Bland may be better when it comes to strategic plans, writes Philip Cornish

There’s nothing wrong in a bland plan, as long as it works. And I wouldn't worry if it looks a lot like others in your sector. But what ever if does it should produce behavioural change and inform the stakeholders about goals.

One of the things which has struck me over the decades is how similar top line “strategic plans” in sectors are. So I find that Hospital/Health service "A", might say in their big strategic plan released to great fanfare, that “we aim to provide leading/excellent etc care; people are our biggest asset; quality/research emphasise and growth in capital and financial stewardship”. Health service B probably says much the same thing. I’m guessing that just about every University in Oz has had a plan to diversity income away from international students. Bit late now. Frankly, I'm often more interested in the next lines in the strategic framework below the top line.

The capacity for prospective execution is the most important part of a framing a successful plan. This which should have been built on the underlining situational analysis and future scanning. Of course, the process is of itself useful in getting buy in from stakeholders, but in order to drive decisions there needs to be points specific to the service and mix. How is this service going to be different from the past; how is it different from other services?

The Model of developing the strategic framework should be suitable for the setting. In the nineties, MBA types (like me indeed) loved the Komatsu Strategic Direction slogan “surround Caterpillar”. I recall being a participant in a day long strategic planning exercise for a public health unit in which the Komatsu example was provided as an exemplar. Totally useless example for the people in the room and the business as they didn't want to build market share. They wanted to improve services and reach.

I still find Mintzberg’s 5 “Ps” on thinking about strategy useful.

Mintzberg’s 5 “Ps”

  1. Plan.

  2. Ploy.

  3. Pattern.

  4. Position.

  5. Perspective.

So, perspective or plan? Not mutually exclusive of course and in fact I think a mix of operational plan and a positioning/perspective in the one statement to be useful.

The key strategic decision is what is the business is the of the organisation. While public health may be fixed in large part, there are still choices about platforms, specialities, locations and delivery modes.

What are you really providing to the community? Treatment, local employment, speciality training, political solution to the departure of another service or assurance? Drucker over 40 years ago would say that an emergency department role is primarily to provide assurance.

But a service can provide a false assurance if it is too small to provide sufficient volume to build a safe practice in speciality areas. Such trade off's are not always made clear in co-design exercises.

Now, finally after 100 years of telephone some increasing assurance is provided by telehealth.

Community health services, as an example in Victoria have diverged strategies around key dimensions. Some are still local based municipal based others are primary health chains trying to pretend that they are still community driven rather than community informed. Neither model is wrong. But they are not the same. Scale is a consideration.

There are lots of people out there who can help. But I suggest you size the scale and the model of development for your strategic plan. And please don’t believe everyone in the organisation when they say how wonderful things are. Dig deeper: which is why outside people can often hear the truth more than insiders and should be used. I don’t believe it can’t be better. And please don't say "Agile" unless that's your project management model. But sure show agility.

Regards, Philip

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