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Leadership Sector: Do You Do Strategic Planning?

In our lives, we plan for almost everything. We plan our daily schedules. We plan our meals. We sometimes plan weeks in advance which television shows we're going to watch. But do you do strategic planning for your organization?

If you were to poll EMS organizations, you'd find that most don't have a strategic plan for the future. What is strategic planning? Simply put, it determines where an organization is going in the next year or more, how it's going to get there and how to know if it got there or not.

Strategic planning can result in tremendous benefits. First, you clearly define the purpose of the organization and establish realistic goals and objectives consistent with that purpose in a set time frame. Second, those goals and objectives are communicated to everyone inside your agency. Third, strategic planning allows you to ensure you're making the best of your resources by focusing them on key priorities.

Additionally, just like a road map, strategic planning allows you to mark a starting point for a specific goal and establish a mechanism for tracking progress. It also brings into focus what the EMS organization wants to accomplish. Finally, strategic planning allows problems to be solved.

Various methods, such as the acronym SMARTER, can help in strategic planning. By using this acronym, you'll remember that goals should be designed and worded as much as possible to be: specific, measurable, acceptable to those working to achieve the goals, realistic, timely, extending the capabilities of those working to achieve the goals, and rewarding to them as well.

Another approach involves performing a strategic analysis. Following this method, define your mission and vision statements, and then conduct a SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats) assessment to see how your organization matches those mission and vision statements. If your vision statement is to be the premier EMS agency in your community, then a SWOT analysis will identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that will help you realize that vision.

Beyond these starting methods for your strategic plan, you should develop goals, a strategy for obtaining those goals and action items to help you obtain them. For example, your SWOT analysis may show educational programs as a weakness. If your personnel need more continuing education programs for recertification, your strategic plan can include a clear goal to offer more CE programs. The strategy can be assigning a new training position or a community college to be responsible for this goal. Action items may include offering an ACLS class and DOT refreshers twice a year to provide CEUs to attendees. Another action item can be to budget for personnel to travel to conferences and seminars.

If your SWOT analysis shows ambulance accidents and injuries are a significant problem, another goal may be to reduce them by 20% in one year. You would then develop strategies and action items, such as driver education, a review of how warning lights are arranged on the vehicle, new technology that monitors driving habits and the implementation of an accident review committee that reviews each incident for ways to prevent future crashes.

Strategic plans can be single- or multi-year undertakings. Some strategic goals may be an ongoing process.

Once your plan is developed, it's not set in stone. You'll need to constantly monitor it to ensure that the organization is following the established direction and evaluating its progress and any deviation. Another potential pitfall is that strategic plans are sometimes written and then placed on a shelf to collect dust. It's easy to sit down and work on a strategic plan and then forget about it as you deal with day-to-day problems.

I also strongly encourage that any strategic planning process involve others outside the management team, such as citizens from the community and your employees who work the streets. It makes no sense to develop plans without knowing how they'll affect the medic where "the boots hit the ground."

With good strategic planning, you can generate a road map that takes your organization to the next level. Careful, deliberate and detailed goals can make you a class one EMS organization.

Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P, is a deputy fire chief with the Memphis (Tenn.) Fire Department. He has 29 years' experience, retiring as the chief paramedic from the St. Louis Fire Department. He's vice chair of the EMS Section for the IAFC and can be reached online at„www.garyludwig.com.


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