Encouragement at the VA in Minneapolis

JeanMy sister Jean, a veteran of the Gulf war, recently started a new job at the VA in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A few days ago she shared the most amazing comment from her supervisor. He did something that is incredibly lacking in the leadership of many companies, especially some would say, in the government. He placed her in a position that matched her personality and skills. He placed her in a position that would benefit the VA and Jean at the same time.

After a layoff at a Fortune 100 company in southern Minnesota, she decided to move to the St. Paul for a fresh start. Those of us close to Jean knew she had come from a management background, and before that she served in the Marines. When she decided to relocate to St. Paul,  it meant looking for a new job. She actually landed a sweet temp job at a Fortune 500 company.  After one week she said she would not go back. Sitting at a desk all day made her crazy, even if it was a job envied by many. I think she probably knew this after about 5 minutes on the first day.

She wanted to serve her fellow military veterans and looked to the VA for a position. She was well qualified for many different positions, but no openings meant no possibility of a job. She finally saw an opening in the Housekeeping department. Even though many thought it was “below her paygrade”, she went through the application process and was offered a position. It was her way in. She would be serving the patients at the VA and thrilled to be doing so.

First gold star of this post goes to Jean. She knew what made her happy, serving the patients at the VA, and she did not get sidetracked by what most of us thought would be a better job.

In the Housekeeping department there are many different cleaning assignments. Some are in the operating room, sanitizing everything for the next procedure. Some are cleaning stairwells. Some are cleaning patient rooms after they have been discharged. After going through several days of “intake”, she received her first assignment which was cleaning in the recovery ward, where patients were recovering from surgery.

When discussing the next rotation her supervisor let her know she would not be training in the OR. Sanitizing operating rooms means that you are not in contact with many people. You go into an empty room, perform your duties and move on to the next one. People who enjoy solitude would love the operating room option.

Here is the good part…. After receiving feedback from many staff and patients that working with Jean was a pleasure, he said,

“With your personality it is important for you and the VA to have you in contact with our patients and staff.”

Wow! What a blessing for my sister and the VA. Her supervisor ROCKS! He did so many things that a great leader would do:

  • He was aware that Jean actually had a personality.
  • He was aware that her personality would be a better fit in a place with people contact.
  • He was aware that the patients experience could be improved from contact with my sister.
  • He was aware that the staff would benefit from a happy co-worker.
  • He was aware that Jean would be more happy interacting with people than empty rooms.
  • He had the authority to make the change and followed through.

In Jim Collins book Good to Great he says,

“leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”

My second Gold star goes to the housekeeping supervisor at the VA for getting the cleaning staff on the right seat on the bus.

Jean’s supervisor  nailed it. By making one small assignment change he actually made two great employees even better by putting them in an environment where they shine. A new employee who would rather work alone, is thrilled to be assigned to the OR.

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