When James M. Anderson started the
process of creating a new vision for
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical
Center, there was great skepticism from
the hospital’s employees that it would
“I suppose you could say nobody
believed that we would do this, and this
would invest in doing things that would
improve care and probably reduce revenue but deliver better outcomes,” he
But as president and CEO of the children’s hospital, Anderson knew it was
important to brush off the doubts and
move forward on developing that vision
and executing it to help guide the hospital in future years.
As chairman of the hospital’s board,
Anderson was part of the group that developed the $1.16 billion hospital’s vision statement in 1996. The process took two years
before the statement was completed.
“It’s important to spend time defining your
vision because that points you in the direction you want to go,” he says. “Once you’re
comfortable with where you’re going, you
get to work doing it.”
When he became the hospital’s president
and CEO later that year, it became his
responsibility to execute on the vision he
Anderson’s work hasn’t stopped there. He
has developed three strategic plans since
becoming CEO and has also declared a new
mission statement that better defines what
the hospital is looking to accomplish.
Here are the steps Anderson took to make
that vision development process a success.
Develop the vision
A good vision includes three key components that will help energize an organization
and set it on the path to achieving goals: a
vision statement, a strategic plan and a mission statement.
Anderson’s first vision statement was created with an informal process. He led a
group of trustees, senior physicians, senior
nurses and business leaders in a lot of brainstorming and discussion about the characteristics of the hospital, its strengths and
weaknesses, opportunities, and the best achievements of the past.
After two years of work, the end result
was a vision statement that focused on the
hospital committing its resources to be a
leader in improving child health.
“It was a rich process that caused all of us
to reflect on what the institution was and
what it could become and in the context of
wanting to be aggressive and bold about it
and expecting high potential to be
achieved,” Anderson says.
The key to getting the most out of these
types of discussion is keeping an open mind
and being an active listener. It allows you to
hear what everyone is saying while being
open to new ideas and possibilities.
Anderson says you just need to keep
reminding yourself to keep your mouth
closed more than it’s open and listen to
“I find myself in meetings from time to
time saying I could say something but that
doesn’t mean I should say it, and it’s probably better in many cases just to listen carefully and try to understand things in a new,
more helpful way,” he says. “If you’re doing
more talking, the probability is you’re not
going to be as revolutionary as you might
otherwise be by listening to the views that
are from a culture or an epicenter that you
don’t live in every day.”
The second piece of a vision is a strategic
plan. Anderson says it’s important to have a
plan in place to map out your goals for
achieving the vision and also gives you the
framework to make good decisions.
He’s been through the process three times
now — once in 1998, once in 2001 and again
in 2004. Each time the plan got a little better
and set the bar a little higher.
The most recent process involved a larger
and more diverse group of people working
together to create a 30-page document that
includes five focus areas and more than 100
specific action items.
When you are putting together a plan, it’s
best to get others involved to help achieve
buy-in and to make sure you don’t miss
anything. You can’t involve everyone, but
you can pick representatives who will be
able to be the voice of each group within
Anderson involved about 300 of the hospital’s then 9,500 employees in the process.
“We tried, in a systematic way, to include
thought leaders and people whose position
in the organization or in the community
reflected broad views or the views of a broad
subset of people who would have a stake in
this,” he says. “You can’t go to everybody, but
you can have a thoughtful representation or
a process that leads to a thoughtful representation of a broad range of constituencies
into the process. While it’s not everyone, it’s
certainly a good group that gives rise to rich
The work was divided up among different
groups with each having a specific area of
responsibility. Each group broke up into
smaller groups and then an integrating
group, made up of 15 people from all representations within the hospital, brought all
the groups back together to listen to the
ideas and develop the plan.
As a result of the integration, the group
decided a new mission statement — which
is the third component of a vision — was
needed to reflect the changes.
