I’m going to bet many of us ripped up our strategic plans when the pandemic arrived. To survive, we learned how to be nimble, resourceful and adaptable. I believed it was the only thing we could do, but after speaking with Lisa Crockett, Executive Director of Strategy and Planning at Providence St. Joseph Health, I’m wondering if I abandoned my 2020 strategic plan too soon.
A fun fact about Crockett – Providence St. Joseph Health treated the very first COVID-19 patient in the US, so her 2020 strategic plan was one of the first nationwide to come under attack. Instead of abandoning it, Crockett and the senior leaders at Providence used their well-crafted plan to help guide them through the turmoil. Not only did the organization survive, but they are now well positioned to achieve some of the important goals originally outlined in their plan.
Frankly, it is a testament to the perseverance, dedication and leadership of Crockett and her team for helping their organization maintain laser focused despite the chaos around them.
Crockett acknowledged that it wasn’t easy, especially early in the pandemic. “I recall being in an offsite meeting when the messages came through that our first COVID patient was being admitted to one of our hospitals,” she said. “What I didn’t appreciate at the time was how dramatically the year was going to change. It was not the year we thought it was going to be. We all had different plans for 2020. We all loved to talk about 20-20 vision and all those creative conference slogans. But we didn’t have a perfect vision on what the year would hold.”
No one did.
Right from the start Crockett and her team knew it would be important to remain focused and not fall into the trap of dealing only with the fire that was in front of them. She and the leadership team decided it was important for their organization to not lose sight of the bigger picture. Their strategic plan would not be overhauled.
Of course, like every other healthcare organization, they had to deal with unexpected challenges like securing enough PPE, handling a panicked/confused community, and dynamically adjusting staffing levels. These challenges did have an impact on Providence’s ability to pursue the strategies and achieve the metrics in their plan, but it did not completely disrupt them.
Fortunately, the original plan had built-in flexibility and already had the organization aimed in the right direction – like adding more digital capabilities and increasing access. Expanding telehealth, for example, was already a 2020 priority. It just needed to be accelerated due to COVID-19.
“You don’t always want to cling so tightly to your strat plan that you miss the offramp that will take you to a better destination,” Crockett shared.
Conversely some of their financial metrics and revenue-cycle strategies had to be put on pause as the pandemic forced the cancellation of elective procedures and made patients reluctant to seek care. Rather than adjust the targets, the team decided to adjust their definition of success. The targets remained as a reminder of what they were ultimately aiming for in the long term, but for 2020 the team understood that moving towards their goal would be considered a victory.
“Right now with the speed at which operational decisions are being made, organizations can really go off the rails if they just focus on solutions in the short term,” stated Crockett. “If they are simply solving for the moment, they are going to get a couple of years down the road and realize that they have invested in bricks & mortar infrastructure that is no longer relevant. Or I stood up a digital platform that didn’t have provider engagement. This is where you have to look at the greater context of how things in the short term, support the long-term strategy.”
Helping the team stay strong
Crockett was quick to point out that remaining focused is only possible when the team stays strong. She spoke about the need to be cognizant of more than just workplace stress. The pandemic also caused stress as well – home schooling children, taking care of elderly parents, having spouses work at home and being unable to rely on extended family for help.
“We should be checking in on each other,” stated Crockett. “And taking care of each other however we can at work.”
This conversation highlighted how much more I need learn about strategic planning. It was impressive how the strategic plan developed by Crockett and her team was able to withstand a pandemic and remained a guiding beacon.
Looking back, I wonder how much more accomplished I would feel about 2020 if I had a plan like Providence’s.
Watch the full interview with Lisa Crockett to hear about:
- How Lisa’s team managed during the early days of the pandemic
- Why overhauling your strat plan in the face of major challenges isn’t always the best route
- How to think about metrics differently, and why it’s important to do that
- Ways to make sure staff are taking care of themselves so they can perform day-to-day