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VA’s Quality of Care Not The Problem, It’s People

March 13, 2015 | Communication, Leadership, Teamwork

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been under extreme pressure as of late.  We have seen a resignation from their top official, intense heat put on the new Secretary Robert McDonald, strong language from Congress in some cases to scrap the whole system, and outcry from Veteran Service Organizations such as the VFW and American Legion

I would agree that the VA has opportunities for improvement, however, I do not see quality of care as the root of the issues in the media.  I see “people” as the root of the issues, more specifically investment into the VA’s people. Some may say they do not have adequate staff, pay, or recruiting.  These items may be lacking, however, I believe that a strong investment into leadership training is a must as well. In fact, I believe consistent, proper leadership training could alleviate the staffing and recruiting issues. Futhermore, this training needs to be standardized across the agency especially front line staff managers.

I recently saw Secretary McDonald address this need for training on Meet the Press when he said, “We want the veterans’ experience with the VA to be as good as the best private sector experiences, like if you took your family to Disney.” I actually have encountered service like that at the VA during my work there as a contractor, but unfortunately, it is not consistent across the agency.  They also established the I Care program which lays the groundwork to change the culture at the VA. From the language on their web site, it all looks positive.

If I were advising Secretary McDonald, I would recommend the implementation of leadership training that is timeless….not based on a passing fad or a “flavor of the month” program.  This requires a lot of preparation, thought, and collaboration between the Secretary and his senior leadership which leads to my next point.  The program MUST come from the Secretary and his senior leadership. They are free to tap subject matter experts but the final product must come from them.  Finally, I would recommend a laundry list of “quick wins”to be implemented in the next 180 days to address employee recognition and work environment enhancement.  This would increase momentum to sustain more culture change initiatives in the coming year. The key thing to remember is that the agency’s culture was not created overnight and also cannot be fixed overnight.  As did the tortoise, slow and steady wins the race.

What are some other quick wins that the VA could implement quickly to change their culture for the better?  What are some quick wins that you could implement at your organization?


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