Revisiting the Mission

By Andrew Chastain

Recently, I sat in a board meeting of a leading U.S. health system as trustees were discussing their strategic vision for the system, and how the rapidly changing health care field, marketplace and regulations were having a profound impact on its future. After a particularly contemplative exchange, one of the long-time trustees wondered openly, “Is our mission still relevant? We used to ‘serve the sick’ but now we are focused on the community’s wellness and health.”

Like many systems, this organization is shifting its delivery model in response to environmental pressures, the Affordable Care Act, the changing economy, and other factors. But, like other systems, it also has not completely transitioned to an entirely new way of doing business – rather, it is hedging its bets, still pursuing traditional bricks-and-mortar investments and volume-based growth while experimenting with value-based, “population health” methods.

A mission statement is a guidepost for organizational direction. It answers the fundamental question, “What are we really about?” It guides strategic decision-making and resource allocation and directs the leadership team about where the board wants the organization to go.

The case presented above exemplifies the position boards are in during times of fundamental change. After decades operating under essentially the same guiding principles, the chair and fellow trustees wrestled with whether to make an elemental change. Ultimately, these trustees decided that it was time for a new mission statement. (They are also contemplating a name change for their organization, taking “care” out of their name to become solely a “health” system.)

To