Public Service Recognition Week: Promoting engagement and strengthening culture at VA


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During Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW), which takes place May 1-7 this year, VA recognizes the hard work done by VA employees on behalf of Veterans. VA’s dedicated employees fulfill VA’s noble mission and live by the I CARE values every day.

Across VA, we are overcoming challenges and paving a path for transformation through the five MyVA core themes of improving the Veteran experience, support services excellence, performance improvement, strategic partnerships and improving the employee experience.  These initiatives are designed to help VA build a high-performing organization that strives for a culture of continuous improvement.

VA has seen positive changes already taking place through MyVA, but this level of organizational transformation doesn’t come easily. A 2014 article written by McKinsey and Co., a leading global business management consultancy, illustrates the challenges of organizational transformation: “The reality is that today’s organizations were simply never designed to change proactively and deeply—they were built for discipline and efficiency, enforced through hierarchy and routinization,” the article stated.

When considering a major transformation, it’s important to understand that any large shift is made up of smaller changes. It is these small changes that enable a strategic vision to progress.  In other words, the small changes performed by VA employees and leaders every day are what truly drive the MyVA transformation.

Within VA, there are offices in which leaders and employees have modeled a culture that promotes the “small changes” through engagement and regular recognition.

One such office is the Interagency Care and Benefits Coordination (ICBC) office led by Margarita Devlin, the executive director of Veterans Experience Team

Margarita Devlin is executive director of Veterans Experience Team Navigation, Advocacy and Community Engagement

Margarita Devlin is executive director of Veterans Experience Team Navigation, Advocacy and Community Engagement

Navigation, Advocacy and Community Engagement. Within the office, Margarita fosters an environment of engagement, encouraging and recognizing the hard work of the entire ICBC team.

“I think it [recognition] is crucial. Different people get motivated by different things, actions and gestures, but I think having some sort of frequent recognition of people going above and beyond is really good for morale and good for the team in general,” Margarita said, when asked about the cohesiveness of her team.

She went on to say that the everyday gestures are vital to fostering an engaged team. Margarita said she regularly tries to “catch someone doing something right.”  For example, she once took an opportunity to recognize everyone on her team.

“When we were asked to reaffirm our VA core values of integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect, and excellence — I CARE — I secured some of the I CARE pins and I pulled my whole staff together,” she said. “We did an exercise where everyone talked about what the VA core values of I CARE meant to them and we had a really great talk.  When I pulled them together, I gave them each an I CARE pin, but with that giving of the pin, in front of all of their peers, I gave an example of how they demonstrated the I CARE values in the past year.  It was a very personalized example for them.  They loved it and it was really interesting to see them just beaming with pride.”

Christopher Olson, a supervisor working for Margarita in the ICBC, added, “Leadership has to set up an environment for employees that is safe to fail.  Employees need to have the ability to try new things – to do the right thing rather than just doing things right.  Sometimes you have to step out of your lane a little bit and try something new, and if you aren’t allowed the opportunity to do that, or to be unsuccessful, it will stifle creative thought.”

These are just a few of the concepts that underscore what Public Service Recognition Week is about. On the surface, PSRW may seem like an opportunity for the senior leaders of VA to encourage employees throughout the organization.  While this is unquestionably one goal of the week, there are deeper goals, such as that that encouragement, recognition and engagement are multi-directional.

Margarita said, “I feel recognition is an integral part of leadership, management, and developing an engaged VA culture. Recognition is a force multiplier – while you may not always know what intrinsically drives your employees or peers, recognizing people for their efforts motivates them to not just do their job, but go above and beyond to serve our Veterans!”

VA has come a long way over the past year and, though there is always more work to do, it’s important to pause and realize that all of us are in this together. Public Service Recognition Week provides an excellent opportunity to do so.


This article was submitted to VAntage Point by VA’s Employee Engagement Service. The Employee Engagement Service provides strategies, tools, insight, and guidance to leaders and employees across VA with the goal of improving engagement at all levels to help make VA a place people want to serve and ensure the best outcomes for Veterans.

 

 

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