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Department: Performance Potential

Successful strategic planning

Orton, Amber MBA, MSN, RN, NE-BC

Author Information
Nursing Management (Springhouse): June 2022 - Volume 53 - Issue 6 - p 38-40
doi: 10.1097/01.NUMA.0000831432.51566.07
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Today's complex healthcare environment is fraught with twists, turns, roadblocks, and detours that pose unique challenges and require creative solutions. Strategic planning is a powerful tool to help organizations establish priorities, align work, and chart a path forward.

During times of crisis and uncertainty, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, some organizations may have paused strategic planning. However, effective strategic planning is more important than ever to provide clear direction and enable organizations to adapt, evolve, and move forward despite an ever-changing environment.

A roadmap to reaching goals

Strategic planning can enable organizations to be more intentional, nimble, and proactive in their work. It's the process of assessing your current state, determining your desired future state, and then creating an action plan with clear strategies and tactics to bridge the gap between the two. Strategic planning answers the questions: “Where are we?”, “What do we have to work with?”, “Where do we want to be?”, “How do we get there?”, and “How will we know when we're there?”1,2

A strategic plan is most commonly a 3- to 5-year plan that establishes priorities, aligns work, and focuses efforts on common goals. It serves as a formal roadmap to achieve your desired future state. Without this roadmap, you'll likely find uncertainty, confusion, and ambiguity about organizational goals and priorities.

The strategic planning process involves the following steps:

  • Complete an assessment
  • Develop your goals
  • Develop an action plan
  • Inform, educate, and implement
  • Evaluate and measure

Transformational nurse leaders play a crucial role in bringing the strategic plan to life by inspiring, motivating, and modeling the way forward to superior performance and exceptional outcomes.

It takes a team

The ability to implement and operationalize the strategic plan requires commitment, engagement, and shared accountability across all levels of the organization. Unfortunately, some organizations develop strategic plans at their highest leadership levels without involving those at the point of care. As a result, employees are disconnected from the goals, action planning, and creativity necessary to make the strategic plan a reality.3 When developing a strategic plan, it's important to engage those who do the work in all phases of the process. Clinical nurses are at the forefront of the complex care environment and are uniquely positioned to influence change, develop innovative solutions, and drive transformation. Nurse leaders can better anticipate challenges, set priorities, and prepare for the future by engaging clinical nurses in the development of robust strategic plans to achieve nursing and organizational goals.4

For a strategic plan to be effective, employees at all levels of the organization, including clinical nurses, need to be aware of the plan, understand it, believe in it, and have the resources and support to carry it out. Actively involving clinical nurses in all phases of the strategic planning process strengthens the plan and increases the likelihood for success. This article provides five potential avenues to engage clinical nurses in the strategic planning process.

1. Create a strategic planning team

Invite and engage clinical nurses as well as leaders and other staff from throughout the organization to serve as members of a strategic planning team or task force.4 A strategic planning team coordinates and facilitates all aspects of the strategic planning process. When developing the team, think about the people you'll need to inform, involve, consult, collaborate with, and empower to make the strategic plan come to life. You'll want to ensure representation from clinical nurses in a variety of roles and practice settings. During the assessment phase of the strategic planning process, the planning team may want to consider inviting clinical nurses and other staff to present about current issues, trends, and potential solutions.

2. Hold a strategic planning retreat

Strategic planning retreats are a great way to generate enthusiasm and unite individuals around a shared vision and a path forward. Strategic planning retreats provide an opportunity for clinical nurses to get involved in the development of strategic goals; brainstorm ideas; create action plans to operationalize the strategic plan at the organization, unit, and/or individual level; and determine potential outcome metrics to measure success. Retreats often spark more in-depth conversations and understanding of the strategic planning process, which helps those in attendance spread the message and generate buy-in when they return to their departments.

When designing a retreat, consider who needs to participate, where the retreat will be held, who will facilitate it, what needs to be on the agenda, what education and support are necessary, and the desired objectives.2 Retreats should be educational, inspirational, and engaging.

3. Conduct a survey or focus group

Not everyone can join the strategic planning team or attend the strategic planning retreat, but surveys and focus groups provide another excellent avenue for nurse leaders to engage more clinical nurses in the strategic planning process. During the assessment phase, these strategies can help gather additional information regarding strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats at the point of care. Consider the following questions.

Strengths (internal):

  • What do our patients say we do well?
  • What keeps you working here?
  • What keeps our patients coming back to us?
  • What makes us unique?

Weaknesses (internal):

  • What could we improve on?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What complaints do you hear most?
  • In what areas do you need more resources, education, or training?

Opportunities (external):

  • What do we need to do better?
  • How can we address these problems in a new or different way?
  • What patient/employee/community needs are not currently being met?

Threats (external):

  • What barriers or obstacles have you encountered?
  • What trends have you seen that could have a negative impact?

Surveys and focus groups can also be used to solicit input from clinical nurses during later phases of the process when you're developing action plans or to ensure that strategic priorities are integrated into the work occurring at the organization, unit, and individual levels. Consider facilitating focus groups virtually or using an online survey tool to gather feedback and input during various phases of the strategic planning process.

4. Use shared governance councils

Engaging clinical nurses in the strategic planning process through decentralized shared decision-making increases engagement, cultivates a sense of ownership, and connects the day-to-day work to the overall strategic priorities.5

Shared governance councils are a great way to create, validate, and refine the strategic plan. Consider distributing drafts of the strategic plan through shared governance councils to gather feedback, ensure strategies and tactics are realistic and accurate, and adjust as necessary before finalizing the plan. Once the strategic plan is ready to disseminate, shared governance councils can partner with nurse leaders and the strategic planning team to bring the plan to life throughout the organization by developing action plans and informing and educating their peers.

Councils are also an important avenue to connect clinical nurses' day-to-day work to the overall strategic priorities of nursing and the organization by ensuring that council goals and projects align with the strategic plan. Consider incorporating strategic priorities into templates for meeting agendas and goal trackers to help councils and clinical nurses connect the dots and understand their roles in implementing the strategic plan.

5. Develop, integrate, evaluate

As you think about these practical avenues to engage clinical nurses in the strategic planning process, keep in mind that the strategic plan is more than just words on paper. An effective strategic plan is a living, breathing document that's developed with input from those who do the work, integrated into daily work, and evaluated routinely. Cultivating a strong shared vision and engaging clinical nurses throughout the strategic planning process will increase the likelihood of success and move your organization toward excellence.


1. Guanci G. Feel the Pull: Creating a Culture of Nursing Excellence. 3rd ed. Minneapolis, MN: Creative Health Care Management; 2015.
2. Guanci G, Medeiros M. Shared governance strategic planning retreat: a best practice. Nurs Manage. 2018;49(8):36–40.
3. Wright P. Strategic planning: a collaborative process. Nurs Manage. 2020;51(4):40–47.
4. Lal MM. Why you need a nursing strategic plan. J Nurs Adm. 2020;50(4):183–184.
5. Borum C, Marcum K. Having a voice: the nurse's role in organizational strategy. Tenn Nurse. 2019;82(4):13.
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