Strategic planning represents a systematic, flexible and continuous process to define or reaffirm the main purpose of an organization, visualize the future in the context of internal and external business environment, establish clear strategic directions, build organizational commitment, and formulate strategies to overcome challenges and maximize future opportunities. Strategic planning is one of the key management tools used to sharpen organizational focus, improve overall performance and ensure long-term sustainability. Strategic planning alone cannot produce results; however, a properly planned and executed strategic planning process brings a number of benefits to the organization, patients and our community at large.
Clarity of strategic directions achieved through the strategic planning process is essential particularly when various improvement and innovation initiatives may compete for limited organizational resources. Strategic planning can be successfully done at many different levels of the organization; it may be limited to one division, department, unit, specific function, or it could involve multiple departments or the entire organization. Although strategic planning at any level of the organization may be perceived as a daunting undertaking, effective strategic planning enables organizational leaders to create a unified, integrated and comprehensive blueprint for action in pursuit of operational, clinical, research, and academic excellence. Setting and implementing multiple strategic goals and objectives within an inherently complex and uncertain system requires consistency, cross-functional integration of action plans, alignment, and seamless coordination among departments, teams and other stakeholders within and outside the organization. The strategic planning process and resulting decisions have significant ramifications, not only for the future of the organization, but also have an immediate impact on day-to-day operations. When achievement of the strategic goals requires a large-scale organizational change strategic planning must rely on visionary leaders who fully understand the change process in a complex organization. Effective leaders have to focus on achieving results, convey a sense of urgency, remove obstacles, visibly demonstrate commitment to their employees, foster open communication, and persistently reinforce the shared vision, mission and core values by their actions. At the same time, organizational structures, systems and processes to support change efforts must be carefully designed and implemented.
The intensity of planning activities and the amount of time required for strategic planning depends on various circumstances that may be radically different for any given organization. It may take only a couple of days to generate a basic but still useful strategic plan or it may take a number of weeks of intensive planning activities to create a comprehensive strategic plan needed to move the organization forward. A number of decision factors should be considered and balanced when planning for the duration and intensity of planning activities including:
- Desired planning outcomes
- Complexity and size of the organization
- Organizational culture
- Level of leadership commitment
- Information requirements
- Availability and accuracy of data
- Level of agreement on strategic priorities
- Number of stakeholders involved
- Time and resources available
- Strategic planning process expertise
- Level of staff engagement
- Maturity of management systems
- External business environment
Any shortcuts taken in strategic planning may result in missing critical steps required to meet expectations and achieve desired outcomes. As expected, actual implementation of the strategic plan and related projects, initiatives and action plans will take much longer. Depending on the nature of work environment, pace of change and organizational ability to implement the plan, the timeframe covered by the strategic plan may range from 1 to 3 years. Considering the work environment associated with modern, dynamic and innovative healthcare organizations, the timeframe longer than 3 years is becoming increasingly uncommon today.