“It was at the meeting of that integrating
group that we were all enormously excited
about the ideas that came out of the process
that we looked at our old mission statement
(developed in 1989) and said, ‘That’s not
good and certainly not helpful or energizing,” Anderson says. “In one session, we
came up with a new mission statement,
which is enormously helpful and is energizing and does provide direction and has been
proven to be a useful document.”
The new statement is more action oriented and reinforces the five themes in the
strategic plan — innovation, organization,
outcomes, experience and value.
When all three elements of a vision are in
place — vision statement, mission statement and strategic plan — they will help you
achieve your goals.
“The vision statement is the biggest,
broadest umbrella; that’s the kind of thing
we aspire to be and want to do,” Anderson
says. “The mission statement is fully consistent with that and, in the direction of
providing leadership, says a little about
how we’re going to do it and describes the
deliverables, mainly improved outcomes of
patient satisfaction and value. And then the
strategic plan itself says more specifically exactly what we’re going to do clustered under these five categories.”
Communicate the vision
A good vision that has been developed thoroughly won’t help a
company meet goals unless it is communicated properly to employees. Employees are the key to making a vision successful, so they
need to know what the vision is and the steps they need to take to
help reach it.
Anderson started with a brochure that each new employee receives
that explains the vision and its different components, and he also
meets with new employees during orientation to go over it. These
meetings take place for every employee in the organization, no matter their job or rank, and Anderson presents that same message to
them at the same time, trying to connect the importance of their job
to Cincinnati Children’s vision.
“I stress some of the important characteristics that reflect the
thinking behind it with a view toward getting them aligned and on
board in that earliest stage,” he says. “I do try to make sure that
everybody understands that we’re all in this together. Each of our
jobs needs to be done at a high level in order for others of us to do
our jobs at a high level and where one piece falls short, it’ll have an
adverse effect on other pieces.”
The employee discussions are also a way for Anderson to show
his commitment to the vision.
“When I talk about it, I try to act in a way that is fully consistent with
those goals so that there aren’t any sort of inconsistent behaviors
from me that undermine the credibility of what we’re saying,” he says.
“I try to use every tool that occurs to me to reinforce the importance
of the vision and the entirely realistic expectation that we can achieve
together extraordinary results.”
Having employees understand the vision is not enough. You
have to work through the organizational structure and have conversations with employees about their exact role and responsibility in the vision. Anderson says you can also connect an
employee incentive plan to the goals so there is reinforcement for
reaching those goals.
Once employees know their role, you have to hold them accountable for getting their work done toward achieving that goal.
“Then there’s continuing conversation and engagement through
the year on progress against either the goals specifically set forth in
the incentive plan or other activities that are being undertaken that
will arise during the year or are longer term and might not be in the
While most employees do become engaged and understand the
plan after communicating it to them through various means, sometimes it doesn’t work out that well. Anderson says that if employees
simply cannot become engaged with the plan, you need to work
with them to move on to do something else, either inside or outside
“Then there’s basically no question but that these important goals
will get done — who actually does them we’re flexible about, but
everyone needs to know and do that,” he says.
Cincinnati Children’s has been pursuing its vision for more than 10
years and has seen numerous successes. The hospital has opened
several new buildings, added 720 net new employees each year for
the past 11 years to reach 10,948 today and had an impact on health
services in the Greater Cincinnati area.
“We’re a different organization than we were when we started,”
Anderson says. “It’s hard to put it into words but I would say there’s
a vitality that you can feel. We have embraced innovation and
improvement. We know that we have the will, expertise and
resources to take on big challenges. It’s exciting to be part of this.”
A vision can help you along the path for the future and help you
achieve the results that you want. Anderson says you just need to get
out and start planning and pursuing it.
“You have to start before you’re ready and the process is pretty
simple, pretty clear cut,” he says. “People should be bolder and
more energized to follow this relatively simple process and get to
common ground that you’re entitled to pursue in every aspect of the
organization and then reward and celebrate the successes and communicate that.”
HOW TO REACH: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, (513) 636-4200 or www.cincinnatichildrens.org