ONS leaders employ an innovative approach to strategic planning.
DEVELOPING and articulating a clear vision that drives action for an organization are key leadership competencies for executive leaders in every sector of healthcare. Our systems, educational institutions, and professional associations are challenged to “look into their
crystal balls” to determine what the future will bring and how they can design programs to
meet the needs of the people we serve. For professional membership associations, each volunteer board member has a limited time to govern the organization through its stewardship, fiduciary, and strategic responsibilities. Frequently, board members don’t see the results of their decisions until well after their term is complete. As a long-term member of the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) and the current president, I’m awed by the bold decisions made by our past and present boards.
ONS is the professional home for all nurses who care for people with cancer and has more than 37,000 members dedicated to advancing excellence in oncology nursing and quality cancer care. As our current strategic plan was ending, the ONS board of directors and senior staff made forward-thinking decisions, recognizing that the rapid changes occurring in our specialty will have profound effects beyond the typical 3- to 5-year plan. We undertook an innovative process using design thinking to create possible future scenarios that oncology nurses might encounter—not just in the near future, but 10 years from now. ONS partnered with Bridgeable, a strategic design firm, to inform the direction of its 2029 strategy and determine the capabilities required to support oncology nurses until then.
This unique process challenged each of us to think outside of our comfort zones and to respect our past, but not revere it. Most strategic plans extend the present, but in a co-creation process, we were imagining 10-plus years into the future. Innovative design thinking encourages collaborative input from multiple stakeholders with divergent views, creating possible scenarios. And entrepreneurial thinking is emerging as a critical leadership skill not only for leaders of professional membership associations but also throughout healthcare systems and in every specialty.
When I look back on ONS history, I see that so many boards have reinvented parts of the association. In the 1990s, a board decided to sunset committees and use project teams and other structures that ensured the member voice but didn’t require a lengthy commitment. Two decades later, this decision has provided more members to be engaged in the organization than the former committee structure. Another creative decision was the formation of special interest groups (SIGs) that connected members with a specific interest. Over time, this design wasn’t serving the members well, and another board decided to sunset SIGs and launch self-organizing communities in a social media platform that fosters robust discussions.
After years of renting commercial space, a previous board made a progressive choice to build our own home for ONS (see image above). Nearly 20 years later, we continue to share this beautiful investment with our members. Moving forward, the new ONS Center for Innovation will guide the development of novel resources, projects, programs, and applications to support the needs of oncology nurses—now and in the future.
I’m honored to serve with courageous, agile, and collaborative leaders who know that it takes more than a crystal ball to design the future.
Laura Fennimore is president of the Oncology Nursing Society, an organizational affiliate of the American Nurses Association. She is a member of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association.
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