How to Lay the Foundation for an Effective Strategic Planning Process

by Diane Burfeindt, Managing Principal, Trilogy Connect
Diane Burfeindt is the Managing Principal at Trilogy Connect, a consulting firm specializing in strategy development in senior living. With over 30 years of experience in healthcare, senior living and aging services, Diane has advised large and small organizations on strategy, visioning, governance, facilitation and change management.

For many years, senior living organizations faced similar challenges, and most developed a ‘bag of tricks’ to address them—proven strategies that could be deployed to get the organization through inevitable rough spots. From time to time, though, the senior living field has experienced a period of transformational change. This is one of those times, and we’ve arrived at a pivotal moment. Staffing challenges, rising costs and more have changed the game. The old bag of tricks is gone, and new strategies demand a different perspective.

At times like this, it can be easy for leadership to get absorbed in developing tactics to address a specific challenge and in doing so, lose sight of the benefits of stepping back and developing a fresh, guiding strategic framework that addresses this significantly changed environment. To do that, both the board and leadership need to get comfortable with the fact that what made them successful in the past is not necessarily what will make them successful in the future.

upcoming webinar - How to Lay the Foundation for an Effective Strategic Planning Process

Learn More Insights on Transformational Change Through Strategic Planning.

Learn More Insights on Transformational Change Through Strategic Planning. View our webinar, “Achieving Transformational Change Through Strategic Planning,” to hear additional insights from Diane Burfeindt, Managing Principal of Trilogy Connect, Tad Melton, Managing Director of Ziegler, and Rob Love, President/CEO of Love & Company, as they explore more about the importance of senior living organizations developing strategic plans that guide them through the transformational changes needed to remain viable in today’s rapidly evolving senior living field.

First, Get the Board on Board

Candid interactions and tough questions are necessary for developing effective strategies; that can only happen when the board and C-suite are on the same page. When the board of directors has a collaborative relationship with leadership, the work of the entire organization can be elevated.

What often precludes a better relationship, though, is that board members tend to think, “I’m not in the senior living business, so I can’t truly understand it.” Board members were invited to join the board for a reason—their unique lived experience, expertise or success in their own field, or their thoughts as consumers. Their ability to think differently about the challenges facing the senior living field can be a critical advantage to the organization.

Where Are You Now? Where Do You Want to Be?

In many ways, there was a suspension of true governance during COVID. Boards supported whatever needed to be done to keep communities going as they adapted to ever-changing protocols. For over two years, boards and leadership were laser-focused on the present. Most now recognize that it’s time to return to looking toward the future and figuring out what’s next.

So how do you get the planning process started? Today, it’s more important than ever to have a clear picture of the organization’s current state, and be specific about the desired future state. To help with this, Tad Melton, my co-presenter in our upcoming webinar, addresses the importance of the financial education of board members in his blog and the importance of providing that education in a way in which the entire board can participate and engage.

When addressing strategic planning, it is important that organizations approach it from the perspective of how to develop achievable goals with reasonable evaluation criteria. Many leadership teams are experiencing extreme burnout. For too long, they’ve been consumed by the daily slog of facing the field’s challenges. So, it’s important to be intentional about taking incremental steps toward transformational change each and every day. Your leaders should be asking themselves the question, “Where are we heading and what decisions do I need to make in a different way to get closer to that reality?”

Take a Look at Other Fields

I like to think in analogies, stepping back and learning from how other fields have managed transformational change.

Take the recording industry. It was a tightly controlled monolith. If you wanted music, the industry sent it to a store where you went and bought it. Then, when streaming was introduced, the industry panicked. How could they make money when customers could listen to whatever song they wanted whenever they wanted, with only the tiniest bit of revenue generated each time a song was streamed? At the time, the thought of a song being streamed a billion times was unimaginable. Yet, in 2021, 2.74 trillion songs were streamed globally. Change, while sometimes difficult, brings with it the possibility of being beneficial if we’re prepared to capitalize on it. Is a change of this magnitude currently on the horizon for senior living?

In an example closer to home, hospitals have faced pressures similar to those facing senior living. When hospitals reached a point where they could neither meaningfully increase revenue nor cut costs, they began a process of consolidation, leveraging their scale to impact both cost and revenue. For senior living, consolidation through affiliations and/or acquisitions offers many potential benefits for senior living organizations, which Tad also addresses in his blog.

Think Bigger About Tech

Just like in the recording industry, technological advances have played a key role in transforming many business sectors, and should play a key role in moving senior living forward, too. Every day in fast food outlets and convenience stores, people of all ages successfully place food orders via a kiosk—including people who are using aging services and moving into senior living residences.

However, when compared to other fields, senior living tends to be a late adopter of technology, particularly when it’s resident-facing. For a long time, there seemed to be a prevailing opinion in the field that seniors don’t adapt well to technological advances. However, the rapid increase in our market’s use of technology in the COVID and post-COVID eras suggests otherwise.

In many instances, the level of technology employed in our senior living organizations is unacceptable in the world we as leaders live in—a world of apps, on-demand ordering and the use of our phones to connect us with everything. Instead of looking for a single technology solution, we need to look at our technology infrastructure and how it will support a smaller workforce and a more coordinated system of care and services.

Design the Future You Want to Have

Ever since the first modern community opened in the early 1980s, senior living has been a place where a resident’s needs are understood and coordinated. However, to remain an expert voice in aging, we must move away from old reference points. Instead, we must ask ourselves, “How many of us would enjoy living in the environments we’ve created?”

This is a great place to employ your board. While many people serving on the boards of senior living organizations are age- and income-qualified to live in a community, when asked if they’d use the environment they are designing, planning and volunteering in, there is a disconnect between their desired aging path and the one they are governing. Giving board members the opportunity to routinely engage with leadership in ways that can elevate their role and help move the organization forward is the key to successful planning and governance.

In fact, executives who’ve carefully invested effort in helping the board understand the underlying trends and competitive environment that are driving the need for transformational change, and eliciting their perspectives, stand a much greater chance of receiving support for the development and implementation of the strategic plan to achieve that change.

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