Currently the general manager of Ko Awatea, Haidee has an extensive background in nursing and leadership as a charge nurse at Waikato Hospital. Since then, Haidee has developed her leadership skills through undertaking a number of critical roles within the Waikato District Health Board, including forming their Programme Management Office. This article is the first in a series of her reflections on leadership in healthcare transformation.
Delivering strategy can be challenging. It’s not uncommon to see a work programme or organisation set a good strategy but make no progress towards achieving it. How can leaders translate strategy into operation?
The difference between strategy and operation
Strategy is the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, and operation is the ‘how’.
Strategy expresses your vision. It articulates what you want to achieve, by when, and why you want to achieve it.
Operation is translating that strategy into delivery. It is concerned with how you achieve your vision.
Staff engagement is key to translating strategy successfully into operation. Staff need to understand what the strategy is, what it means to them and how they contribute. It should be positive and inspiring; something that resonates with your team. Leaders must be able to communicate the strategy in language that enables staff to understand what they are being asked to deliver. Each team and each individual within an organisation needs to be able to see how they fit into delivering it. This sense of connection is vital.
Defining what needs to be done
Be clear about what needs to be done by when and by whom. This might require realignment in your organisation, because a bold strategy might mean an organisation starts operating quite differently to the way it has in the past. Consequently, leaders might need to deploy resources differently or the organisation might need to acquire new capabilities.
For this reason, leaders who wish to translate strategy into operation must pay attention to the enabling functions of the organisation – recruitment, budgeting, team culture and technological infrastructure. Recruitment must target bright, able people who fit with the strategy and culture of the organisation. Budgets can evolve slowly and may take two or three budgeting cycles to align with a new strategy. Similarly, if team culture needs to change to align with a change in strategy, leaders must work actively on this as well as on operational outcomes.
Adopting a mechanism of change
Consider the mechanism of change. If you have set a bold strategy that is quite different from what your organisation is currently doing, there will need to be a process of change to reach your goal. A methodology for developing and testing ideas, such as PDSA (plan, do, study, act) cycles, can offer a safe way of embarking on the journey towards your goal by enabling you to understand whether change ideas are working, quickly abandon those which fail and scale up changes which succeed.
Delivering any strategy requires an understanding of what the process of delivery will be and how you will know if you are on track. Consider how you will measure your performance. Measures may need to be adjusted or refined during the journey towards a goal, but setting milestones along the way helps you to see whether you are heading in the right direction.
Negotiating the barriers
It is easy to become distracted from strategic issues in a sector like healthcare, where there are huge day-to-day challenges of treating patients and managing acute demand. In such a situation, vision leaks easily out of a system. The role of a leader is to feed the vision fire constantly to keep strategy at the forefront of people’s minds despite the distractions of day-to-day business.
At the same time, leaders need to listen to their teams and understand what the issues and opportunities are. Leaders need to make staff feel supported day-to-day, as well as cultivating the mindset that thinking about the future is not something additional to their role but an integral part of it. Leadership demands keeping your eye on the ball without losing sight of the goalpost.