Episode 37: What’s All This Hype About Strategic Planning?
As the old saw goes, “If you don’t know where you’re headed, any road will do.” In thinking about Strategic Planning, there are entire books written on the subject. In the spirit of giving you the condensed version, my favorite statement about strategic planning is that it really boils down to answering three questions:
- Who are we?
- Who do we want to be?
- How will we get there?
There are many consultants out there who do strategic planning for a living, and there are many ways to make it more complicated, but whatever your process, if you’ve answered those three questions, you’ve accomplished your planning.
I generally recommend setting aside a good block of time for this – a half day at minimum. Some groups make this a weekend activity at a lovely destination so that everyone is out of the “everyday grind” and can focus on thinking bigger thoughts. Some facilitators even collect cell phones at the door to be certain that everyone can be present. This is about where you’re going as a group, and about setting your direction. So, even if you’re holed up in your office conference room for an afternoon, give it your full focus and undivided attention. Optimally, find someone outside of the group to take call so you are completely uninterrupted.
Who should attend? All owners and partners in the practice, your administrative and clinical leadership, and anyone else you consider crucial to the running of the business. There are frequently informal power brokers or “wise women” and “wise men” whom you may want to include. No hard and fast rules here – just think about who you’d like to have in the room thinking with you. Good thought partners will take you a long way.
I also highly encourage you to have this session facilitated by a professional. A good facilitator can keep things moving, ask probing questions, refocus the group when necessary, and will help you to produce excellent results. Best of all, they will take responsibility for recording everything and returning to you a complete written plan. This frees you up to just envision and think, and not worry about logistics. I’ve seen groups attempt to self-facilitate, or to use someone from within their team, and unless they’ve got years of experience facilitating, this is not a time to DIY. You’re making a large investment in your future by devoting your time to this instead of seeing patients. Make sure you don’t undermine that investment by under-spending on the facilitation.
When our group facilitates strategic planning, we typically begin with the creation or reaffirmation of the Mission, Vision, and Values for the group. Some already have some of those written, some have one or two, and some groups have none to start with. A set of quick definitions:
- Mission: who you are… why you exist as an organization… your raison d’etre
- Vision: who you will be… what you strive for… your end goal
- Values: what you hold important on the journey to your vision… how you will behave
If you don’t yet have one, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Ask your facilitator to send some examples ahead of your retreat to get the juices flowing. Google is also your friend… look for a few examples and begin to think about what’s important to you. Borrow from other sources! You can derive inspiration from others and then tailor it to make it your own.
In the end, be sure what you have come up with resonates with you and the whole group. You can then publicize your Mission, Vision, and Values by including them on your website. You can also add them to your print materials, make them a part of your orientation packet for new hires, and you can even put them up on your wall. Our group has our values listed down the hallway to give everyone a daily reminder of who we are and how we are with each other on the path to fulfilling our vision.
This can be a long exercise, but it need not take up the whole retreat. If you’re starting from scratch, plan to spend about an hour discussing and getting the high points. Then ask your facilitator to work with a few people on your team to wordsmith and bring back a final version sometime after the retreat. You don’t need to get it perfect the first time.
If you’re revisiting existing Mission, Vision, and Values, put them up on screen and invite open discussion about them. Do they still work? Have things shifted? Could some things be eliminated or enhanced? Does anything need to be added?
It’s great to revisit them on a routine basis – perhaps annually or bi-annually – to be sure that as the landscape of your practice shifts, what you’ve stated about yourselves still resonates. Be sure to check in at a deep level, and not just rubber stamp it. This is the important stuff. Make sure that they don’t end up as just words on the wall. Work hard and be intentional about incorporating your Mission, Vision, and Values into every aspect of your practice – hiring criteria, performance evaluations, decision making for the practice – everything.
Now for the planning itself. Once you’re grounded in Mission, Vision, and Values for the group, it’s time to start thinking about the future. We enjoy asking groups to envision where they’d like to be in five years. We spend a great deal of time on that – getting very clear about what it looks like. Any new locations? New partners? New lines of business? What will it take to support all of that? Will anyone retire in the interim? (More on this in subsequent chapters.) What will look the same and what will be different?
