It seems self-evident that a good organizational culture will lead to a host of desired outcomes, including increased employee engagement and retention, better performance, and increased customer satisfaction.  Because of its importance, much has been written about creating a positive organizational culture.  Several themes underlying many of these recommendations include helping people see how they are part of something bigger than themselves, getting people involved in determining their work, providing real-time feedback about performance, and giving people some sense of control over their day-to-day activities.


An often overlooked factor that can contribute significantly to a positive organizational culture is how strategy is deployed throughout an organization.  Connecting each layer of an organization (i.e., from division or service line to department or unit down to work teams and individual staff members) with the organization’s strategy is one of the most effective ways to enhance culture.  Strategy deployment aligns everyone towards a common purpose and ensures all are working together to most effectively serve customers.

The process of creating alignment begins with a strategic plan that looks forward at least three to as many as five years.  Based on the organization’s longer-term strategic direction and goals, leaders must next identify the means for reaching these goals in the shorter term.  An annual plan—created to guide the short term tactical initiatives and activities needed to move the organization towards the strategic goals—is an essential element for creating alignment.

For the creation of the organization’s annual plan, as well as the plan for each successive layer (service line, division, department), leaders at every level within the organization will need to identify the initiatives and tactics they believe will best achieve the strategic goals as laid out by the preceding level.  One of the most important aspects of creating these initiatives or tactics is referred to as catch ball.  Like the child’s game were a ball is tossed from one person to another, catch ball is a back and forth exchange with leaders at each level to ensure the strategy and goals are well understood, that there is strong alignment between strategy and initiatives and tactics, and that the key performance metrics are meaningful and appropriate.

Deploying strategy throughout an organization can take considerable time and requires much flexibility as well as ongoing communication.  Catch ball discussions may require additional information or cause a reevaluation of conclusions reached at a prior level.  It is even possible that new insights or constraints may emerge that change the prioritization of the goals.  In addition, it is important that leaders at each successive level work together in a collaborative manner to determine what can realistically be done to accomplish the strategic goals in the most optimal manner.  If done properly, catch ball has the effect of enhancing buy-in from those responsible for executing the annual plan.

At the front-line level, supervisors and team leaders work out the operational details to implement the initiatives and tactics as laid out by mid-level leaders. Once again, the principle of catch ball applies to ensure that activities on the front-line are strongly aligned with organizational strategy and goals.  This is important since the front line is where goals and plans are transformed into results on a daily basis.

The graphic above provides a simple illustration of the catch ball process and how it can be used to align strategy up and down all organizational levels.

Catch ball encourages people to get involved and engaged in defining their work, and to see the connection between their work and the organization’s larger purpose.  This helps people see the bigger picture, gets them involved in determining their own work, and gives people a sense of control over their day-to-day activities.  If done properly, the catch ball process can have a powerful impact on shaping organizational culture towards collaboration, accountability, and continuous improvement.

Aaron Fausz, Director for Lean Healthcare and Process Improvement at HPP

Today’s blog was written by Aaron Fausz, Ph.D., director at HPP.

Aaron has more than 20 years of experience helping organizations align and improve their personnel and technical systems to accomplish strategic business objectives.  He has consulted with leading healthcare organizations across the country and has proven success guiding organizations through strategically driven changes and enhancing business performance.  Aaron also has significant experience in needs assessment, best practice analysis, performance measurement, process improvement, and behavioral change management.

Aaron holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee with a minor in Industrial Engineering.


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