A pathway to strategic change
This case study of Sydney community services provider JewishCare demonstrates the power of strategic planning to respond to both internal and external catalysts for change.
All organisations are challenged at times by internal and external forces. To successfully manage this, they need to continually adapt. Strategic planning is a tool that can help do this in a purposeful and goal-driven way.
The results have been greater focus and alignment within the organisation…
JewishCare, a Sydney-based non-profit, has been affected by significant challenges both from within the organisation and from the external environment in recent years. To help them navigate this, JewishCare has undertaken two strategic planning processes over the past six years. The results have been greater focus and alignment within the organisation both about its role and contribution to the community (its value proposition) and about how to adapt successfully to the new environment.
This article provides an overview of these two strategic planning processes carried out in 2008 and 2013, and the resulting outcomes.
2008 strategic alignment driver – internal forces
In 2008, the JewishCare CEO, Claire Vernon, had been in the role for 12 months. During this time she had updated processes and policies and essentially ‘got the ship in order’. However she was aware that internal challenges persisted.
At that time, JewishCare was a small organisation with a turnover of roughly $8m and 100 full time employees. Even so, the organisation’s service offering included over 20 distinct programs in the areas of aged care, disability care and family support. However, it was unclear which of these were best meeting community needs, and therefore which should be continued, expanded or stopped.
Located across a number of sites, the different program areas had minimal involvement with one another creating a culture of ‘silos’ which impeded JewishCare’s ability to clearly articulate what it provided to the community. Community awareness of the organisation and its services was low, whilst access to funding was becoming more challenging. Remaining visible to the community and relevant to its needs was imperative for JewishCare’s future.
…JewishCare was in a good position to start thinking strategically.
Vernon identified a need for greater organisational focus and consolidation, and decided that JewishCare was in a good position to start thinking strategically.
Strategic planning process
JewishCare engaged SVA Consulting to support the development of its 2009-12 strategic plan. The process had three steps:
- Develop internal and external factbase: Gather and synthesise information on JewishCare’s internal and external situation, specifically:
– Internal: develop an understanding of what the organisation does and who for; the organisation’s financial position and sustainability; leadership culture; outcomes to date; its strengths and weaknesses; and staff aspirations for JewishCare in the future.
– External: develop an understanding of changes in the demographics of the community it serves and their needs; understanding of key competitors; changes to funding and regulation; and the aspirations of external stakeholders (clients, funders and partners) for JewishCare in the future.
- Develop clear goals and strategic initiatives to achieve them: Drawing on the insights from the factbase, develop goals that are specific, consistent, observable, realistic and exciting (SCORE) and which align with internal capacity and the external environment, and reflect aspirations. Also, develop strategic initiatives that outline how these goals will be delivered within an identified period of time.
- Develop key performance indicators (KPIs): Aligned to the goals, develop KPIs that enable progress to be tracked over time.
Given the culture of operating in silos, engaging staff was critical to the success of the project and was integral to all stages of the process. Senior program managers, the executive team (including the CEO and CFO), other staff and the board were all involved in, and consulted through, the process. This ensured alignment across the organisation and understanding of the insights being drawn, and ultimately, the future vision.
The process was extended over five months to allow… time to process and assimilate the ideas and information.
The process was extended over five months to allow not only for this broad consultation, but also for everyone involved to have time to process and assimilate the ideas and information.
Strategic focus, alignment and relevance within community
The final plan focused on eight specific (SCORE) goals categorised into four areas, each with clear strategic initiatives and KPIs:
Goal categories were:
- Become a gateway for the Jewish community: Be the first place community members go to for support, and be able to provide that support
- Diverse and sustainable income base: Source further funding to support activities
- Appropriate portfolio of services: Assess feasibility before establishing and expanding new services
- Building social capital: Engage the community in JewishCare activities as volunteers.
…there was greater clarity on what created value for the community, and therefore which activities to continue and why.
In a review two years later, staff reported that the goals had given them greater focus and enabled them to better articulate what JewishCare provided to the community. Staff were also confident that the plan reflected JewishCare’s abilities and the community needs well.
Although JewishCare continued to have a broad service offering, there was greater clarity on what created value for the community, and therefore which activities to continue and why.
This translated into not only increased community awareness and client numbers and hours, but JewishCare also secured community funding at a time when similar organisations were receiving less support.
The collaborative strategic planning process helped to unify our leadership team…
Additionally, by involving staff, senior program managers, the executive team and the board in the process, JewishCare was operating more as one organisation rather than as disparate programs.
“The collaborative strategic planning process helped to unify our leadership team who were used to operating in silos,” said Vernon. “The outcome of the plan has directly led to increased employee engagement and satisfaction, as evidenced in the staff survey.”
The executive team reported that not only had they chosen the right goals for the organisation, but that each year, they had achieved them. All nine members of the executive team and the senior program managers were involved in the annual planning process where problems were identified, solutions brainstormed and actions prioritised for implementation.
“We review the goals annually and we work out exactly what we achieved during the year and plan all the initiatives for the coming year,” said Illan Buchman, Manager, Children Family and Community and one of the executive team. “We have big posters around the buildings that shows all of this.”
The process of annually reviewing our goals and KPIs encourages people to identify what is and isn’t working and to learn from it.
Embedding the collaborative strategic planning process at JewishCare was not lip service. Rather, it had become fundamental to the organisation’s way of working.
“The process of annually reviewing our goals and KPIs encourages people to identify what is and isn’t working and to learn from it,” said Vernon. “That means we have continuous improvement.”
