The Beauty of Intrinsic Motivation

Virginia Mason Institute

“For me, leadership here is a vocation and I think that’s true for many of us.”

– Charleen Tachibana, RN

A lot has been written lately about burnout among health care workers in the United States. Too much stress in too many dysfunctional organizations has clinicians and administrators on edge.

Health care is an inherently stressful business. The work flow is constant and the very nature of the work is unlike any other professional pursuit. Every minute of every day in our clinics and hospitals, patients’ lives are at stake. Every day, the people we care for come to us with challenges large and small. Many arrive in our clinics worried, fearful for their own health or that of a loved one.

We have a profound responsibility to do our very best for each and every patient — always. And we do. From a certain perspective, this is a heavy burden. The work is difficult and relentlessly challenging. But at Virginia Mason we never see it as a burden — we see the challenges as a gift. The gift is the opportunity to care for people who truly need us. The gift is the deep trust they have in us.

This is not to suggest that we are entirely immune from the stress and pressures endemic to health care. We feel the pressure. We struggle with the challenges.

Charleen Tachibana, RN, hospital administrator and chief nursing officer, says that for most members of the leadership team the mission is about values. But we also have something within our DNA that sets us apart, and that is a deep desire on the part of our people to stay focused on the most elemental mission to help human beings who are suffering, fearful and vulnerable.

“We have aligned people’s beliefs with those of the organization,” she says. “People have passion about their work. Their job is a personal mission to make a difference; to change things for the better. Some people internally describe it as a moral imperative. I can’t not do this. There is a synergy there that ignites the connection between clarity of values of the organization connected to people’s personal values.

“For me, leadership here is a vocation and I think that’s true for many of us. It’s a calling here. It’s such a gift to do it with others who are in vocations with you and want to travel there with you. For me it’s a very spiritual journey here. I can’t imagine doing it elsewhere because the risk of losing that component of it. But I would say leadership here, for most people, is a vocation. It’s a calling.”

Joyce Lammert, MD, chief of medicine, holds a similar view. “I think most of the leaders here are intrinsically motivated,” she says. “They’re values-driven. We have something that gives meaning to what we do every daythe opportunity and ability to comfort and heal and guide.”

Getting to a place of intrinsic motivation doesn’t happen overnight. It is developed over many years and requires a clear vision, with a mission and set of values that ring true throughout all levels of the organization. It becomes ingrained as part of the culture and is modeled and exemplified by top leadership every day.

Julie Morath joined the Virginia Mason board in January 2009. From the start, she observed the intrinsic motivation that Dr. Lammert and Tachibana describe.

“There is alignment but it is not a transactional business model alignment,” she says. “It is alignment to fidelity of purpose, to deep respect for people. There is real clarity of vision and purpose. It’s a highly relational alignment based on common purpose and constancy of purpose — a real passion around that. It is different from a lot of places where alignment works because of incentives. This has a little higher order to it — higher order because people give discretionary energy. They’re not just doing the job. There is always this sense of inquiry — getting better as a way of life. When we look at the Triple Aim and hospitals under siege, we know patients and families deserve more, society deserves more than we have been delivering in terms of value. Virginia Mason is leading the way.”

Says Dr. Lammert, “I think our people are truly aligned with our mission and vision. We have an opportunity for growth in a culture that allows you to be involved in something significant, something that makes a difference. Our vision is to transform health care. We take that very, very seriously every day. What a wonderful motivator!”

What motivates you and your teams to do the very best work every day?

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