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Strategy versus Operations: The battle to stay on track

Health care organizations today are continually faced with competing priorities for resource allocation. As the old adage goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” and most often, the squeaky wheel is an operational or infrastructure priority, such as technology demands, FTE needs (vs. workforce development), facility improvement (vs. strategic facility planning), budgets, marketing, department-and specific issues.  After all, these items are often the sources of day-to-day problems health care organizations experience.

Yet all too often during the strategic planning process, these operational issues can be confused for strategic priorities, causing organizations to lose focus of the bigger picture.  While operational initiatives play a key role in acting as support and infrastructure for strategic initiatives, it is critical for the participants of the strategic planning process to keep their focus on true strategic priorities.  Otherwise, feedback during strategic planning committee meetings may turn into a laundry list of items within the organization that are not functioning correctly, rather than constructive feedback regarding the position and direction of the organization.

Examples of strategic and operational planning priorities

Strategic Planning:                          Operational Planning: 
– Multiple-year time frame                    – Yearly tactics
– 30,000-foot view                                  – Forecasts: revenue, profit, case flow
– What business to be in                        – FTE plans
– Growth and profitability targets         – Operating budget
– Products/markets strategy                 – Project plans

To mitigate the chance that the strategic planning committee turns to operational issue identification and resolution, the committee must recognize that their role is to:

  1. Understand how the organization is positioned relative to competitors and high-performing organizations
  2. Agree upon where the organization should be in the future
  3. Develop actionable steps and targets that will help the organization reach its desired future state, which may include some operational initiatives to support strategic initiatives

These actions should keep participants on course toward the goal of addressing the organization’s strategic issues.

A well-thought out strategic plan will incorporate the feedback of those responsible for operational issues, but will direct their thinking toward strategy-themed content and insights to create a plan that provides clarity of direction now and in the future.

How has your organization kept its focus on strategic issues? Tell us about some of the challenges you’ve met and how your team overcame the distraction of operational concerns during the strategic planning process.