2013 and the ‘melting iceburg’ – external forces
By 2013, JewishCare’s annual revenue had reached $11m. The organisation had 115 full time employees and, following a successful community appeal, had moved to a new purpose-designed building, housing all program staff at the one site. Client numbers had grown by 69% and calls to JewishCare’s helpline/information service had increased by over 95%.
JewishCare continued to meet its community’s needs, to be known in the community and be supported by constituents. This was reflected in increased attendance in mental health and community aged services and increased donations.
Even though JewishCare was functioning better, its external environment was undergoing rapid and dramatic change posing significant challenges.
The community served by JewishCare was more dispersed and moving into new suburbs that were previously unserviced by the organisation. Also, the community was becoming more diverse in terms of religious affiliation, language and culture, and existing funding sources were becoming less reliable.
…staff’s relationship with clients would have to change fundamentally to become more responsive to the client.
Legislative reforms to the disability and aged care sectors were to change how funding is disbursed and the nature of services needed – with implications for all of JewishCare’s programs. Under this new model, clients would manage their own funding, in effect shifting the sector from a welfare-based system to a dynamic, client-focused market. New organisations, both social purpose and for profit, were anticipated to enter the market, making it more competitive. Funding was no longer as secure, and JewishCare, like all providers, would have to compete to retain existing clients and find new ones.
JewishCare would need to develop new systems, packaging of services and marketing activities to help operate in this new market. Additionally, staff’s relationship with clients would have to change fundamentally to become more responsive to the client.
The iceberg was melting and I knew JewishCare as an organisation had to adapt to the new world…
The staff at JewishCare were excited about these changes for clients in principle. However, there was uncertainty and some nervousness about how the changes would affect the organisation in reality.
Vernon recognised that it was important to be proactive about leading JewishCare through the change.
“The iceberg was melting and I knew JewishCare as an organisation had to adapt to the new world, and that every staff member needed to understand and be a part of this in order for us to survive,” said Vernon. “Having seen the results of the 2008 strategic plan both for the organisation as a whole and for staff engagement, we decided to repeat the process.”
JewishCare again engaged SVA Consulting – this time to help develop a plan to address these challenges and position the organisation strongly for the next five years, from 2014-19.
The process to address these external challenges
As in 2008, SVA Consulting applied the same three stage framework, developing an internal and external factbase on JewishCare, before designing goals, strategic initiatives and KPIs.
In the initial consultations, SVA Consulting noticed that staff were concerned about, but lacked a thorough understanding, of the external situation. There was a lack of clarity around what was changing and the implications for JewishCare as an organisation. Also, program areas were still operating in isolation, which would not be conducive to a client-focused approach.
To support staff to understand the sector changes… the process again focused heavily on staff consultation and engagement.
To better understand the potential implications for JewishCare as a service provider, SVA Consulting researched the government reforms extensively and analysed similar reforms in other countries – particularly the UK – where consumer-directed care systems had already been implemented. This included reviewing sector evaluation reports and interviewing a former CEO of a leading UK-based disability service provider.
To support staff to understand the sector changes and anticipated implications, the strategic planning process again focused heavily on staff consultation and engagement.
SVA Consulting met with the senior program managers of each of the four program areas to gather information and discuss the anticipated changes and implications for JewishCare. This information formed the basis of the factbase and was shared again with those 25 senior program managers, as well as with the nine executive team members (one-on-one) who provided feedback.
Insights on the changes and implications were shared and discussed with staff in a half day workshop. Staff aspirations were also explored. This information was then shared with senior program managers and the executive team during another half day workshop, where the strategic goals were developed.
Two approaches ensured the board’s participation in developing the final plan: regular meetings with a Steering Committee, comprising SVA Consulting, the CEO and a board member ensured timely updates and the opportunity for board input into the process; and a half day workshop, with the executive team and the board, comprehensively tested and refined the strategy.
A clear plan on how to respond
The final plan was composed of 12 SCORE goals each with corresponding initiatives and KPIs. As in 2008, the goals were categorised into four areas:
- Person centred approach: Place clients front and centre of the work we do
- Community engagement: Be the trusted provider of choice for the Jewish community
- Funding: Be financially stable and sustainable
- Infrastructure: Have the systems to support a person centred approach
A year on, Vernon reported that because of the strategic planning process staff had come to understand the external environment and the need for the changes, and were clearer about their role and its importance in achieving the objectives.
JewishCare is more aware and cognisant of its changing environment and its role within the community.
Staff reported having greater understanding of other program areas thanks to the strategic planning process and the opportunities to work together. This had further broken down the silo mentality so that they could offer the more integrated services necessary for the client-centred approach, said Vernon.
“Staff had received training about how to best meet clients’ needs under the new model, and services are being reviewed and re-packaged to align with client needs and the new system.”
Again it was evident that the organisation had integrated the strategic plan; it was being actively pursued and guiding the organisation’s activities.
“JewishCare is more aware and cognisant of its changing environment and its role within the community,” said Vernon. “This places us in a position to be a leader within the sector and continually deliver the best possible outcomes for our clients and the community we serve.”
Like all organisations in the sector, JewishCare will continue to be challenged by change. However, with an embedded culture of strategic planning – a constant focus on both understanding the internal situation and the external environment, and a process for how to monitor the progress and take action – JewishCare is now better placed to respond to those challenges.
As Vernon said: “Strategic planning has enabled us to consistently and continuously think about what we can do better”.