In order to further their mission – to continuously improve the safety and quality of health care in the United States and in the international community – Joint Commission Resources and Joint Commission International (JCR/JCI) intentionally partnered with multiple organizations to disseminate and deliver standards, best practices, and tools to enhance quality and patient safety, both in the United States and abroad.
“We knew that alliances were critical to our success,” said Karen Timmons, Chief Executive Officer. “We needed to plan very systematically for how partners could help us advance our mission, grow rapidly, and serve our stakeholders so that we could focus on the alliance activities that make best use of our resources.”
JCR/JCI was already partnering with more than one hundred organizations worldwide in many different ways, and was experiencing a significant increase in the number of new alliance requests from potential partners around the globe. Without a clearly defined alliance strategy and a process for evaluating potential partners and specific alliance opportunities, it was unclear which alliances to pursue or how to allocate limited time and resources across alliance-related activities.
A formal alliance strategy aligned with the organization’s overall business strategy, combined with a rigorous but efficient assessment process for evaluating new alliance opportunities.
As part of JCR’s 2008 business planning process, the Senior Management Team determined to focus the organization’s alliance efforts. Alliances were seen as a key driver of growth for the organization, and a much more formalized strategy and approach to alliance management was sought.
The first step involved a meeting of JCR’s Senior Management, to describe the overall intent of past alliance efforts and to identify the organization need to improve alliance focus. A Core Team consisting of key JCR/JCI stakeholders and Vantage Partners began by clarifying the objectives of the alliance strategy initiative (see goals above) and defining the project’s deliverables. The team then created a plan for completing the project in advance of the next board meeting.
1. Compile an Alliance Inventory
Vantage Partners compiled the information into a single data set that could then be used to analyze the organization’s alliance portfolio.
2. Analyze JCR/JCI’s Alliance Portfolio
Utilizing the data collected during the inventory process, Vantage team members created a series of reports to help JCR/JCI evaluate their alliance portfolio, and identify areas of strength and weakness in existing alliance management capabilities.
Other reports mapped JCR/JCI’s investment of resources against the perceived potential value of each alliance, and mapped alliances to the organization’s overall strategic objectives (Corporate Priorities). Areas of redundant alliance activity and investment were identified, as well as gaps in the alliance portfolio where partnerships were not being leveraged to support JCR/JCI’s growth plans and strategy.
3. Share Findings with Executive Team
As a result, the team recognized the importance of articulating a clear alliance strategy, and of ensuring that alliance activity be aligned with the overall business strategy for the organization.
4. Form Tiered Alliance-Focused Committees
As an outcome of the portfolio analysis, Vantage recommended a governance structure to enable the organization to make ongoing decisions about forming, terminating, or restructuring specific alliances, and to maintain alignment between JCR/JCI’s overall business strategy and its alliance strategy. At the heart of this governance structure were two committees:
- An Officers Committee charged with defining JCR/JCI alliance goals and approving recommendations regarding which new alliance opportunities to pursue
- An Alliance Committee responsible for managing a formal Alliance Opportunity Assessment Process (described below), coordinating alliance activities across the organization, and monitoring the overall alliance portfolio
5. Design 2009 Alliance Strategy Aligned with the Corporate Strategy
To develop an alliance strategy that would help JCR/JCI more proactively identify potential alliance partners who could help support key strategic priorities, Vantage facilitated a half-day workshop with the Officers Committee. It was agreed that JCR/JCI’s alliance strategy should be explicitly driven by the organization’s business strategy; because the Officers were in the middle of their 2009 planning process, Vantage guided them through a review of each of their draft 2009 Corporate Priorities to determine which required partner involvement in order to achieve the priority, either because a partner’s expertise was required, additional resource was needed, or a partner’s access, distribution, or brand was needed in a particular market space.
Vantage then worked with the Officers to identify, for each priority requiring partner assistance:
1. Alliance Objective (a description of how an alliance between JCR/JCI and a potential partner would support the Corporate Priority)
2. Partner Contribution (a statement of the capability, access, skills, resources, etc. that require outside assistance)
3. Alliance Structure (e.g., short- or long-term; an alliance built around a particular set of objectives/specific opportunity or a broader, multifaceted partnership)
4. Potential Risks (likely financial, brand/image, or competitive risks of partnering to achieve the Corporate Priority that would require planning and specific action to avoid or mitigate)
5. Possible Partners (possible alliance partners, either existing or new, to consider and perhaps approach regarding the opportunity)
Vantage analyzed the results of the workshop and worked with management on the development of an alliance strategy that described how JCR/JCI planned to use alliances in 2009. To further develop the draft strategy, Vantage worked with JCR/JCI’s CEO, CFO, and Vice President of Consulting to evaluate several different options for achieving JCR/JCI’s international expansion goals.
The outcome of these efforts was a recommended alliance strategy for review and approval by the JCR/JCI Board, describing which objectives would be pursued with heavy reliance on alliances, which countries would be emphasized in the near term for alliance activity, and a set of action steps for continuing to build JCR/JCI’s alliance management capability. The strategy also included a recommendation that alliances be focused to better utilize limited resources.
6. Create Opportunity Assessment Process
In parallel with developing the alliance strategy (intended in part to help JCR/JCI identify desired alliance partners more proactively), the team worked with the Alliance Committee to develop a new alliance opportunity assessment process to enable JCR/JCI to effectively and efficiently triage a significant influx of alliance opportunities from prospective partners. This process incorporated best practices from Vantage’s experience, tailored for the JCR/JCI organization. Using the alliance inventory, Vantage drafted categories of alliance types common to JCR/JCI, including joint product/service development, joint delivery, and agents/referral partners. For each alliance type, Vantage recommended several questions to ask and pieces of information to gather that would help the Alliance Committee quickly assess the alliance’s potential and likely risks, and determine whether the alliance warranted further pursuit.
In designing the assessment process, the team solicited input from those who would be responsible for implementing and following it, and then iteratively solicited feedback as the process was drafted. Scenarios were developed to stress-test and refine the process, with the goal of clarifying who within the organization needed to be involved, in what ways, at each step on the process, to strike an optimal balance between rigorous and efficient decision-making. The result was a process fit-for-purpose at JCR/JCI, and a high level of understanding and support from stakeholders who would implement the process.
7. Executive Review and Presentation to JCR/JCI Board
The proposed alliance strategy was reviewed with the JCR Board during its retreat. The Board was excited by the effort and the recommendations, and advised the Officers to continue to focus their alliance activities.
Jean Courtney, CFO and Chief of Staff notes, “We are looking forward to implementing this new process at JCR, and using the alliance strategy to further our mission.”