best practices

I was in DC right before Christmas with a group of staffers from NACCHO, the National Association of City and County Health Officials. They are all either writing business plans currently (for new NACCHO initiatives) or interested in learning how their association members might use them.

First my NACCHO pitch: if you work for a local-level health department, NACCHO is where your friends are, even if you haven't met them yet. The staffers and members of the organization live and breathe local public health. This is where the committed, innovative, networked leaders and thinkers can be found.

Let me share some quick notes about working with this group. First, they understood very quickly how a business plan process might serve many different purposes and audiences on the way towards creating sustainable revenue sources (e.g., internally to make a good analysis and solid decisions, externally to connect with potential customers and to attract start-up funding).

They were similarly quick to understand potential downsides to a business planning process:
  • Revenue generation is not always the right goal!
  • Business planning can be hard: some initiatives are too small to justify doing it.
  • Business plans that chase the wrong strategy are... counterproductive.
One of the fun things about the group was the way they talk to each other: everyone was direct and honest (and respectful of course). Honesty has a way of unleashing laughter I believe... in addition to its other benefits. This openness helped the group to quickly unearth important questions underlying their initiative: who should we serve? what would be most equitable? who ought to be managing the program ten years? what would success look like?

A final note on brainstorming. This group was able to generate an impressive list of possible approaches to what at first seemed a fairly straight-forward educational goal. A turning point was the moment when they agreed to stop censoring themselves and start listing their dumb, impossible and potentially illegal ideas. With those ideas on the board, a whole range of interesting possibilities opened up.
--Steve Orton