Strategically Planning for ACC’s Future: A Look Back, A Look Ahead

The ACC has grown tremendously since its founding in 1949. Today it is recognized as a leading cardiovascular medical society guided by the mission to transform cardiovascular care and improve heart health. As the ACC works to develop its next Strategic Plan (2019 – 2023) – led by the Board of Trustees with input from member committees and staff – to continue to propel the College forward, it is important to reflect on just how far the College has evolved in the support of the profession and advancing patient care. It is also critical to examine how the ACC tackled strategic planning in previous eras. Literature reminds us of the value of understanding our past to succeed in the future. William Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest “What is past is prologue,” and in The Life of Reason, Santayana wrote that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

But what does strategy mean and why does the ACC need to examine it regularly? The term “strategy” is derived from the Greek word “strategos,” which translates to “general of the army.” The ancient Greek tribes annually elected a strategos to lead their troops. These leaders would give “strategic” advice about managing battles rather than “tactical” advice about managing troops to win battles.

Contemporary strategic planning can be traced back to the Harvard Policy Model created by Harvard Business School in the 1920s to develop planning methodologies for businesses. Over the past 68 years, the College has gone through multiple cycles of strategic planning, leaving the tactics for other groups to determine, with eyes instead on the holistic landscape of the ACC.

The first major effort of strategic planning by the College was led by William Parmley, MD, MACC, in 1985 when he appointed ACC’s first Strategic Planning Committee under the leadership of Robert Frye, MD, MACC. Parmley noted at the time: “We are all proud of the current status, success and maturity achieved by the College. We also recognize the importance of a strategic plan for the future. Please help us in formulating the future.”

Another major revision of the Strategic Plan occurred in 1999 with reports from the ACC’s Task Force for the 21st Century, the Task Force on Strategic Directions for Continuing Medical Education (CME) at the ACC, the Task Force on Member Relations and the Task Force on Board Effectiveness. George Beller, MD, MACC, highlighted these efforts in a Journal of the American College of Cardiology President’s Page titled, “ACC Takes Strategic Steps to Address Members’ Needs.” He noted the challenges and opportunities faced by ACC leadership to influence the strategic directions of the College in the areas of advocacy, education and members’ services for the years to come.

The Strategic Plan continued to further evolve in subsequent years with input from the College leadership, membership and an environmental scan. In 2004, Michael Wolk, MD, MACC, noted strategic issues that continue to impact the College today: information overload, practical use of guidelines at the point of care, global cardiovascular health and ACC International outreach, liability concerns, practice reforms and workforce shortages. ACC members continue to face significant changes in the health care environment like those experienced in past generations. The continued expansion of cardiovascular science and care delivery mandates a dynamic approach to strategic planning.

In 2013, I facilitated development of the current ACC Strategic Plan with the appointment of a Strategic Planning Taskforce under the direction of Patrick T. O’Gara, MD, MACC, and Richard Chazal, MD, MACC. The introduction of the plan coincided with the 65th anniversary of the ACC and provided the framework for the College to continue its leadership in areas of quality improvement, education, information management, patient-centered care and practice excellence. The strategic plan was aligned with the “triple aim” of improved health, better outcomes and lower costs.

The current plan also recognizes ACC’s role in providing members with purposeful education and ensuring that members are empowered to serve as effective advocates for sound health policies that allow patient access to the most appropriate high-quality care. One of the aspirational goals was to enhance global cardiovascular health through sustained collaboration and the exchange of knowledge and resources for cardiovascular care worldwide. The current Strategic Plan was approved by the ACC Board of Trustees in January 2014.

Many of the challenges being addressed by the new strategic planning process are remarkably like those faced by the College since its founding. We can learn much from the leaders and innovators who came before us. In the words of ACC’s founder Franz Groedel, MD, MACC: “We will meet the future not merely by dreams, but by concerned action and inextinguishable enthusiasm.” ACC members, member leaders and staff are working hard to ensure the College is well-equipped to meet the future successfully. As General Charles de Gaulle once noted, “[y]ou have to be fast on your feet and adaptive or else a strategy is useless.” In line with de Gaulle’s philosophy, the current governance transformation that ACC is undergoing positions the College as a more nimble organization, allowing for effective execution of tactics to support an overarching strategy.

Today, the College once again finds itself at a crossroads amid an increasingly competitive and constantly changing health care environment. Strategic planning is a complex undertaking, but it is critical for the further growth of the College. Management expert Peter Drucker wrote that “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” The continued success of the ACC depends on our ability to be nimble and to focus on the strategies that support our mission.


John Gordon Harold, MD, MACC, is past president of the ACC and editor-in-chief of Cardiology.

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