LMP Focus Areas

From the Desk of Henrietta: Is Your Good Job at Risk?

I can’t get that old Springsteen song “My Hometown” out of my head: “Foreman says these jobs are going, boys, and they ain’t coming back….” That was a hit back in the early ’80s, when auto, rubber and steel factories started closing in the Midwest.

Looking back from the ditch we’re stuck in today, you can see that economic steamroller of devastation flattening industries and states.

Despite a few bubbles here and there, people keep losing their houses and their jobs, and let’s face it—they ain’t coming back anytime soon. Since 2000, the median income for ordinary Americans dropped by $2,197 per year. Most of us who are working feel fortunate to have any job at all. Those of us who have meaningful jobs—like keeping people healthy and caring for them when they are sick—we’re really lucky.

At Kaiser Permanente, we’ve got more than good fortune on our side. Not only do we have good jobs, with industry-leading wages and benefits, but we’ve got a strategy to make them great: We take value creation to heart.

That’s the point of the Value Compass—creating value.

As we work in our unit-based teams to improve service, quality and affordability and create the best place to work, we create more value for our members and patients, which will protect and improve our good jobs.

The Value Compass is not an initiative, a symbol or a checklist. It’s a shared vision.

It reminds us the sum of team collaboration produces value greater than our individual efforts alone. It reminds us how important our contributions are—and why we work so hard at improvement. It acknowledges that work has meaning not just for the “leaders” but for everyone.

KP's Value Compass

Kaiser Permanente’s Value Compass…succinctly defines the organization’s shared purpose.

Paul Adler and co-authors
USC Marshall School of Business

Of course, most people—except maybe the now-infamous 1%—create value at work. But we are doing it collaboratively and deliberately:

  • We put the patient and member at the center of the Value Compass. That’s not some corporate blah-blah like “put the customer first.” It actually means something: The patient is at the center because that is who we are creating value for.
  • Our value creation is balanced; the compass’s four points are equally important. We’re not working to create a best place to work while ignoring affordability or to become very affordable while providing poor care.
  • We believe every worker has a right not just to fulfill the duties laid out in an official “job description”—but to understand how the value he or she creates contributes to the whole, to the value our organization delivers to our members and the communities we serve.

Does a shared vision matter? According to the professors whose article “Building a Collaborative Enterprise” was published in the Harvard Business Review this summer, it’s critical.

“A growing number of organizations—including Citibank, NASA, and Kaiser Permanente—are reaping the rewards of collaborative communities in the form of higher margins on knowledge-intensive work….Kaiser Permanente’s Value Compass…succinctly defines the organization’s shared purpose. (It is) a recognition of the challenges that every member…has the responsibility to meet every day,” wrote Paul Adler of the USC Marshall School of Business, Charles Heckscher of the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, and Laurence Prusak, an independent consultant who teaches at Columbia University.

To be successful today, they continued, companies “need everyone’s ideas on how to do things better and more cheaply….The organizations that will become the household names of this century will be renowned for sustained, large-scale, efficient innovation. The key (is)…a strong, collaborative community.”

Makes you feel pretty good about the ol’ Value Compass, doesn’t it?

Hold on, though. Things are about to get pretty uncomfortable. Health care reform means more patients, with more complex challenges, at lower reimbursement rates.

Over the next few years, we’ll need our Value Compass more than ever. And maybe, just maybe, we can be so successful that this approach spreads to other workplaces.

Maybe we’re onto a not-so-secret weapon for changing the world—something that can throw that steamroller of economic devastation into reverse.

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