For healthcare organizations, mission is everything
Thursday, July 12, 2018
Healthcare organizations are not immune to the challenges faced by their brethren in other industries: the economy, staff development, lines of succession, liability, and competition exist across various fields of endeavor.
The lack of a clearly focused mission can leave a healthcare facility or agency vulnerable and adrift without a collective vision of what it seeks to accomplish and what it seeks to be. Prudent healthcare leaders are aware of this, and thoughtfully work to create a mission that keeps their collective vision strong, vibrant, and open to change over time.
Mission Not Impossible
Any healthcare facility or agency could and should have a mission as the centerpiece of its reason for being. Whether it’s serving the local community with high-quality medical care or reaching vulnerable populations in underserved neighborhoods, a well-crafted mission can be a beacon to those seeking to align with a larger purpose.
Both potential employees and strategic partners want to know what a hospital, surgical center, clinic, or home health agency is all about, and the mission is one place to begin.
While creating a mission statement and a vision may seem daunting, such a task does not need to result in simple lip-service — a mission is a peek under the hood and can breathe life into the spirit of the work being done.
Smart CEOs and healthcare executives know that clinical and nonclinical staff members who feel good about what their employer is seeking to achieve will be more productive and loyal, as well as more likely to stick around for prolonged periods of employment. Staff attrition and onboarding are expensive, and a solid mission can be part of the strategy for stemming the flow of employees slipping between the cracks and out the exits.
My Story of Organizational Mission
In the early years of my nursing career, I was actively recruited to join the team at a community health center located in western Massachusetts. The clinic was helmed by a visionary doctor who had cut his teeth in the heady days of 1960s Berkeley, California.
As a young physician treating members of the Black Panthers, he was politically radicalized and educated regarding the needs of the poor, the vulnerable, and the disenfranchised, and he brought that vision to New England in the 1970s.
The clinic focused its services on the poverty-stricken multigenerational members of the local community, the majority of whom were people of color receiving Medicaid and public assistance. HIV, hepatitis C, hypertension, addiction, mental illness, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses and diseases of poverty were aggressively treated, and significant resources were poured into outreach services.
In this clinic, teenage mothers were educated; migrant farm workers were treated for free, both on-site at the farms and in the clinic itself; illegal immigrants were treated without questions regarding citizenship; and those addicted to street drugs and narcotics were treated with dignity and respect. Front-end staff were trained to welcome everyone who walked through the doors in the same respectful manner, and every individual was offered the same opportunity to receive comprehensive primary care, regardless of ability to pay.
Staff meetings focused on the singular vision of the enlightened physician steering this unwieldly ship, and although the usual conflicts and challenges arose, the mission remained central to our existence, even as the parent hospital attempted to rein us in.
Without a strongly worded mission backed by actions that spoke even louder than words, we would not have achieved what we did year after year. Our determined leader used the strength of his will and convictions to attract clinicians and employees who were aligned with his goals, and the resulting individual and collective efforts often met with great success.
The Mission's the Thing
There are myriad strategies and tools for the crafting of an organizational mission and vision, all of which are slightly different, yet wholly related and interdependent. This article does not seek to provide training for such, but is simply the inspiration to begin or revisit the journey of creating a mission imbued with meaning and purpose.
While it may be true that "mission drift" can occur when an organization loses sight of its reason for being, not having a mission in the first place can be a recipe for universal loss of focus and various forms of organizational entropy.
For healthcare leaders seeking to define who their employees are, what their organization represents, and how that organization walks its talk in the world, the mission can be the glue that holds the disparate parts together, as challenged as they may be by day-to-day operations, budgetary constraints, and other vagaries of 21st-century healthcare.
A mission or vision statement is not the holy grail — far from it. However, in terms of strategic thinking for organizational cohesion and long-term success, the mission is one tool in the organizational toolbox that should not be given short shrift in a robustly competitive and volatile healthcare marketplace.
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