It is Tuesday morning, 7:00 AM. The executive team of Virginia Mason Medical Center meets in a drab hallway with charts and graphs on a wall. Once a week, they meet like this to review progress toward strategic objectives. Virginia Mason has been recognized by the Leapfrog Group with 17 consecutive ‘A’ Hospital Safety Grades, for preventing medical mistakes and other potential harm. Virginia Mason is one of the safest hospitals in America, maybe even the world. This may sound insignificant because we assume hospitals are safe. The reality is not so clear. From the perspective of their leadership system, one way they achieve this kind of performance is they way they provide a designed employee experience, based on the central value of respect. In doing so, they link the human behaviors of their leadership with their core values.
An Inconvenient Truth
A most recent study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality found that 160,000 people die from deaths due to errors, accidents, injuries, and infections while in hospitals. This puts avoidable deaths in hospitals right behind heart disease and cancer in America as a leading cause of death.
Creating the Employee Experience
Virginia Mason has a unique approach to leadership. They do not rely on the myth of the transformative leader. Instead, they have designed a system of leadership with a unique DNA. The call it the Virginia Mason Management System. This genetic code develops their culture and builds a consistent employee experience, regardless of who the CEO might be. The system starts from a core value of respect, respect for the patient, respect for the work, and respect for the worker. Everything hangs on respect. For example, respect requires the executive team to be on time. Being late is disrespectful to others and their time. Respect also requires the executive team to stand as they review progress. Sitting around a conference table discussing progress wastes time, disrespecting the work and robbing value from their patients.
Where Human Behaviors and Core Values Intersect
At the end of that hallway is a laminated poster. It lists ten behaviors, expected to be modeled by leaders. On closure inspection, I see small green post-it dots by several. Each has an initial written on it. The initials represent members of the leadership team who commit themselves to practice specific behaviors for the year. Here they are, ten behaviors that are driven by a value of respect.
- Listen to understand
- Keep your promises
- Be encouraging
- Connect with others
- Express gratitude
- Share information
- Speak up
- Walk in their shoes
- Grow and develop
- Be a team player
What would the workplace be like, if organizational core values could be tied to specific behaviors of leaders and management?