Do You Know Your Strategic Planning Terminology?

The following is reprinted with permission from strategicplanningMD.

There still seems to be much confusion in healthcare — and other industries — as to the difference between goals, objectives, strategies and tactics. Confusion in understanding these terms often leads to a muddled strategic planning process.

Knowing the terminology creates clarity and focus. And with clarity and focus come a greater chance of success.

Goals are broad statements of what the organization hopes to achieve and are qualitative in nature. Although your organization can have short-term and long-term goals, it is important that each goal is clear and can be supported by measurable objectives. Goals should drive your strategic planning preparation.

Goals supported by measurable objectives become self-fulfilling. What's more, strategic plans with four to seven overarching goals to be achieved within three to five years are the most efficient to manage.

Very often, goals give further definition to the organization's vision. If the vision is to become the most respected hospital in North America, then the goals might focus on establishing a solid reputation in the areas of clinical quality, patient safety, satisfaction and financial performance.

Objectives are the most critical component of the strategic plan, as they answer the questions, "How much? By when?" They are what drive strategy development.

Objectives are quantitative in nature. In fact, objectives are the only quantifiable elements of the strategic plan. Goals, strategies and tactics are all qualitative and describe how things get done, but not how much will be accomplished.

To keep your objectives on track, a good rule of thumb is that every objective should begin with the word "increase" or "decrease." After all, objectives define how much improvement will take place, and that improvement is either in the form of increasing a statistic (surgical volume) or decreasing a statistic (medical errors). If you are simply trying to maintain a statistic, it doesn't belong in the strategic plan; it is better suited as a key performance indicator or for the balanced scorecard.

Strategies describe a major approach or method for attaining objectives and resolving specific issues. Strategies begin to answer the question, "How will we go about accomplishing our objectives?" Strategies describe a general approach or method; they don't describe specific activities or projects — that's the work of tactics.

For example, a strategy to increase surgical volume might be to expand the operating room. Tactics for that strategy would then include the design and construction of the additional operating suites, hiring and training necessary staff, altering the surgical schedule, assigning block times and marketing the expansion to surgeons.

Tactics are the definitions for the strategies. They are the specific ways you do things in order to execute the strategies. As such, they are actionable in nature and are the "concrete" things your organization will do to implement the strategies and achieve the objectives.

Whereas objectives should start with the words "increase" or "decrease," strong tactics should start with verbs. Tactics require action, and verbs are best suited for identifying what that action is. But action isn't enough. Tactics, like the strategies and objectives in their family trees, must also have due dates and people assigned to carry them out. Tactics assigned to individuals are always preferred over assignment to teams, as it adds a layer of accountability to your strategic plan.

More Articles on Strategic Planning:

Temple University Health CEO Dr. Larry Kaiser Working to Raise Revenue
The Purpose of Strategic Planning

The Definition of Strategic Planning

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