For Healthcare Boards and CEOs, Is the Mission Set in Stone?

By Andrew Chastain

The mission for all healthcare organizations – nonprofit or for-profit – is critical. It is the mirror against which all strategic decisions are held up for reflection.

Andrew Chastain

Andrew Chastain

Should the mission statement, therefore, be set in stone? In a 2012 AHA Center for Healthcare Governance special report on Transformational Governance, Larry Gage notes that the originator of a mission typically wants to “memorialize” it and “protect it from those who may wish to abandon it in the future.”

Yet with healthcare undergoing fundamental transformation, boards and their organizations are inevitably revisiting and changing their missions. Many hospitals and health systems are updating the language of these statements to better align with their new population health strategies — to, for example, “support the health and well-being of the communities we serve.” I think changing the mission can be a good thing, if done thoughtfully and with input from many stakeholders.

In the cover story of the most recent issue of AHA’s Great Boards Newsletter, I explore the role of mission in today’s healthcare organizations. (See “Revisiting the Mission”, Spring 2016.) I present what I consider a functional model of today’s health systems, outlining the key areas of focus – one of them being Mission & Vision – that today’s boards and CEOs must collaborate on, as well as the areas of oversight that a CEO must be responsible for.

Chastain_board-CEO modelI arrived at this hourglass-shaped representation after speaking with countless CEOs, executives, and trustees over the past few years. Mission & Vision is one of five key areas that boards and CEOs should prioritize and regularly discuss. “Boards are addressing the mission question through more progressive relationships with their CEOs,” the Great Boards article says. “In doing so, they encourage CEOs to advance the hospital or health system’s work within the mission context, and to cascade mission-focused ideas organization-wide.”

The model presented in the article is intended to make healthcare boards more aware of how they and their organizations interact with their CEOs, and to think deliberately about how they spend their time as a board. Conversations around governance in healthcare are changing, and mission and values should get plenty of time on the agenda.

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