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Business plans for behavioral health organizations

November 6, 2008
by Nelson W. Burns
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I am enjoying reading many of the articles published through the Harvard Business School internet service entitled “Working Knowledge”. I often use many of the articles and interviews while teaching the Kent State University Web Courses on Non-profit Management. In a recent article authored by Sean Silverthorne and published on Oct. 6, 2008, Silverthorne interviews Dr. William A. Sahlman; author of one of the most downloaded articles on Harvard Business Publishing since 1997 entitled “How to Write a Great Business Plan”.

This stuff is good reading for a CEO, business manager or operations officer, because it provides some key business principles that should be applied to operating a non-profit behavioral health organization. Behavioral Health leaders need to look at themselves as entrepreneurs. We need to challenge ourselves with new business ventures that most effectively help solve the many behavioral health challenges of today and tomorrow. Writing a business plan on possible solutions, provides leaders with useful guidelines for business and an effective tool to discuss solutions with other investors and mentors.

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Nelson, do you think behavioral health organizations' relatively small size, compared to, say, acute-care hospitals, gives them the entrepreneurial edge and the ability to more quickly and nimbly respond to change than other healthcare institutions?

I'd be interested in Nelson's read on you question, Doug. My observation is that non-profit behavioral health organizations do indeed have the capacity to act quickly and seize upon entrepreneurial opportunities often at a more rapid clip than their for-profit counterparts, especially those associated with medical-surgical hospitals (where it seems that they always have to run their ideas up administrative and/or legal channels). However, it also seems that the not-for-profit provider world doesn't always think in entrepreneurial terms. Although many organizations such as Nelson's think and act strategically, I believe that we all could take bolder plunges as business planners. On the opposite side of the "entrepreneurship spectrum,' though, is another and somewhat unsettling phenomenon: provider organizations doing 'entrepreneurial' things for the sake of being entrepreneurial. It doesn't happen often, but on a few occasions we have seen missions compromised, unanticipated negative outcomes, and even the collapse of the organization itself. Sobering lessons for all of us!

Nelson W. Burns

Nelson W. Burns

http://www.coleman-professional.com

Nelson W. Burns has been the president and CEO of ...