Physicians Leading | Leading Physicians

Tools to Live Your Values AND Succeed

Article · August 7, 2017

Health care organizations and businesses constantly strive to improve the delivery of their service as well as the well-being of the community they serve. The Triple Aim Framework advanced by The Institute for Healthcare Improvement sums it up in a clean, concise package: improve the health of the population, improve the patient experience, and lower the per capita cost — very straightforward to understand, and very difficult to accomplish. Though seemingly simple, this set of goals is immersed in complex organizations with far-reaching community relationships and requires tools that are easy to understand but sturdy enough to take on such an enormous challenge. Here are some such tools to help you and your organization fulfill your mission and serve your community better, and faster.

A Clear Foundation

The first important pieces to put in place for your organization or department are a clear purpose and an understandable, aspirational goal.

A clear purpose gives staff the “why” you exist. It declares who you are and points to what your priorities are. This becomes a fundamental recruiting tool that aids in long-term retention by connection with the right people from the start. It provides staff with a strong understanding of where the organization is headed and enables them to make decisions when you’re not standing right next to them.

Aspirational goals will not only give you an advantage in recruiting the hearts and minds of the best and brightest by engaging those who want to serve a higher purpose, but they will also significantly distinguish you from your competition. Setting small goals, such as incremental improvement in an operating margin, or improving care quality by 2% over a peer organization considered mediocre, will not be felt as inspiring or engaging.

A Strong Value Statement

The next most important tool is to have a strong value statement and a method for its distribution and use. It’s impossible to work toward the clear purpose without a unified direction on the values needed to achieve it. The purpose gives the “why” and the values give the “how we will all behave on our way.” These values become a distinguishing feature between functioning organizations and extraordinary organizations.

Implementation, starting with senior leadership modeling these values, is critical, but everyone in the organization needs to understand and feel what it means to live them every day. Values need to be part of recruitment, orientation, and evaluation. They need to be part of every patient and staff communication, and part of every senior leader conversation and writing. Most importantly, the expectation to live these values needs to be consistent for all in the organization at all times.

Patient and Staff Expectations

Another critical element is to be distinct about what staff can expect from the organization, such as strong, clear communication, fair compensation, and respectful treatment. The same should be true for what staff will promise to deliver to patients. To bring this to life, many organizations use a document called a compact. It can be as short as one page, featuring major categories for the staff to see at times of recruitment, orientation, and evaluation of their ongoing performance. Providing this kind of clarity on expected behavior, both in terms of giving and receiving, allows staff to innovate, increase their speed of interactions, and make their own decisions within this context of purpose. Consistency increases trust, and trust improves functioning across all sectors of the organization.

Health Care Values: Gundersen Med Staff Compact

  Click To Enlarge.

Improvement Tools

The next major key is improvement tools that respect and honor your variety of staff and the variable gifts they bring to the table. Many different types of improvement tools exist. A rising number of organizations will use those found in the Lean management system. For example, the use of the A3 is widely accepted and useful in health care because it follows the scientific method.

More importantly, it is not complex and therefore can be used by any frontline staff member with little training. Staff from any part of the organization can review issues, form teams, build solutions, and test those solutions. This simple but elegant approach improves efficiency and solves problems more quickly by involving people close to the work, leading to an engaged and invigorated ownership mindset of the staff.

Leadership Management

No set of tools would be complete without addressing and managing leadership. There are many approaches to this complex area, but one that is particularly useful we learned from General Electric: the nine box. The nine-box matrix comes in a variety of versions, and it is not necessarily new or revolutionary to evaluate and measure staff members by their current performances against their future potential. It’s a good tool, but how it’s used can make it a great asset for the organization. The nine box can play a major role in your leadership building plan.

As an example, take a rising director or manager. It works best if the vice president responsible for that person presents their strengths and struggles to all VPs within and outside that person’s immediate team. Feedback from around the organization may look remarkably different than feedback from only the immediate supervisor. The richness of subsequent conversations improves the depth of the evaluation and makes it clear that all those at the table are responsible for the continued development of the person being evaluated.

Combining All Approaches

None of these approaches single-handedly will get you to your goals, but used together, they markedly improve your chances. They cascade from guiding the individual, then the teams, then the organization.

These approaches come together as you set clear, bold goals in a consistently values-driven system. Without common goals, people will go in different directions. Without common values, work will be a grind of chaos and conflict. Focusing on team activity improvement in addition to individual growth can cut across background and training differences and align the group toward goals that serve the greater good. Finally, organization leaders have enormous influence outside their boxes on the org chart — a system that makes all leaders responsible for a rising leader’s growth and development brings consistency of goals and values across the team as well as the organization. Lowering barriers to working together will improve the organization’s outcomes and efficiency. These tools will help give people a clarity of direction, the ability to work with each other, and the desire to build forward to serve a higher purpose.


  • Build purpose and goals that are clear — bigger than the individual or organization.
  • Create a set of values and share them broadly and transparently with details about what both the organization and individuals will be expected to live 100% of the time.
  • Implement improvement tools like the A3 that can engage teams to work on their own improvement across disciplines.
  • Approach leadership development in a way that makes everyone responsible for a rising leader’s growth rather than just holding that person accountable to minor goals or daily tasks.

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