Plan, Align, Deploy and Execute: Bring Your Strategy to Life

Gabrielle DeTora, for HealthLeaders Media, May 14, 2010

In a robust healthcare system, strategy is executed from the ranks. Despite this reality, according to the March 2006 Financial Times article, "The Man Who Has to Shake Up Merck," Christopher Bowe states, "95% of workers typically do not understand their organization's strategy." Employees must be told the strategy, understand it and have a clearly defined role in executing it. Not merely because the culture and "brand" of an organization lives within its employees, but because your employees are the people who activate the corporate strategy on the front lines.

Bowe goes on to quote Dick Clark, CEO of Merck, who says "culture eats strategy for lunch." If your hospital culture is not one of unified strategic vision—your hospital's brilliant strategy may never get out of the boardroom. To execute a strategic plan, a hospital or health system must create a culture of communication, support and empowerment.

Employees must understand what the corporate strategy is, why it is important, what their role is within it and how to make decisions in everyday activities that breathe life into the strategy. In other words: they need to know how to execute the strategy. But explaining a strategy is not easy. A healthcare strategy is a complex web of business, finance, information technology, market share data, competitive issues, clinical issues and more. Leadership teams understand the need for strategic planning communications. A recent study conducted by Forbes Insights and FD analyzed the interdependence of strategy and communications in getting a strategy right and bringing it to a successful result.

Among their key findings were:

  • While senior management does not have a common definition of what strategy is at the conceptual level, it does have a very clear definition of what strategy is not, as well as a very clear, pragmatic definition of what types of corporate initiatives are and are not strategic.
  • Management tends to be overly optimistic about the success of strategies, while recognizing that as many as one-third of initiatives fail.
  • Communications is unilaterally deemed critical to the success of strategic initiatives.
  • It goes without saying that a disciplined strategic planning process is essential to success.
  • In the current economy, it's not unexpected that the majority of respondents will alter their strategic agendas; however, it's notable that a solid one-third will move forward with their existing plans.
  • In the current downturn, communications reports it will maintain focus on two key audiences: employees and customers.
  • According to the survey, on average about one-third of strategies fail for any of the five reasons noted below—and 82% of failures are preventable.
    • They fail because of unforeseen external circumstances (24%).
    • They fail because of a lack of understanding among those involved in developing the strategy and what they need to do to make it successful (19%).
    • They fail because the strategy itself is flawed (18%) or because there is a poor match between the strategy and the core competencies of the organization (16%).
    • They also sometimes fail because there is a lack of accountability or of holding the team responsible (13%).

A corporate communications team, perhaps headed by the system's marketing and public relations department, should be put in place as part of the strategic planning initiative. They will need to define a strategic planning communications program that is as clearly defined as a hospital's external advertising plan. Developing an effective strategic planning communications program requires an understanding of behavioral dynamics of various target audiences, developing the right message for each target, deciding the most efficient and effective ways to deliver the message, and verifying that the message was received and understood. Target audiences, communication goals, key messages, timing and channels of communications must all be defined and coordinated.

Systemwide participation strategy
The strategic planning communications program must penetrate all levels of the health system and create a feedback loop to track communications effectiveness and feed vital information for ongoing planning. The information used to formulate the strategy can come from the ground up, but the formulation and finalization of a strategy is usually formed at the board, executive leadership and senior management level. Therefore, all levels of an organization are important in the development and implementation process.

Just like a master-brand advertising campaign produces a consistent look, message, and image for a health system overall, providing an umbrella for service-line advertising to fit into the strategic planning communications program will produce a consistent look, message, and image for the organization and specific targeted messaging will fall under that umbrella.

Messages need to be defined around answering the following questions:

  • What is the system's brand identity, based on the organization's mission and vision?
  • What are the strategic initiatives, and how are they in line with the brand identity, mission and vision?
  • What are the organizational critical success factors to achieving the strategic initiatives, and what is the timing of those CSFs?
  • What is the community impact of the organization's success in achieving strategic initiatives?

Creating a culture of strategic management and action
On a tactical level, senior management must work with their service-line or department employees to define a "roadmap to success" for their employees. Employees should have their own defined CSFs to achieve on a quarterly basis. Each department's employee CSFs should roll up into the department's CSFs. Cross-functional teams within the departments of marketing, finance, IT, environmental services, and so on will also have defined CSFs based on the needs of the service lines or departments.

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