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How to choose the right goals for your hospital

Setting goals for your facility may be your most important duty as a hospital executive.

After all, the direction you choose will set the tone for your entire staff.

Choose these goals wisely, and they can propel your workforce to new levels of performance. But choose wrong, and employees will squander their time and energy, and feel demoralized when their efforts fall short.

Here’s how to make sure your hospital’s goals align with your staff’s capabilities, your community’s needs, and your vision for the future.


First, accept that you should not make these decisions in a vacuum.

NRC Health vice president of program development, Jen Volland, DHA, RN, explains why: “To make sure your facility’s goals reflect the reality of your situation, and to motivate staff to change, you need to draw on diverse sources of data to make that goal relevant.”

Get out of the C-suite

One of the first sources you should turn to: your frontline staff.

“Take the time to be visible to your staff, walk their processes, observe what they actually do,” Volland says. “Their on-the-ground procedures might look much different from what you have down on paper.”

The time you spend on the floor will pay off. It will show you where your staff’s frustrations lie, what keeps them from doing their jobs effectively, and, often, how to move forward. Even more importantly, time spent on the frontline tells your staff that you care. They’ll trust your perspective because you made the effort to reach out to them.

This will help you get candid feedback when you ask them about your hospital’s problems—and they’ll be much more likely to respect the course you set for their work.

Find the right peer facilities for comparison

Feedback from your staff will give you granular insight into your hospital’s operations. But for a broader vision, you may need to look outward.

“Another piece of the puzzle,” Volland says, “is what other hospitals are doing.”

This is because different departments within one hospital will make competing claims for your attention and resources, based on each of their most burning issues. This can make it difficult to identify the right areas for improvement overall. As Volland puts it, “across different departments, you’ll have multiple initiatives, often all going on at once. And there’s not always consistent communication going on between them to share what’s happening and identify improvements.”

For this reason, benchmarking your facility against a group of high-performing peers will help clarify your priorities.

There are limits to what you can learn from other hospitals, of course. One facility’s needs and strengths will not necessarily translate to another’s. But benchmarking will show you, objectively and in broad strokes, who is excelling in your hospital and who is struggling, compared to other performing organizations. That will go a long way toward informing smart decisions.

The last word: your patient community

The last source for your goal-setting data is also the most important—your patients. If you want to set meaningful goals, you must find out how to serve them. Alan Dubovsky, chief experience officer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and one of NRC Health’s partners, believes that clear feedback from patients helps hospital executives design better goals, as well as motivate hospital staff and improve patient reviews–something a large portion of Americans truly care about. 

“If you ask them in the right way, at the right time, patients will tell you what you need to change” Dubovsky says. “And with that feedback, physicians, nurses, and support staff will come together to find ways to improve the patient experience.”

But, he cautions leaders to “make sure you have a consistent, timely, and effective way to get that feedback. The right process makes all the difference.”

That’s easier said than done. Many hospitals struggle to get meaningful feedback from their patients. In fact, 60% of health systems believe they don’t know what their patients really want.


After speaking with your employees, benchmarking against other hospitals, and listening to your patients, you’ll better understand where to direct your efforts. Next, you’ll need to use your good judgment—and creativity—to choose the most impactful goals possible.

Trim and prioritize

After you’ve collected all this information, you will likely see a wide variety of goals to choose from.

But be careful. Focus is essential. Too many goals will scatter your staff members’ attention, and they won’t understand your true priorities. That will make your hospital less likely to achieve any of its new objectives.

Choose three to five of the most important areas to focus on. It may feel painful to leave other priorities on the table, but your staff will know better where to direct their energies. That’s critical.


The next challenge will be to design goals that resonate with your staff, and push your facility toward positive change.

As a first step, Jen Volland recommends using the SMART acronym for goal-setting. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound—all critical aspects of well-set goals. Goals with these attributes are a fixture in business leadership, and for good reason. They work.

SMART goals give an objective standard to reach for, and a timeframe within which to reach it. Well-designed, they can energize your staff members’ competitive instincts and spur them to perform.

Aim high

It can be tempting to select a goal that you feel is within easy reach for your hospital. You may want to deliver a “win” for your staff, or show judicious leadership to stakeholders.

But modest goals are not compelling. They’re unlikely to inspire concerted effort from your staff. And even worse, small goals may communicate to your staff that you lack confidence in their abilities.

The “A” in SMART stands for Achievable. Your goals should be realistic. But remember that good goals must inspire your staff to change, as well. So err on the side of ambition. Challenge your employees to rise to the occasion.

About NRC Health

NRC Health has helped healthcare organizations illuminate and improve the moments that matter to patients, residents, physicians, nurses, and staff for over 35 years. Our empathetic heritage, proprietary methods, and holistic approach enable our partners to better understand the people they care for and design experiences that inspire loyalty and trust.

Learn more about NRC Health solutions.