An Organizational Development Primer on Mission, Vision, Ethics and Values in Healthcare

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In our compilation of the ten key attributes of the ideal healthcare organization, the first was as follows: The organization has a mission, vision, ethics, and values that are understood, honored and appreciated by its employees, its customers and the public. The importance of these matters is inarguable, but what do they mean in practice?

The mission of a healthcare organization is certainly complex.  We would suggest a mission statement (just about every organization now has one of these oft-recommended literary pieces) that cites the health and welfare of patients, the community and employees.  The four-part statement by Cedars-Sinai is an example:  “(1) Leadership and excellence in delivering quality healthcare services; (2) Expanding the horizons of medical knowledge through biomedical research;  (3)Educating and training physicians and other healthcare professionals; (4) Striving to improve the health status of our community.”

However, as writers on this organizational development technique invariably note, the can be Mind the gapa wide gap between what the mission statement says and what the organizational culture actually is like.  Having drafted the statement, then, it might be wise for there to be a committee representing all elements of the healthcare organization (patients, doctors, nurses, community members, orderlies, etc.) to make periodic assessments of how the organization and its components are living up to it.

Every organization needs a vision.  A vision statement differs from a mission statement in that it is future-focused and aspirational.  Good vision statements tend to be short, and all employees should know and be guided by them.  One way to achieve that end might be employee recognition programs that focus on individuals whose accomplishments have moved the organization closer to its vision.

An ideal organization must of course be ethical-minded.  Medical ethics has a history  of well over two thousand years.  Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer is now a common title in the C suite.  The ideal healthcare organization would have an ethics component that deals recognizes that all organizational behavior entails ethical issues and that the ethics of the organizational culture affects employee performance and health.

Values link to ethics, mission and vision and arguably are the most fundamental characteristic of the idea organization.  Values statements abound, but again the pitfalls of not practicing what you preach are shown by the fact that one of the leas ethical organizations history,  Enron , had one of the best of them.

The ideal healthcare organization will have not just strong values but an ongoing process for measuring, testing and refining these.  Compassion, learning, well-being, diversity, integrity – all these and more are particularly relevant in health care. They should be spelled out, but the organization must continually reinforce these values through evaluations, training and communication; tools for that end include rounding, discussion groups that representing all units and all types of employees, and medical improv.

Obviously there are many ramifications to mission, vision, ethics and values and much more could be said. We invite readers’ thoughts on these subjects and would particularly be interested in any “success stories” in this area.  Perhaps you know of a healthcare organization with an exceptionally good vision statement or a novel technique for promoting ethical values.  We would love to hear about it!


jim murphy
Jim Murphy has a solo consulting practice called Management 3000, focusing on organizational development and change management. Formerly he led the Massachusetts Bay Organizational Development Learning Group, was Human Resources Director for the City of Boston Assessing Department, and served as a consultant with the Boston Management Consortium.  His consulting practice includes management coaching as well as research and writing on employee relationships, leadership, healthcare and collaborative practices.  Having produced newsletters for several organizations  and being a frequent content writer for the”Confident Voices in Healthcare” blog, he is interested in writing and research opportunities, as we all consulting and coaching. www.manage2001.com   jim@manage2001.com

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2 Responses to An Organizational Development Primer on Mission, Vision, Ethics and Values in Healthcare

  1. Pingback: Creating the Ideal Healthcare Organization: Programs, Policies, Roles and Responsibilities

  2. Beth_Boynton_RN_MS says:

    Jim, thanks for writing this helpful piece that consolidates important points about organizations’ Mission/Vision etc. I find most healthcare organizations have them, but they are not well integrated into the culture. Your idea about having a committee representing all elements of the healthcare organization (patients, doctors, nurses, community members, orderlies, etc.) to make periodic assessments of how the organization and its components are living up to it is a great one. Maybe have the C-suite ethics person chair it, ensure some facilitation early on, give them permission to investigate patient or staff reports of inconsistencies and make recommendations?

    I see great potential in this for any healthcare organization that wants to really live it’s mission/vision, not just use it as a marketing tool.

What are your thoughts?