Strategic Planning (no eye rolling please)

There may be no better way to get the members of any organization to roll their eyes and groan than to say “we are going to develop a new strategic plan!” Most of us have been through this before. At its worst, strategic planning begins with the hiring of an expensive consultant, followed by endless hours of meetings dedicated in large part to educating the consultant about the organization. The result is often a “plan” that states the obvious. This is then formalized into a slick, glossy document that sits on the shelf until the next time someone says “we are going to develop a new strategic plan!”

Given this perspective, who would have thought it would be me who, a few months back, said “we are going to develop a new strategic plan” for the cancer center. Indeed, it took some self-reflection before I was able to suppress my own eye rolling and groaning . This decision was based on the timing and value of such a process.

Here is what I thought…

  • We are about mid-way through our five year P30 Cancer Center Support Grant that brings with it our recognition as an National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Having a strategic plan in place as we develop our renewal application in the next couple of years will be helpful for that application.
  • Developing such a plan is useful as we present our vision and goals and advocate for new initiatives to the leadership of the medical center, University and beyond.
  • As a matrix cancer center, it is vital that we periodically seek input and dialog with a broad range of groups and individuals that have a vested interest in the success of the cancer center. Doing so effectively is facilitated by a strategic planning process.
  • We want to think in the long term, yet remain flexible and periodically reassess priorities. Developing a five year strategic plan while prioritizing and considering modifications to that plan on a yearly basis, allows us to do both.
  • The medical center recently went through a strategic planning process, and the efficiency of our own planning efforts would be enhanced by piggy-backing on the structure of that effort.
  • Most importantly, we are in a time of amazing change in both cancer research and cancer care. Developing a robust strategic plan that will guide decision making as we respond collaboratively, thoughtfully, innovatively and definitively to the challenges and opportunities ahead, will be very useful.

From a process point of view, we decided to bypass the expensive consultant and instead, asked members of our own team to hold meetings with a broad range of constituents. They met with over 50 different groups and did a superb job finding out what these groups and individuals would like to see in the cancer center strategic plan (thanks Annie, Kristin, Zach, Tina, Michael, et al). The hundreds of items of feedback we obtained were frank, thoughtful and constructive. We held several meetings to digest this feedback and process it into the format used by UI Health Care for their strategic planning. The result was a strategic plan with five broad goals (Best People, Collaborative Models, Nimble Structure and Accountable Culture, Diversified Financial Resources, and Strong Partnerships), 19 Strategies based on these goals, and 89 specific tactics for addressing those strategies (to see the plan, please click here).

This strategic plan is, by nature, very broad. Next up – prioritization. In early December, we sought input from our External Advisory Board composed of leaders from other cancer centers that visit us and provide advice once each year. I also presented the draft strategic plan during a cancer center grand rounds. We then distributed a survey asking members, faculty and staff to identify aspects of the plan they see as top priorities over the next year and beyond. We are still reviewing that data, but already see a clear consensus that recruiting top talent in selected areas of excellence is of highest priority. The process continues as we are circling back and meeting with many of the same groups that provided input at the beginning of the process.

Has the process been worthwhile thus far? For me, the answer is unequivocally “yes.” Some items that will be top priorities moving forward were already of high priority before we started this effort. Others are new concepts that emerged during the process. Getting feedback on prioritization has also been incredibly valuable.

We will be sharing more about top priorities for 2018 shortly. I can’t guarantee there won’t be eye rolling or groaning as we move forward with the effort, but can guarantee that the strategic plan will not be a glossy document that sits on a shelf. It will serve as a guide as we respond collaboratively, thoughtfully, innovatively and definitively to the challenges and opportunities ahead.  My most sincere thanks to all who contributed to this ongoing effort!