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Hey, VA! Stop Acting Like Losers and Start Acting Like…Lexus


Among the many shocking stories uncovered in this Veterans Affairs mess is the fact workers there were getting bonuses. They were actually handing out rewards at a place now synonymous with lousy service – and lousy service to perhaps this nation’s most important customers: veterans.

Upon first hearing that, I was aghast. But I grew to be even more aghast at those who wanted to wipe out bonuses altogether at the VA or any government institution. Their argument was no one should be going into government to get rich, and we as taxpayers shouldn’t be rewarding them for just doing their jobs.

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I generally side with such thinking, but I think we’d all be wise to think this through. Bonuses in and of themselves aren’t bad. What’s bad is giving them to the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Rewarding cost-cutting by cutting service isn’t a recipe for better service. It’s a recipe for even worse service. Recognizing workers who delay treatment to veterans, thinking it saves taxpayers money, misses the point – it saves no one money.

The institution isn’t commending what that employee has saved taxpayers. It’s commending him for freeing up that budget for other uses. Please tell me the last time you saw a government institution give money back to Washington. Let’s just say, not likely.

So maybe it’s not the reward system that’s the problem at the VA, it’s how those rewards are decided at the VA. I see no rhyme, and no reason. But I don’t say ‘no bonuses for any reason’. I say ‘do it for issues that matter, and the people who matter’. If you’re at the VA, I’m saying the people who matter understand the real people who matter. It’s veterans. Get that. Get them. Help them. Find the folks who understand it’s ABOUT them!

Veterans are the ones under your care, so take great care to keep them well. Don’t make them wait, and here’s a thought…don’t make them even sicker as they do wait. How about you put more emphasis on giving them service early than pushing them to an early grave?

That’s why I’d be happy to reward workers who got that, and whose recognized actions might just become contagious if other workers get that, and see why the VA is rewarding them. All I know is car companies scramble to score well in those J.D. Power Associates quality surveys. They know that a good reputation really is money in the bank. Customers go to companies other customers trust and admire. Encouraging behavior that keeps those customers, in this case, veterans, happy, and their families happy, is priceless.

The VA needs to think less like losers and more like Lexus. It needs to stand for quality, or it risks standing for nothing. Rewarding workers who get that will breed more of that behavior, and improve over all VA care.

Companies that forget the details, for want of saving a few pennies, invariably lose more than pennies. They lose their reputation. They lose their substance. They lose their soul. Is it any surprise then, they lose their customers? If General Motors has learned anything over this whole faulty ignition issue, it’s that cutting pennies doesn’t always cut it. And certainly not with customers who feel you’ve short-changed them for it.

Customers are fleeting. Quality service should not be. GM’s finding out now the hard way. So is the Veterans Administration. But that doesn’t mean GM and the VA are finished. It just means they’re going to have to work that much harder to win back both their customers’ and the public’s trust. And that begins with weeding out those who violated that trust, then recognizing – and yes, rewarding -- those who went above and beyond building that trust.

It takes one person at a time. One caregiver at a time. One nurse who doesn’t dismiss a rightfully agitated veteran who can’t understand why he can’t get that cyst on his head looked at. One doctor who doesn’t put off that important MRI. One administrator who sees the crowded schedule at her hospital, and promptly gives a voucher to a waiting vet so he can get the care he needs more quickly at another hospital.

Reward those who act fast. And dismiss those who just put up an act now.

I have no problem rewarding good behavior. In private corporations as in public ones, it’s invariably about recognizing people who go the extra mile and whose performance speaks for itself. Such rewards don’t cost money. In the end, they save money. They help make for a more productive workforce, and a more satisfied customer.

It’s time we look after those who didn’t think twice hopping-to for us. Let’s reward the people who are hopping-to -- for them.