Academic journal article Frontiers of Health Services Management

The Case for Values as a Basis for Organizational Culture

Academic journal article Frontiers of Health Services Management

The Case for Values as a Basis for Organizational Culture

Article excerpt

SUMMARY * At a time when almost every aspect of healthcare is rapidly and dramatically changing, it is important for healthcare leaders to maintain a moral compass-a clear sense of the morals or virtues that guide their decisions. A firmly rooted moral compass inspires, leads, guides, and provides a solid foundation-and some sense of security-for organizations navigating massive or significant transformational changes, such as those required by the Affordable Care Act. In addition, "smaller" changes, such as consolidation, rationalization, and relocation of services, have a strong chance of succeeding in organizations that operate within a moral framework from which the organization can shape its future strategies and make important decisions. Finally, an organization's moral compass guides actions, reactions, and behaviors when unexpected or devastating events occur in the lives of consumers, employees, physicians, business partners, patients, families, and members of the community. The direction toward which its moral compass is pointing determines the types and quality of relationships it has with those key stakeholders, and those individuals and groups come to depend on what they have observed and know to be true about how the organization behaves in certain circumstances. While no organization can predict the future and all of the implications of change, key stakeholder groups need and want to know how they will be treated in the face of such change-whether expected or unexpected. In this sense, every organization must establish ways to evaluate the validity of its moral compass and develop-and adhere to-guidelines that determine how its members will behave, whether in ordinary circumstances; in the face of extraordinary, high-impact situations; or in times of massive transformational change. Above all, executive leaders must always be mindful that their own personal moral compass becomes their organization's moral compass.


Massive change, such as that which accompanies the implementation of the Affordable Care Act mandates, requires every organization to make thoughtful decisions about what is important for its future, what it needs for sustained success today and in the future, and what it must discard or leave behind as it advances. How well an organization weathers times of great change is a direct result of its values. In a presentation at the 2012 American College of Healthcare Executives Congress on Healthcare Leadership, Robert B. Tucker, president of the Innovation Resource Consulting Group, described values as "the unspoken rules and subtle cues from leadership that guide people's behaviors and tell them how to act to be effective in a particular environment." It is important to note that these cues emanate from how leaders behave, not necessarily from what they say. Thus, an organization's failure to match its behavior to its words is a reflection of the degree to which the people in the organization model their behaviors on the actions-not the words-of its leaders.


Whether spoken or unspoken, values are important because they form the basis of culture, and culture drives performance. An organization's values and culture determine what is expendable and what is essential. As noted by organizational culture-shaping firm Senn Delaney (2008),

A thriving organizational culture is one of the key drivers of business success and performance. Today's most successful businesses focus on creating strong cultures as a key strategy to address business challenges that have become more urgent and complex. Organizational restructuring. Changes in top leadership. Changing business models. Mergers and acquisitions. Turnaround strategies. Large-scale infrastructure or change initiatives. All of these situations require a healthy, high-performance culture for individuals, teams, leaders and the overall organization to perform at their best. …

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