If you were to have walked the halls of the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Va., today, you would have had a hard time finding anyone who wasn’t wearing an “I CARE” lapel pin. The pin is a popular reminder to all VA family that the core values are baked into their DNA – integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect, excellence. But the pin also functions as a sign that the VA is working together. Specifically, that VA is collaborating across organizational lines to accomplish specific priorities for Veterans.
One of those priorities is to improve the employee experience. A resulting step from the work being accomplished on this priority is a cascading, department-wide leadership course called “Leaders Developing Leaders” – or LDL for short. With the help of some of the foremost thinkers in the fields of leadership, change management and action learning, the VA is transforming its identity to become a high-performance organization with employees that serve Veterans and their families with excellence.
This week is the follow up to the Fall workshops held or field and central office leaders from all VA administrations and staff offices to continue working together to help improve the employee experience and to continue work toward delivering the 12-breakthrough priorities.
To kick things off, Secretary Bob McDonald reminded the group of their mission to care for those who have “borne the battle” and that they must be good stewards of taxpayer resources. He went on to stress the importance of the department’s continuing transition to a principles-based organization, saying we “don’t want to be an organization that needs voluminous rule books” in order to get the job done.
McDonald also stressed his seriousness about VA getting to know Veterans personally, pointing out that VA is getting close to knowing who each of their homeless Veterans are in every city. He also mentioned that the department is close to being able to help usher all of its Veterans between cities when as they move from one home facility to another.
McDonald went on to share the stories of Sharon Levenson, Guy Gardner and John Richardson of the White River Junction, VT VA Medical Center. He described how Levenson acted on principle to step out and follow-up on the welfare of one of her patients who missed an appointment, and with the help of Richardson, Gardner and the local police, ended up saving a Veteran’s life who had fallen, was stuck in his home and was hours away from perishing.
McDonald brought this story even closer to home by stating that while Levenson, Gardner and Richardson went above and beyond, it all started with a single Veteran not making their appointment, and with their seemingly small choices to follow-up. He then mentioned that this was a true example of I CARE values at work and encouraged the group to ask themselves if they would have done the same thing.
McDonald also encouraged leaders to be bold, courageous, and to choose the harder right thing to do, not the easier wrong when faced with choices. He also assured the group that at the end of 2016, the VA is going to have a lot of accomplishments. With the final reminder from the secretary that the VA’s goal is to be the number one customer service agency in the government, the group then dove into work sessions.
In the early parts of the session, VA leaders collaborated to share best practices and lessons learned in implementing the various projects they began after the kickoff LDL sessions held last fall.
Four projects from the Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration, the National Cemetery Administration and Office of Information and Technology were featured during the sessions. In the assigned pre-session work, all leaders had prepared a best practice from their home office for sharing with the group. In the break-out session, employees identified a best practice from their peers that they could take back to their office to implement on the day they got back.
During the breakout sessions, actionable goals were set, ideas were cross-pollinated and relationships were established that will help continue to transform VA into a high performance organization that serves Veterans and their families.
About the author: T.J. Wilson is a Presidential Management Fellow on rotation to the MyVA and Veterans Experience teams. Originally from Tampa, Florida, he is the son of a combat-wounded Vietnam Veteran. T.J. is passionate about helping to improve Veteran services and has a background in policy formulation and process improvement.