As healthcare executives, we have an unusual set of competing priorities. On the one hand, there’s the altruistic reason we do what we do—many of us go into healthcare to help people stay healthy, and when they get sick, to help them make a full recovery. But we have to balance that with the very real and pressing need to succeed financially in order to survive and serve out that mission. But there’s a third dimension, too: We need to actually run our organizations—to attend to our employees, solve business problems, and manage the struggles of our patients and their families.

So what’s the leader of a medical institution to do? Well, the one thing we absolutely cannot do is ignore this work. It’s important. We need ways of measuring our progress. We need goals to aim for and accountability to help keep us on track. Our patients and our communities are relying on us.

It all starts with a vision. Your organization’s vision doesn’t have to be some benevolent statement of world-changing good. It really doesn’t. You could still save the world and have as your vision to make the most money you’ve ever made in the next quarter! It’s what you do with it that counts.

Of course, here I’m using “vision” and “mission” interchangeably, and while I think they are related, hopefully, they are not one and the same. For the purposes of this post, let’s define “mission” as the reason our company exists, while “vision” is who we want to become.

When it comes to vision, we always paint it as some grand scheme. It’s out there in the future, smiling down on us from a big, fluffy cloud—so big and fuzzy in its focus, it seems almost unattainable. But it’s something you think you can move toward. This may be because many times, we craft a vision that is vague enough to define our activities as contributing to it, even when it’s just a justification for things that don’t really apply. Here’s a checklist that’s been helpful for me in coming up with a vision for my hospice agency.

First: Vision should be close enough to reach it.

So many times I hear about a company’s “five-year plan,” and you absolutely should have one. In reality, five-year plans can end up in the circular file so easily. In the face of something like a global pandemic, they quickly become irrelevant.

Second: Your vision needs to be a real thing to be effective.

You can’t just have it etched into a really cool, backlit plexiglass plaque that changes color. It needs to be something your team can sink their teeth into, take ownership of, and help build. Establishing vision on a smaller scale can help tremendously in making this idea a reality.

Third: It has to be clearly communicated.

I’m sure you’ve all received an onboarding packet in a custom-printed binder with your company’s vision on it, right? That’s not what I’m talking about here. It needs to get under the skin of your people and become a part of the DNA of your organization if it’s going to be achieved. Effective communication is always a two-way street: You need intentional mechanisms in place to not only share that vision, but also to hear from others impacted by it.

So how do we achieve these goals without losing our soul? Here are some things you can do to make sure your vision is meaningful and that it impacts your institution’s daily activities.

●              Don’t just communicate the vision to one leader. Set up a system to cascade that vision down to every level of your organization on a regular basis.

●              Refer back to the plan at regular intervals. This needs to happen internally from an executive position as well as throughout your organization.

●              Break your vision down into shorter goals and pieces to serve as milestones.

●              Finally, niche down into what your specific company provides.

In today’s ultra-competitive economy, even medical service providers have to set themselves apart. We need a brand that identifies us distinctly and explains why a family would want to choose us over the 20 other providers their insurance will cover.

Generic vision is the killer of medical institutions.