The University of Virginia (UVA) Health System includes the UVA Physicians Group; the UVA School of Medicine, a leading research center; and the UVA Medical Center, U.S. News and World Report’s top-ranked Virginia hospital. With about 13,000 employees systemwide and a national patient footprint, the UVA Health System serves thousands of patients from its Charlottesville, Virginia, campus and through partnerships with other facilities.

Talent Strategy Officer and Director of Organizational Development Mark Dunn has led learning and development, organization development, and rewards and recognition at the Medical Center for two years, but his work frequently spans the three organizations within the Health System. He heads a team of 10, reporting to the Medical Center’s chief human resources officer.

“It’s not unique, but it is refreshing to be in an organization where talent development and HR are seen as collaborative partners in developing culture,” says Dunn. “Our culture here starts and ends with the patient, which challenges us to be focused on providing the best care, doing the best research, and providing the best education to the healthcare providers of the future.”

Dunn’s group enjoys a solid relationship with senior leaders across the system, especially those at the Medical Center. He calls CEO Pamela Sutton-Wallace, who joined the Medical Center in 2014, the driver of conversation about culture at the strategic level. With ongoing volatility in the healthcare industry demanding that the already successful facility continue to evolve its ability to be both efficient and effective, Sutton-Wallace initiated an effort in 2016 to begin strengthening the patient-centric culture, starting with organizational values.

“She urged us to understand it wasn’t just about providing patient care, but also how we provide that care and how we work with one another that will make the difference in the success of our organization in the future,” explains Dunn. “The new dean of the School of Medicine agreed, taking the discussion systemwide. Since my team had a seat at that senior leadership table, it gave us the opportunity to suggest not only updating the core values, but also defining behaviors that embody those values, and then aligning them to performance.”

Dunn and his colleagues in the Physicians Group and the School of Medicine took the senior leaders’ ideas on values and asked Health System employees to add their perspectives. “As a collaborative group across all three entities, we went to frontline team members, staff, managers, directors, administrators, faculty, nurses, and physicians over a three-month period and really crafted the values, their definitions, and the behaviors that align to each one,” Dunn explains. “When we went back to the senior leadership team, they officially adopted them. Then we aligned the behaviors and values to performance metrics. 

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The acronym ASPIRE made the new list of values easy to remember: accountability, stewardship, professionalism, integrity, respect, and excellence. Including the voices of all stakeholders helped gain buy-in for the values, and active involvement by senior leaders added fuel and credibility to communications about the values and behaviors underlying the patient-centric culture. 

Dunn and his team spoke to leadership and stakeholder groups systemwide, then followed up with a learning event. “We invited the organization’s 500-plus leaders to come together to learn about the values, gave them educational materials, took them through exercises on the values, then sent them away with a year’s worth of activities they could use with their teams to establish clear understanding as we move forward with implementing the performance expectations,” he says. 

The updated core values are now included in performance expectations across the Health System, although with some differences necessitated by state healthcare regulatory requirements. Rewards and recognition programs have also been revised to reflect the values. Dunn has made some changes to learning content to support the rollout and attendant coaching, as well as feedback by leaders. The result was shorter, more focused content, and streamlining made the learning more efficient and effective. 

While continuous improvement goes on in L&D and recognition programs are adjusted to provide support, measures are being used to track the success of the cultural initiative. Although the effort is still in the first year of rollout, tying the values to performance will enable use of ratings as one gauge of effectiveness. “This also ties to our employee engagement metrics, and we’ll be using some of our patient data that speaks to core behaviors of clinicians and caregivers,” Dunn says. “We should see behaviors reflected there as well.” 

Editor’s Note: This post is excerpted from Culture and Change: Protecting and Shaping Culture During TransitionsThis report from ATD (the Association for Talent Development) and i4cp (the Institute for Corporate Productivity) explores the role that the talent development function can play in influencing organizational culture—especially during times of change.