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Understanding the Healthcare Strategic Implementation Process

by Liz Fobare on May 15, 2019

healthcare strategy

Even the most beautiful strategic plan can’t bear fruit until your team knows how to implement it.  Organizational goals are broad and aspirational by nature, and as such it’s easy for healthcare strategy to falter in implementation when:

  • Initiative drivers are poorly defined (no ownership or accountability)
  • Strategic goals haven’t been translated into concrete deliverables
  • Implementing staff are misaligned with senior leadership’s vision
  • The strategy team lacks the skills and knowledge required to succeed

Without all of the necessary pieces in place, a brilliant strategic planning process can only produce a document that will collect dust—unread—in a file cabinet.  It’s important to prepare your healthcare organization for implementation even as the strategy is still being mapped. And that means asking the right questions before you begin.

Here are the answers to a few salient questions you should be asking to understand the healthcare strategic implementation process:

What Is Implementation?

Implementation is one spoke on the wheel of the strategy, implementation, and execution trinity.  Wheel spokes are perhaps a better analogy than a linear road because each aspect is cyclical and continually rolls forward in a successful organization.

Erica Olsen’s Strategic Planning For Dummies defines implementation as “the process that turns strategies and plans into actions to accomplish strategic objectives and goals.”  In other words, it’s the bridge between your abstract strategic plan and the concrete results you seek. Strategies are only words until you’ve applied them to specific initiatives with measurable results.

However, this is not to say that implementation is the “doing” to strategy’s “thinking.”  All three elements of the planning-implementing-executing triad involve both decisions and actions, ideas and products.  They simply focus on a unique collection of activities, people, and software tools for their stage of the strategic process.

Where Do I Start the Implementation Process?

The first thing you should do is align senior leadership around a common language for your healthcare strategy’s vision.  You’ve already developed goals and plans for how you’ll achieve or measure them by this point. Only with shared understanding and shared terminology can your message be consistent throughout the organization.  A unified message is critical to realizing your goals.

This means selecting a framework for strategic implementation with a comprehensive structure that synergizes every step of the strategy team’s process.  The Balanced Scorecard is one example of a one-stop, beginning-to-end system for planning, mapping, implementing, and executing your business strategy.

Who Will Implement the Strategy in Healthcare?

In one sense, anyone and everyone in your organization can be responsible for implementing strategy at some level—new initiatives, processes, and technology will require the full organization’s effort and cooperation.  However, be careful not to mistake operations for strategy. The fact that a department leader or doctor is directly tasked with integrating a new procedure doesn’t mean that they are given responsibility for strategic implementation or tracking the progress of the strategy.  That belongs to the strategy office.

  • The Strategy Office

Strategic leadership should sit firmly in your strategy office, and it’s important not to pile other responsibilities onto the plate of the strategy team.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of tapping the personnel who are closest to high-level organizational knowledge—strategists—with leadership’s side-projects.  

Risk Management and the Strategy Execution System

Unfortunately, this distracts your strategy office from its priorities and gums up the works of strategic implementation.  Keep the strategy office solely focused on strategic planning, oversight, and execution. The whole organization is “implementing strategy” continuously, but you need a dedicated staff to focus on the design and implementation of initiatives, as well as improving execution through training, supervision, and adjustments in reaction to tracked measurables.

  • Delegating Tasks

On the subject of measurables, non-healthcare enterprises typically task the owner of a project with their own record-keeping.  They’ll update their measures, gather metrics, and produce reports. In the medical field, this is often not the case; it’s common for assistants to take on responsibilities for the busy physicians and department heads when they don’t need to be involved—even if they are technically overseeing the broad strokes of the project.  

An assistant-rich industry risks ambiguity and miscommunication as the network of helpers engage in communication “telephone.”  It’s critical to define the roles of persons involved in the reporting process.

When is it appropriate for assistants to be placed in charge of the reporting and record-keeping around a particular measure or metric?  Are they equipped with the skills and knowledge to update leadership appropriately and periodically (or to operate your strategic implementation tools/software)? Make informed and purposeful choices when delegating these responsibilities. Excellent communication around roles and task assignments will solve confusion before it starts.

Why Doesn’t Implementation Have “3 Easy Steps?”

Strategy is a complex, abstract process with moving targets.  The goal of the strategic planning process, of course, is to make inspirational goals digestible and actionable; in a word, “SMART:”

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Realistic

Time-bound

Because your strategies will be drawn from your goals, it can be difficult to assign arbitrary one-size-fits-all steps to implementation.  The steps will be dictated by the strategies themselves. This is why it is so important to consider evaluation measures before you’ve even finished your planning process.  You will be your own best resource in determining whether the implementation is succeeding or needs adjustment. What might be more helpful at this point than “steps to follow” is a clear list of “what to prioritize.” For example, you will stay on top of implementation when you:

  • Prevent day-to-day operations from overtaking long-term goals
  • Prioritize clear communication, ownership, and accountability
  • Commit money, resources, and time
  • Talk strategy daily, not at “annual strategy meetings”
  • Keep momentum with frequent progress reports

When is Implementation Complete?

In short, implementation is never fully complete.  Remember the spokes of the wheel? That wheel is always turning.  How can you ever fully implement your strategy when the presumptions it was based upon are always changing?  Every influence on strategic planning is constantly in flux.

This means that strategic visions and goals will evolve over time, and so will the initiatives you implement and calibrations you make for excellence in execution.  Implementation strives to close the inevitable gap between where your ship currently floats in the health market and where the compass of your goals directs you to sail it next.

A strategy is not set-and-forget—it will never be completely implemented.  That said, progress is made when you implement the initiatives that draw you closer to your ever-forward-thinking goals.  If you need guidance on how to implement a strategic plan, consider partnering with a third party that offers comprehensive technology solutions to maximize every stage of healthcare strategy.

Risk Management and the Strategy Execution System

Topics: Healthcare Strategy

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