Taking Stock

Elena Marks.jpg

We’re six months into executing on our first strategic operating plan, 18 months into my tenure, a little over two years into our actual existence, and I’m taking stock.

We’re doing and planning. All the time. I think that’s the way it will always be. And I think that’s a good thing. 

When I was asked to lead the Episcopal Health Foundation, I was charged with helping the board of directors craft a strategic plan to improve the health of the 10 million people living in the 57 counties of the Diocese of Texas.  We looked at dozens of needs assessments and health statistics. We consulted with experts, we talked to stakeholders, and we examined the work of other health foundations. There were compelling reasons to pursue dozens of different goals and strategies.  Ultimately, we made some choices, and we built our strategic plan to give operational direction to our choices. We selected three goals and seven strategies, each defined and circumscribed in ways that some found to be rather narrowly focused.  But that was our intention. We knew we wouldn’t make an impact without focus.

We published our plan in October and in January we began directing our work — our grant-making, our research, our diocesan and community engagement, our convenings—in furtherance of our stated goals and strategies. Six months into the year, we’re already asking ourselves whether we have too many strategies and whether some of them are too broad to lead to significant, cumulative impact. Maybe we’re not focused narrowly enough. Should we do more of one thing and less of another? Can we even answer these questions after only six months?

Back to doing and planning: we love our plan, we believe in the vision, goals and strategies, and we’re going to keep doing it. But we’re also planning to refine it because as we’ve lived with it these few months, we’re already learning so much about how we can improve our work within the plan. We’re talking about synergistic opportunities for our four work areas to “pile on.” We’re talking about intentional resource allocation by geography. We’re talking about the difference between system change at the policy level and system change at the practice level. And we’re talking about non-traditional financing mechanisms for advancing our mission.

There’s a certain comfort in thinking of the life cycle of organizations as linear—you develop a plan, execute the plan, review the plan, and write a new plan—but that’s not the reality in a living, breathing, learning organization. Plans are great and we believe our plan is great, but the plan is really just the starting point for delivering on the mission. As I look forward to the remainder of Year One and project into Years Two and Three of our plan, I know the vision, goals and strategies will remain, but I expect to see some changes in our execution. Maybe some further refinement—narrowing-of some strategies. Maybe prioritizing some over others. Stay tuned.