A hospital mission is more than a slogan on the wall

As a healthcare leader, most assuredly you can recite you organization's mission and vision. In fact, these statements probably are posted on the wall of your office and throughout your hospital. Thomas Dahlborg

Missions and visions are critical components of creating clarity throughout a hospital. And yet having mission and vision statements on walls and not in the hearts and minds of all organizational leaders--nor in the hearts and minds of all members of your organizational community--creates an unhealthy organization with an unclear purpose, wasted resources, dysfunctional workforce, and adversely impacted patients and families.


Have you ever asked the person working at your reception desk what the mission and vision of your organization is? Have you ever asked the custodian how the organization's mission and vision are evidenced on the floors where they work? Have you ever asked your lead physician, nurse leader, discharge planner and all staff members how they honor the mission and vision of the organization each and every day and in each and every patient interaction? Have you ever asked your patients how the manifestation of your organization's mission and vision impacts their lives and the lives of their families?

Asking these questions is just the beginning of your journey toward understanding the impact you as a leader have to best position your organization to authentically live its mission as you seek to position it to achieve its vision. Mindfully assessing the answers, embracing any challenges that arise from this quest, and reenergizing the comprehensive communication and organizational clarity of purpose defines the pathway to honoring your role as a leader, venerating the importance of your team, and positioning your entire healthcare organization to fully understand and embrace its mission and vision.

And yet, there is even more work to do.

In addition to having a well-understood and honored mission and vision, it also is important to have a defined set of organizational core values. Values define what matters to an organization and where people will spend time and energy (and where they will not).

Patrick Lencioni, in his book "The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive," highlights the need for the delineation of organization values to further ensure clarity throughout the organization. He also stresses the need to ensure that all organizational decisions are aligned with the values of the organization "without exception."

Without exception?

Here are key concepts highlighted in the core values from five different healthcare organizations:

  • Patients come first
  • Ethical, responsible, accountable always
  • Caring for all
  • Shared decision-making
  • Whole person focus

As a self-assessment, please consider some of the most challenging issues you and your healthcare organization are currently facing--be they financial, personnel, service, or other--and assess whether you truly believe your potential solutions are aligned without exception to your hospital's core values.

Now consider where/if these solutions are not aligned and identify the disconnect. Why is there misalignment? Are your values wrong? Are your solutions wrong? As Sean Connery said in "The Untouchables," ... "What are you prepared to do?"

Now consider the challenges your staff is facing and whether it has a clear understanding of the organization's values (much like the mission and vision discussion) and the "without exception" directive. Again ... "What are you prepared to do?"

The challenges we healthcare leaders face are increasing and becoming more complex. Clarity of mission, vision and values (and intentions associated with each) is critical to creating an understood construct in which aligned decisions are made at all levels of the organization--what Lencioni calls a "healthy organization." It is imperative that healthcare leaders create this clarity if we truly intend to honor all those we serve and live our mission according to our values as we seek to achieve our vision.

Now consider once again ... "What are you prepared to do?"

Thomas H. Dahlborg, M.S.M., is Vice President for Strategy and Project Director for the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality (NICHQ), where he focuses on improving child health and well-being. He has 23 years of experience leading collaboratively, creating optimal healing environments, analyzing and addressing practitioner and patient needs, and developing and implementing aligned strategic plans.