Health Systems: Are You Solving the Wrong Problem?

By The SHSMD Team posted 09-07-2021 12:30 PM


Health systems and hospitals are continually tasked with growing, improving, changing—and cutting, too—all at the same time. What should take priority? What needs to, as many hospitals saw with the brute-force attack of COVID-19?

“It is hard for organizations to decide which initiatives we are going to do and which we aren’t going to do. But, when you don't prioritize, you get dilution,” states Greg Kain, Managing Director for Healthcare at Integrated Project Management Company.

Kain illustrates this by describing hammering nails to secure a structure:

If you need to hammer a board into a wall, most people would logically hammer in the four nails at the corners to get the board to hold. Then, pick one nail at a time until they are hammered in. Imagine that board is your strategy. The nails represent the different strategic initiatives you have to fulfill. The way most organizations implement, is they tap each nail once. They go all the way around the board until they've tapped each nail once. Then, they tap each nail twice and go all the way around the board.

“What you're doing is slowing down each initiative when you decide to not prioritize. So, it is a decision in and of itself,” adds Kain.

Focus First

The first step in successfully prioritizing initiatives—and avoiding dilution—is focus. That may seem like a broad term, but it really does get down to one approach: starting any process with clear, strategic goals already in mind.

“If you say, we want to grow the organization by 10%. What should we do? You're going to identify more targeted work, and I would say better ideas, for achieving that goal. Engage the organization with the goals and then have the organization determine what the right ‘work’ is to achieve them,” notes Kain.

Employing Meaningful Prioritization

In some cases, an initiative becomes so critical that it requires resources to be pulled from day-to-day operations. Kain refers to this as “meaningful prioritization.”

“It's not just that you've said this initiative is a priority. It's that you've made some decisions to adjust and to treat it differently. You know this, because it is a bit uncomfortable. You are taking people from their ‘day job’ and telling them this initiative is now your day job. So, you're moving things around, dollars and people. That's what meaningful prioritization looks like,” he explains.

Getting C-Suite Buy-In

It does require a different skillset to be able to identify the right projects, and then prioritize, plan, and implement them—all while maintaining the 24/7, 365 dedication to optimal patient care. Ultimately, any strategic effort needs to start with the executive team being committed to prioritization.

“A good prioritization process does not just exclude bad ideas; a good prioritization process results in hard decisions. And, I think something health systems are going through right now is trying to unpack these strategic plans. They've said, ‘You know what? This initiative seems mostly operational. So, we'll put the COO's name next to this one. This one is related to clinical care. So, we'll put our chief medical officer in charge of this one. Essentially, they’re tasking executives to make sure things get done.”

Learning More

  • To learn more from Kain’s expertise in prioritization strategies, attend his session at the Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development (SHSMD) annual conference—happening September 19-21 in San Antonio, Texas. Register today!
  • To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic, click here to listen to SHSMD’s podcast episode with Greg Kain, Managing Director for Healthcare at Integrated Project Management Company.