Once we’ve gotten clarity on what the organization looks like in five years, we talk about what would need to be in place two years from now in order to get to that five-year plan. This could be a bit challenging for the group if folks are not used to thinking this way, but with some time and a good facilitator, you can get there. Once you’re clear about how things look two years from now, just divide that in half, and you have a one-year plan. What needs to be accomplished this year in order to get you to the two-year and five-year visions you’ve just created?
This should be made into an Operational Plan with accountabilities and due dates. In order for the strategic planning process to get any traction, your whole team needs to leave knowing that they’ve got their road map for the next year. We find quarterly check-ins to be invaluable in maintaining the momentum that is created at the retreat. If those aren’t kept, it is easy to lose momentum, and then the strategic planning just became a waste of time, money, and effort. Be sure to roll out the strategic plan to your staff upon return, especially to those who have accountabilities.
Yes, there are deadlines that won’t be met. It’s okay. Readjust and reassign. Check in with team members who are not meeting their accountabilities. If they are struggling, ask what it is that takes up their time. A good Operational Plan should help them focus on what’s important.
We frequently run into groups who are great at visioning, and not so great at execution. We can all relate to the Urgent/Important Matrix, which was originally developed by President Dwight Eisenhower. There is a seductiveness of spending all of your time in the Urgent AND Important quadrant. After all, that’s where the fires are burning brightly, and where all of the cool firefighters are! The Urgent and Not Important quadrant is also attractive… so much urgency! We sometimes forget to check the level of importance because everything feels urgent. It must be dealt with now!
The Not Urgent AND Important quadrant is where the good leaders spend their time. It’s a long-term investment of time and energy in the direction of the organization, and it’s the mission critical stuff.
This distinction frequently separates the managers from the leaders. The good managers address all of the urgent stuff. The good leaders address all of the important stuff, and in doing so, minimize the amount of stuff that becomes urgent. You may find that you have managers who seem to be stuck on the urgent stuff and unable to get to the not urgent but important tasks. If you want to continue to have them function as managers, this may be fine. If you want to evolve them into more effective leaders, some coaching and development usually goes a long way. You may encourage them to delegate some of the urgent items (handling coverage for staff who are calling out, etc.) so they have more time to focus on what you’ve put into the Operational Plan. Be clear about your expectations, especially if their deadlines continue to slide. And, if they cannot make the transition to working on the more important long-term objectives, even with coaching, it may be that the role has outgrown them and it’s time for a change. Maybe they need a new seat on the bus or maybe it’s time for a new bus.
This is a new skill set, and some won’t rise to the occasion. That’s okay. As we’ve said in previous episodes, it’s good to be clear about what the business needs and make necessary changes either through coaching, development, reassigning job duties, or outplacement. Remember, it’s your business. It needs to work and everyone in it needs to work too. Holding onto an employee who is no longer a fit only adds unnecessary stress, expense, and delay.
Once the Operational Plan is underway, beware of adding new responsibilities and tasks onto your management and leadership team. The tendency is that new things will come up and one or two of the partners will instruct the management team to focus on that now, to the detriment of the Operational Plan. This risks putting your whole organization off track from your Strategic Plan.
This is the biggest pitfall we see with medical groups. Don’t let the urgency of new things derail the work you’ve done to make a good plan! Keep track of new things that spring up and seem important – there will be many – and decide as a group where they fit into the Operational Plan. Add them in priority order and reassign dates or accountabilities as necessary. It is incumbent on each member of the management team to assess whether their personal accountabilities and due dates are doable. If not, they need to ask for dates to be pushed back or for others to take on tasks so that their list is reasonable and achievable. Nothing is more dispiriting than a list that is so huge, you’re set up for failure before you even begin. Make sure you’ve set your whole team up for success!
Now, go forth and execute on that beautiful Strategic Plan that you’ve created.
Join me for our next episode, where we’ll talk about delegation skills and how important they are to your leadership and financial effectiveness.