UK politics are in turmoil and it is unlikely that Brexit will mean more for healthcare in the near future, so having a strong business strategy and executing on your plans effectively are all the more important.
Have you struggled to develop a business strategy that sits at the heart of your organisation, helping your leaders drive change rather than being a totem document that gets referred to once in a while?
Similarly with your business plans, do you find your teams struggle to clarify their priorities for action or scramble to meet a Board date rather than being fully in control of the review and planning process? Or that you’re sometimes part way through the financial year without plans being signed off?
Organisations the world over struggle with these challenges and with the pace of change in the health sector right now it is even more important that healthcare CEOs and Directors use their strategy setting and planning cycles effectively.
I help national and global healthcare organisations with strategy and business planning. My clients include NHS Providers, The Royal College of Surgeons, Prostate Cancer UK, Movember and various healthcare startups. As I’ve helped these leaders, I’ve been reminded of how important the fundamentals are.
Each organisation faced unique challenges and brought unique talents and approaches to tackling them. Each now has a clear and compelling strategy and business plan in place (not all written by me, though I was intimately involved in key elements of strategy and business planning for each). The approaches I used in each are ones that you can apply too.
There are five clear stages that I would urge you to use in your strategy setting and business planning work:
- Stage 1: Strategy first – and make it meaningful and powerful. Your business strategy needs to speak to your employees. It needs to be clear, compelling and relevant to their work. Whilst great strategy is set from the top, I counsel leaders to involve their staff in discussing what’s important, what’s going on and the challenges and pressures that they are tackling in their day jobs. If leaders have their finger on the pulse, they are much better placed to shape the strategy and ensure it is meaningful and relevant to all staff within the organisation. Workshops and discussion sessions with staff at all levels are great ways to involve them in formulating your business strategy, and it will be stronger and more meaningful for doing so.
- Stage 2: Top team business planning. You need to bring your top team together prior to writing your business plan, to discuss priorities, challenges and direction of travel. A great way to do this is to take your top team out of the office for a day or two to work through options and priorities. An external facilitator can help here, but equally you may want to design and run your own business planning session. Here are my top tips for doing so:
- Begin with the end in mind: get clear on what you want to achieve before you start working through the steps needed to achieve it
- Separate the wheat from the chaff: a great way to do this is look back from this end point and ask “what were the biggest and most important steps to getting us to this end point?”
- Establish a burning platform for change: success in implementation will depend on how well your top team pulls together to go the extra mile or make adjustments and sacrifices to support each other. A clear, agreed and urgent set of priorities helps people make such sacrifices more willingly and reduces the politicking and positioning that can go on within larger organisations.
- Stage 3: Iterate budget setting and planning the detail. The perennial debate about budgets first or planning first is one that I prefer to tackle iteratively, as there is no perfect answer. Total budgets should be set early but carving these up between priorities and business units should be done iteratively during the business planning process in order to arrive at the best allocation of scarce resources. Good planning is a collective effort and you’ll need to allow time in your business planning process for this.
- Stage 4: Refine and rework the final plan. Though it may be obvious, you need to allow time to write your business plan. I’ve seen many organisations scramble at this last stage to put together coherent and compelling plans, despite all the hard work that has gone on in previous stages of the process. Much gets lost in the scramble. Top tips for avoiding this are:
- Allow sufficient time for the final working: set a deadline at least two weeks ahead of the drop-dead date for submission to the Board to finalise the business plan ready. This gives you a cushion of time to complete the last minute iterations and drafting you’ll almost certainly want to make the document compelling
- Allocate a dedicated writer to the task: Business plans often look and feel stitched together, whereas a dedicated writer can give a unified feeling to the document – both in language and structure: something that helps make it a living document for the organisation in the year ahead.
- Stage 5 – Implement. The reason you wrote the plan is because you want to deliver against it. So drive your Directorate planning and reporting around this. Set your business plan at the heart of your planning and reporting; and don’t be afraid to come back to it and ask if you got things right. With stages 1 to 4 in place, you’ll almost certainly have done a great job, but the world is changing fast and pays no heed to your business planning cycles. So make use of quarterly and mid-year reviews, reforecasts and other reports to your Board to keep your organisation on track for the goals that you consider most important.
Some common mistakes I have seen in all this are:
- Lack of ability to prioritise: we want to have our cake and eat it, but the key to a great business plan is to reduce it to the core essentials. This creates space to innovate and improve, rather than overwhelm and a sense of failure to deliver
- Lack of time allocated to the process: it is not uncommon for organisations to be two or three months into a financial year without having signed off their business plan. Make sure you allow time, and that you allocate resources to this process.
- Insufficient coordinating resource: often business teams are flat out delivering and leaders find it hard to allocated resource to the planning process. Consider judicious use of external resource: an external facilitator for key workshops or to turn around key drafts can make the world of difference in pulling together your top team and helping you create the cohesion and clarity you need.
If you want to explore your business challenges further, please do:
book a FREE planning session with me
I love helping healthcare CEOs tackle tough challenges, and I’d welcome getting to know you and hope you’d like to join satisfied clients like these: