Top Six Goal-Setting Practices for Healthcare Organizations

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

Are your employees aware of your healthcare organization’s vision and top objectives? If your organization is like most hospitals and healthcare organizations, employees do not have any insight into your key objectives. While there’s a lot of talk in healthcare about the importance of setting and measuring goals, many hospital objectives don’t make it past the C-suite for myriad reasons, including lack of clarity, relevance, and follow-through.

Our recent white paper, Making Goals Matter: The Power of Cascading Goals in Healthcare, by Dorothy Duncan, Product Manager, HealthStream, featured the following guidelines for setting organizational goals. 

  1. Less Is Always Better. Limit the number of organizational goals to no more than five. Having too many goals creates competing priorities and lack of clarity. The more goals that are set, the number of goals actually achieved will fall. Limiting the amount of goals set ensures the goals selected are of higher importance and higher quality, and there will be more time and energy to complete them successfully.
  2. Focus on the Rollout. Cascading systems start at the top but are achieved from the bottom up. Start with a clear communications strategy around goals. Often, organizations have goals that are imposed, where staff members have to achieve something they can’t do or something they don’t understand. In successful organizations, leaders get input from staff on how the organization is doing before goals are established. For example, if a department’s HCAHPS scores are at the 20th percentile and the executives set a goal for employees to "increase HCAHPS score to the 75th percentile," staff will become frustrated or even worse, ignore the goal all together. Any new system requires strong communication and buy-in from other leaders before it will be a success with staff.
  3. Identify Key Stakeholders. These are the individuals who are going to take the data and influence others. For example, when creating finance goals, the finance leader needs to be in the discussion and become a stakeholder and cheerleader. In addition to finance, typical stakeholders are leaders in nursing, HR, physician management, quality, and environmental services. These key stakeholders in turn set the tone for their employees as to whether this new system is something that is beneficial and whether they should all get on board.
  4. Have Clear Goals, Measurements, and Desired Outcomes. Know your target outcomes before you establish and communicate goals. Problems occur from the moment a goal is written down if it is not specific enough. Don’t leave it up to staff to guess what you mean. Also, develop a consistent rating scale that tells staff what targets they are trying to achieve. For example, explain to them what equates to a 1, 2, 3, or 4 on the evaluation scale. Or, share what equates to meeting or exceeding expectations. It is not enough to say, "We want to improve."
  5. Tailor Goals to Departments and Individuals. Present goals that are in line with departmental and employee responsibilities. As gals are cascaded down to employees, they should be job-specific, not overarching to the extent that a person feels like he/she cannot contribute. or example, if a hospital has an organizational goal of reducing expenses by 5 percent, strategize how this will filter down. One goal may be for departments t find a new vendor for a specific piece of equipment. This makes the goal realistic and practical for people. Or, if one department has the same three people for 20 years, don’t force them to address a corporate goal of reducing employee turnover. Instead differentiate on what they are responsible for and how they have performed in the past.
  6. Be Honest During Evaluations and Hold Staff Accountable. Transparency is critical. It is common for managers to provide evaluations that are not actually based on whether or not the goal was met. If a department fails to reach a specific score, do not give the employees a positive mark for trying, even though lenience is tempting. This will only serve to erode accountability. 

With so much change and uncertainty occurring in healthcare, having a strong goal system enables organizations and their employees to connect in meaningful ways. It motivates individuals to create and participate in a strong culture of performance. Cascading goal systems ensure that when a goal leaves the executive suite, it is tied to people and processes all the way down the line. It is in this setting that staff begin to understand the difference their work makes outside of their daily domains. Organizations that become skilled at administering results-focused goal systems also gain a clearer vision of their strengths and weaknesses. 

In addition to this list, the white paper includes:

  • Understanding and Addressing Goal-Setting Challenges in Healthcare
  • Aligning Goals to Key Employee Groups
  • HealthStream’s Cascading Goal Management and Consulting Services