Implementing Strategy: Charting the course for a new future

For most organizations, the strategic plan is the roadmap, the aspiration, the guiding light for the future. But what do you do when your five-year strategic plan requires a mid-term course correction?

At Markham Stouffville Hospital (MSH), like many other hospitals, we had a five-year strategy that plotted the course for the hospital from 2014 – 2020. The strategy took into consideration a number of factors including clinical growth, funding, innovation and community need. It did a great job of looking at the current landscape and planning for the future.

But then the current landscape changed — dramatically. The introduction of the Patients First legislation brought forward major changes. A significant focus on patient experience, the creation of a provincial patient ombudsman and new expectations were placed upon hospitals and health system providers. In addition, the digital health era was upon us, driving hospitals to harness new technology at a faster rate than ever before. And a provincial election and, potentially, a new government was on the horizon.

Regardless of any new government direction, it was clear that the environment had significantly changed. Our organization needed to respond strategically in a very real and tangible way.  Waiting until 2020 to launch our new strategy was no longer an option.

While some were excited about the new strategic planning mandate, others who had lived through our hospital’s massive expansion and renovation only a few years ago were anxious to have a ‘steady-state.’ A new strategic plan meant more change. If we were going to be successful in developing our new strategic plan, we needed to ensure that all of our partners in care, including our patients, had a meaningful voice about our future directions. It was essential that we committed to designing the future of MSH together.

We launched that renewed work ten months ago and we now have a new vision, mission and strategic pillars that will drive our work for the next three years.

This plan leads us into the future by building on our past successes, acknowledging the challenges we face and by taking advantage of the opportunities that are ready to be seized.

Our vision is “care beyond our walls” and speaks to our commitment to serve the community beyond the boundaries of our physical facilities. Of course, the MSH sites have walls, but we say that our vision is to deliver care beyond walls because we will proactively think, act and innovate every day to provide our patients with care that is connected to the community in which they live.

Our mission is to create an “honoured to care” culture; an expression of our humble and compassionate attitude, and recognition of the respect we have for the people who choose us for their care.

And underneath our vision and mission are our strategic pillars; delivering an extraordinary patient experience, embracing our community and empowering our people.


We insisted on a vision and mission that were short and memorable, and easy to recall strategic pillars.

We are very proud of the work that’s been done, and we’re excited about the implementation of our new plan. We also learned some lessons along the way.

  1. Engage widely and deeply

Taking the time to engage others in the planning and implementation process is time-consuming and arduous but well worth the effort. The final product is always better, clearer and more understandable. Taking the time to do this well reaps benefits as you move forward with implementation. That old adage that you have to slow down to speed up later is absolutely accurate.

Physician engagement is particularly important; time spent creating opportunities for meaningful dialogue, input and influence ensures less resistance and enables future success.  The Board must also be engaged in the development process in a meaningful way – this is also a critical success factor. Consider the use of a steering committee populated with key leaders, Board and Foundation members, and community participants.

  1. Take time to understand the organizational context

Take the time to understand the historical issues, sensitivities and biases. Just because you’ve implemented a strategic planning exercise several times before doesn’t mean that it will work the same way in another organization. Seasoned and experienced leaders understand this and adapt their approaches. At MSH, an assessment of why the previous strategic plan did not resonate or gain support was critical in order to ensure success going forward.

  1. Pay close attention to the implementation plan

There are countless examples of beautifully crafted strategic plans that do not translate into successful implementation. If carefully and thoughtfully managed, it can be a compelling and unifying experience that focuses the entire organization. At our hospital we have created steering committees for each of our three strategic pillars and our enabling processes and systems, each of which will be co-led by senior leaders. The committees and supporting working groups provide an exceptional opportunity to work collaboratively with individuals from across the organization in a meaningful and productive way.

We have a lot of work ahead of us as we move towards our vision of providing care beyond our walls. But we are confident that we have done our very best to respond to the changing landscape in healthcare and that it was the right decision to move forward early with a new strategic plan. We’ve consulted and engaged and have the right supports in place as we begin to implement our plan. It’s an exciting time for Markham Stouffville Hospital.

Jo-anne Marr is President and CEO, Markham Stouffville Hospital.