Weekly Message – August 6, 2018

Dear Colleagues

As I mentioned last week, the Deputy Commissioners, the Operations Directors, John Ringer (our Director of Strategic Planning), and myself recently held a leadership retreat. Our retreat focused on the functioning of the leadership team and working toward greater clarity on the direction of the agency.

As State Health Commissioner, I depend upon the team of Deputy Commissioners and Operations Directors. This team discusses the weekly activity of the agency, the strategic and programmatic direction of VDH, and fulfills a fiduciary responsibility as the financial stewards of the agency. I need their input, their counsel, and their decision-making authority to ensure the smooth functioning and well-being of VDH. I have asked that we establish a “Commissioner’s Leadership Team,” comprising the Deputy Commissioners and the Operations Directors. This Commissioner’s Leadership Team will take the place of the “Deputy Leadership Team.”

I noted last week, “Cohesive, behaviorally unified teams trust one another. They engage in unfiltered conflict and debate around ideas. They commit to decisions and action plans. They hold one another accountable to delivering against those plans. They focus on achieving results for the team. (See Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team for a brilliant depiction of what constitutes a good team.) Here’s a cartoon, depicting the five dysfunctions and the reasons teams need to overcome them:

Inattention to results. Focus on delivering measurable results: collective and individual, accountability, feedback. Avoidance of accountability. To take accountability require prior commitment: 100% buy-in. Lack of Commitment. Commitment follows health conflict: hear all  disagreedecisionbuy-inone voice. Feat of conflict. Health conflict implies candid debate: trust to speak opinion without fear of retribution. Absence of Trust. Building Trust requires vulnerability: courage to risk.

Trust is a foundational behavior of well-functioning teams. As I explained last week, we did some work on further building trust among the senior leadership team. One of the tools that we used for this work was to develop a “Team Covenant” that put into written form the behaviors needed to ensure a highly reliable, well-functioning team. Here’s the covenant of the Commissioner’s Leadership Team:

VDH Commissioner’s Leadership Team Covenant

We will:

  1.  Come to CLT not as advocates for our own shops, but with VDH’s strategic goals foremost in mind.
  2. Assume positive intention and full trust.
  3. Speak up and share divergent views.
  4. Encourage constructive dissent.
  5. Pledge that, once we have made a decision, we will be unified and committed to the decision’s success.
  6. Communicate with respect and professionalism.
  7. We will always ensure we are very clear about “who, what, when” and assign ownership for follow up when we make a decision or decide to decide later.
  8. Innovate and challenge the status quo.
  9. Be clear on who has the appropriate decision rights.
  10. Have the courage to acknowledge when we fall short or break this Covenant, and will work with our Team members to get back in Covenant.

If you catch one of the deputies, an Ops Director, or myself acting in accordance with our covenant, let us know. Reinforce that behavior! Of course, we’re human beings; so, if you notice us breaking our covenant, give us a little nudge to help us get back on track. I hope other leadership teams in the agency will emulate us and develop covenants of their own. If we all start behaving in congruence with our values, VDH can go from being a good organization to a truly great one.

Have a great week!


(Pronouns: he, his, him)