A Strategic Planning Fatal Flaw

The following is reprinted with permission from strategicplanningMD.

Recently, we were stunned when a new client handed us their strategic plan to review. The document was about 50 pages long and nothing more than a collection of Word tables that listed the activities of the organization's leadership team.

As we were to learn, strategic planning there was a rhetorical exercise in which everyone filled out a form at the beginning of each year listing the things they were going to accomplish. The forms were assembled into a tidy document and updated quarterly. It was all very task-oriented.

Yes, strategic plans contain tasks, but not in a vacuum. Without goals, objectives and strategies to provide context, the tasks are meaningless. In this case, they were.

The lack of measureable objectives stunned me. No wonder the organization was losing $17 million a year. Theirs was a series of yes-no items that had no meaning or purpose. For instance, one of the tactics was to develop a business plan for a new mammography unit. The only thing in question was whether the business plan was completed. Yes-No. There was nothing in the plan about actually increasing mammography volume. Another item read, "Meet with referring physicians throughout the region." Again, Yes-No. Not a single mention of how many physicians the exec was to meet with, which would have been slightly better, but still insignificant. If the purpose was to drive physician referrals to the hospital's specialists (which it was), then the executive should have been held accountable to achieving a target (e.g., increase inpatient discharges from 56 to 92).

The lack of measurable objectives is a strategic planning fatal flaw. Without them, you might be working hard and staying busy, but the work is meaningless. If the executives meet with every physician in the county, but discharges actually decline, has the executive accomplished his task? Of course, but to the detriment of the hospital. The exec has not met the objective, which means the strategy was flawed and the organization needs to rethink its approach.

Measurable objectives provide us with a yardstick to determine the efficacy of strategies and tactics.

If you think this hospital is alone in its flawed methodology, think again. Over the years, we have seen hospital after hospital develop strategic plans using the "turn-in-your-action-plan" approach. And now, we are working with a mid-sized hospital in the Midwest to correct the same deficiency: A jumble of to-do lists that are not coordinated and have no stated objectives.

In more than a decade of working with hospitals on strategic planning issues, we have come to the conclusion that plans are constructed this way because the leadership team does not want to be held accountable for measurable objectives, especially when bonuses are tied to the outcomes. Sure, everyone wants to have patient satisfaction scores in the 90th percentile. But tell the CNO that her bonus is tied to hitting that mark, and she will likely argue why she should be awarded on what she does and not on what she achieves.

A strategic plan without measureable objectives is no strategic plan at all. It is junk and will mislead the organization into believing it is blazing a path to the future, when, in all likelihood, it is setting up its own demise.

More Articles on strategicplanningMD:

8 Brand Platforms for Hospitals
The Need to Manage Your Brand

How to Measure Your Brand

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