the areas where hospitals — and other organizations — tend to falter is implementing the strategic plan, according to Linda Pophal, owner and CEO of Strategic Communications. The failure to implement a strategic plan can be attributed to several factors, including the phrase "strategic planning" itself, Ms. Pophal says. She provides three defenses against a robust hospital strategic plan fizzling out during implementation.

1. Consider strategic planning as strategic doing. Ms. Pophal says part of the problem is that strategic planning is a misnomer — strategic planning should really be called strategic doing. "Strategic planning isn't really about planning — it's about executing the plan. A plan is meaningless unless it is implemented," Ms. Pophal explains in her white paper, "Top 10 Tips for the '7 Steps of Strategic Planning'" (pdf).

The current healthcare environment, with its rapid pace and complexity, may present an opportunity for hospitals that in the past have had difficulty translating plans into action. "Perhaps ironically, during times of clear uncertainty and change organizations are actually at somewhat of an advantage because they're paying attention," Ms. Pophal says. "In calmer times, it is often easy to be blind-sided by the unexpected. Uncertainty causes stress which tends to lead to action, which is a good thing."

2. Don't lose momentum. "People spend a lot of time and energy [planning], but when they get to the point of putting things in place, the momentum is gone; people are tired out," Ms. Pophal says. She suggests the strategic planning group leader hold people accountable for executing the plan by requiring regular updates and reports on progress.

3. Embed the plan in the hospital's operations.
Ms. Pophal says often organizations fail to successfully implement a strategic plan because implementation is seen as a separate process and not part of the organization itself. "Embed [the plan] into how the organization does its work so it's not something separate but how we operate, how we manage our work and how we get things done. It's not a document that sits on the shelf," she says. It's helpful to view the strategic plan as a living document so leaders do not lose sight of their goals but are constantly reminded to use the plan as a guide for their decisions and actions. "Recognize that a strategic plan is never 'done,' Ms. Pophal says in her white paper.

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