Management Minute

All about Strategy

By Michael R. Fraser, PhD, CAE, Chief Executive Officer, AMCHP

In a few weeks, the AMCHP Board of Directors will begin the work of creating our next three-year Strategic Plan. It is fitting then that the next topic in my series on the Twelve Absolutes of Leadership by Gary Burnison is “strategy.” Like Burnison, I view strategy as “look[ing] over the horizon and set[ting] a course based on assumptions.” (p. 37) Strategic planning is about looking to the future and deciding, based on what we see, where we should position ourselves moving into the future. A strategic plan is the result of that scanning and based on the assumptions developed about the future. It is a map to guide our movement forward, meeting the objectives and goals our leadership develops for AMCHP.

As the Executive Committee began to discuss our strategic planning process, it became clear that there was lots of uncertainly as we looked toward the maternal and child health (MCH) horizon. Economic improvements? Uncertain. FY 2013 Federal Budget? Uncertain. Implementation of the Affordable Care Act? Uncertain. Future of Title V? Uncertain. Given the great deal of uncertainty in our future, the committee decided that instead of planning for one future and developing goals and objectives with that one future in mind, we would develop several potential future scenarios based on different assumptions and then analyze AMCHP’s strategic directions given the various potential futures. It was a smart move and though it will take longer to get our final product completed, the final Strategic Plan produced will be based on careful and strategic thinking about where we all may be as the future enfolds before us.

An important part of our futuring and scenario development is gathering information about what is going on in our field. Scanning the past and present to identify trends, emerging issues, areas of growth, areas of weakness, increased competition and areas for strategic partnership is all part of our planning process. The biggest challenge of our scanning efforts, however, is not to use the past to plan our future. Burnison quotes Sally Blount, Dean of the Northwestern University School of Business, who says “[t]he thing that hampers strategic thinking is to assume that the future will look like the past.” (p. 46) Far too often we reuse or slightly refine our past assumptions and use these to chart our future. Strategy setting should start a scan of the past but also include a “clean slate” or blue-sky thinking about what may be possible moving ahead.

The AMCHP environmental scanning process is a major undertaking and includes analyses of our member and board assessments, feedback from regional director queries, input from the AMCHP Annual Business Meeting, program and conference evaluations, review of partner groups’ strategic plans and vision documents, results from focus group discussions, committee meetings, staff review of external and internal factors impacting our environment, and progress made on meeting our current strategic goals. We will look at the results of our past work to inform, not predict, our future. Critical to our planning process is how to articulate the ways that the MCH environment has changed over the past three years (our prior strategic planning period) and what this means for our immediate and long-term future.

The ability to plan strategically and adjust our current objectives to meet the demands of an emerging future is a key part of what makes AMCHP a strong and effective organization. While we are always planning strategically and adjusting our course as the environment dictates, only once every few years do we truly focus on developing a comprehensive plan, or map, to chart our course forward as an organization. This is an exciting time for MCH – with so much uncertainty our future is hard to predict. As such, we will actively continue our strategic scanning and planning process to meet the needs of state MCH programs. We will need your input and your strategic thinking as we develop our plan. Look for opportunities to provide input and regional dialogues about our MCH future in the next several months.

[This is the third installment in a continuing series on The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership by Gary Burnison. If you would like to get your own copy of The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership and follow along over the next few months, you can order it online via the AMCHP link to AMCHP receives a small royalty for all orders placed via this link. The opinions of the author, and of Mike, are their own and are not the official position of AMCHP.]