At Our Best

Some days we feel like we can conquer the world and make it a better place; others, we’re lucky to get out of bed and take care of our basic bodily needs.  To get through life, we need aspirations – lofty things to drive toward – while at the same time having a sense of reality so we aren’t crushed every time we don’t quite get all the way there.

Our organization’s vision is lofty: that the children in Wisconsin will be the healthiest in the nation.  But our strategies for getting there are pragmatic and measured.  We can’t get there overnight, and we can’t get there alone.  But that doesn’t stop us from trying.

Similarly, our organizational values are a mixture of lofty and more mundane.  Patrick Lencioni, in The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else, talks about three types of organizational values.  Core values are those that describe the behavioral traits actually inherent in an organization.  Our examples might include Purpose and Collaboration.  I believe that we are truly mission-oriented, and that virtually all the people who work here share that sense of purpose and work together to achieve it.  Permission-to-play values are the minimum behavioral standards required to be a part of the organization.  Those who don’t share these values should not be brought into the organization, or may need to leave.  Integrity would fall into this category.  Then there are aspirational values, the characteristics an organization wants to have and believes it needs, even if it isn’t quite there yet.  For us, that value is Health, characterized as “We Are At Our Best.”

This one has generated a lot of discussion.  Some of the feedback has been that this is not a value we consistently live up to and embrace.  If we look at the guiding behaviors listed under this value, one can certainly argue that is true.  How many of us can say we have harmony in our work and personal life, or that we lead a healthy lifestyle?   Most of us probably wish we could do better.  Does our organization really provide the most support possible for that kind of health?  While it does a lot to promote the health of our people, honestly, it could also do better.

The fact that Health is more of an aspiration rather than a core value does not diminish its importance, nor does it argue for taking it off the list.  Indeed, Lencioni suggests every organization should have at least one aspirational value, because by definition they need to be purposefully cultivated.

This value is one that is especially personally important to me.  For one thing, I am serious about my own health.   There is a growing body of evidence that a healthy workplace with a healthy workforce is more effective.  Finally, if we think about the shadow we cast for patient and families, we need to model our own health if we hope to promote theirs.

So what would Children’s look like if health moved from being an aspiration to being a core value?   Perhaps we would promote physical activity by making stairs more visible and accessible, organizing more group exercise opportunities like today’s walk around campus, or incentivizing people to bicycle to work.  (FYI, it’s national Bike to Work Week.)  We would promote rest and rejuvenation – which have been shown to increase effectiveness and productivity – through breaks and vacations (real ones, no email).  We would increase our efforts at sustainability, since a healthy environment is critical for healthy people.

Sure, this sounds a little pie-in-the-sky.  That’s what it means to be aspirational.  We’ve laid out a strategy to work toward the healthiest children in the nation here in Wisconsin.  What would it take to have the healthiest workforce in the nation here at Children’s?  I’ve shared a few thoughts – what are yours?

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