Hospitals and health systems continue to consolidate and purchase physician practices; payment reform and quality initiatives are kicking into high gear; 123 new accountable care organizations are being rolled out; and workforce supply issues are emerging or reemerging. These are just a few of the challenges that call into question the enduring value of strategic planning in an environment characterized by increased uncertainty and greater and faster change. Can—or should—we try to plan for three to five years into the future when we do not know how healthcare reform will really affect the field? Shouldn't we be completely focused on immediate needs and initiatives?
While addressing the most pressing and immediate concerns and hot spots tends to be a natural response, leading organizations recognize that strategic planning, and the focus and prioritizing that it calls for, is more important now than ever before for several reasons:
- Increasingly scarce resources require short- and long-term allocation perspectives.
- The larger, more diverse, and more geographically dispersed organizations currently being formed benefit greatly from the alignment that results from strategic planning.
- Uncertainty and fast-paced change call for adaptability, which research demonstrates is greater when there is a clear direction, strategy, and alignment among organizational leaders.
To maximize the yield from strategic planning in these turbulent times, the strategic planning process is being adapted to be more relevant to contemporary organizations. Healthcare leaders are advancing strategic planning from a periodic exercise to a more continuous and integrated (with other key management functions) strategic management process (see Figures 1 and 2). This type of process is dynamic and increases an organization's capacity to deal with “curveballs,” emerging developments and threats, and change in general.