Strategy retreats and planning days that start from a ‘blank sheet of paper’ and focus on ‘blue sky thinking’ can get lost in the optimism of what might be possible, and lose sight of the operational issues present which can hinder that achievement.

Risk is the effect of uncertainty on objectives, and so failing to undertake a critical analysis of internal issues or trends means blindly introducing risk to the strategy process: the risk that the organisation won’t be capable of delivering on its aspirations.

The strategic plan needs to be balanced – forward looking, making the most of the opportunities; but also addressing the internal issues and market constraints that can hold the organisation back.

Organisations that grow larger without addressing internal inefficiencies only serve to scale up the inefficiencies even more so.

Operational issues are operational issues and usually best left to management to address; but when there are a multitude of operational issues, they can have an overall strategic impact, requiring the attention of the board and appropriate resources allocated to fix them. The strategic planning process is where decisions of resource allocation get made.

It’s fairly normal to look at internal issues as part of a SWOT analysis – when you look at your organisational weaknesses. One organisation I know went a step further and included a section in the strategic plan that looked at internal analysis – identifying key trends and critical issues in the business. This provided an increased focus beyond just the weaknesses in a SWOT analysis.

Some of the internal key trends that you might consider include issues like staff turnover, having the right skills and competencies, development needs, trends on safety incidents, internal audit results and corrective actions needed, staff surveys, property/real estate needs etc.

There are a number of critical issues facing not for profit organisations at the moment which require suitable internal resource allocation, including:

  • The issue of workplace culture which has been talked about by Royal Commissions and other business commentators;
  • How aged care and disability organisations consider risks for customers who are often vulnerable people (elderly, people with disability, diverse cultural groups, children) – bearing in mind that different vulnerable groups each have different risk profiles;
  • Increasing focus on a clinical governance framework, and capability to oversee service delivery and risks.

We’ve known for a while that boards can’t rely solely on the accountant on the board to interrogate the financials: all are responsible. And now, we are seeing increased focus on the importance of having service delivery and clinical skillsets on the board who understand the nature of the work the organisation does.

For aged care and disability services providers, addressing these critical internal issues means looking to similar and allied fields (such as health) to secure these competencies to the board, and undertaking training for directors to help them identify risks and better understand the services delivered.

All these issues require an organisation to look at itself, and the skills/competencies and processes at play, both at Board and management level. Where gaps or issues are identified that need addressing, these can and should be included in the strategic plan.

Given that the strategic plan is a summary (and often public) statement of what the organisation’s priorities are, it is important to give enough weight to addressing any internal issues.

The strategic plan needs to weigh the priority of investing sufficiently in these systems and issues in the short term and not holding resourcing or funding down to meet purely financial targets.

Next time you are working on the strategic plan, I’d suggest thinking about the following questions as part of your internal analysis:

  • What’s the trend on staff turnover? What needs to be done to improve it?
  • When did you last undertake an employee survey and what actions resulted from it?
  • What is the trend on safety incidents? What can be done to improve?
  • Are there recurring themes in audit reports that require corrective actions?
  • Are current facilities and property addressing the needs? What needs to change?
  • How are you addressing workplace culture in the strategy?
  • Do you have the right people in the right roles, including in management and on the board?
  • Is there sufficient investment in ensuring systems and procedures are not only updated to ensure compliance with changing accreditations, but also help you to achieve best practice?
  • Is there a suitable clinical governance framework documented and being implemented by trained staff?

If you don’t know the answers to any of these questions, perhaps start there, and then look at what needs to be addressed through the next strategic plan.