​In 2016, UHN went through an extraordinary process of redefining our Purpose, Values and Principles (PVP). This involved deeply engaging thousands of people in our community over an eight-month period through focus groups, forums, town hall meetings, and a 48-hour “electronic jam session” that brought leaders and our employees online to engage in a discussion about our purpose and values. The final product truly reflects who we are as an organization, while providing the foundation for our strategic plan and the framework for values-based leadership at UHN.

When our new PVP launched, everyone was asked to show their commitment by leaving their thumbprint on a PVP tree, the final step in this journey. For me, the symbolism of this last step in the process is profound; it represents one’s individual commitment to UHN’s core values.

Our PVP now hangs at the door to my office and throughout the organization in break rooms, hallways, elevators and on bulletin boards, reminding us of this important work, while telling our story to thousands of trainees, caregivers, visitors, and the patients that we serve. If you haven’t seen our phenomenal PVP yet, you can check it out here.

To support this work, our entire performance management system has been redesigned, using our PVP as the foundation. This new employee excellence program, called Unleashing Peak Performance, will help us to shape, guide, coach, and develop UHN’s most valuable resource – our people. We are now using the PVP to guide recruitment and new employee onboarding, because we want the people who join our organization to understand and support these core values. It is important to us that our values leave an imprint on every UHN employee, current and new.

Separating the Process from Strategic Planning

It was important to separate the PVP process from strategic planning so that we could give it the appropriate time and attention it deserves. For most organizations, the first part of strategic planning is spent listing or reaffirming values in one or two hours. Under these circumstances participants, excited at the prospect of coming together to plan the future of the organization, tend to “check the box” on values. To build a values-based organization, we simply could not afford to check the box on our values.

Instead, I saw this as an extraordinary opportunity for us to collectively reflect on our societal responsibility. This process allowed us to revisit our purpose and values to ensure they fully represent what we see in ourselves, fulfilling our obligations to the communities we serve and the individuals whose lives are transformed by UHN.

Our Purpose and Introducing New Values

Our Purpose: transforming lives and communities through excellence in care, discovery and learning. For me, this single sentence perfectly describes the collective efforts of the UHN community. We transform the lives of those we are privileged to care for; we transform lives through the discovery that occurs in our labs; and we transform the lives of the 11,500 learners who are part of our education community. We transform communities here in the Greater Toronto Area, across the province and the country, and around the world through our international programs and services.

Through this process, we created a hierarchy of values. Our primary value, the needs of patients come first, unequivocally establishes the primacy of our commitment to patients. We also placed an emphasis on safety and stewardship.

As an organization with the privilege of providing life-saving care, we know it is critical to identify safety as a core value at UHN. We wouldn’t fly on an airline that doesn’t value safety and I believe as a health system we should be relentless and transparent in our pursuit of safety by embedding it into our values. This also underpins our commitment to Caring Safely, the extraordinary employee and patient safety program that we are implementing in partnership with Sick Kids Hospital. You can learn more about Caring Safely here.

In my view, stewardship is an essential core value for every health care organization. In our community we are entrusted with resources provided to us by our patients who themselves are residents, voters, and taxpayers. We are stewards of these resources and must administer them diligently throughout UHN. At the unit level, stewardship means a commitment to use supplies, energy and other resources as if they were our own. At the leadership level, it means making decisions about human and financial resources that ensure the sustainability and affordability of the health care system for future generations.

An Important Chapter in UHN’s History

I am convinced that when they write the history book on UHN there will be a chapter about renewing our PVP. Our new Purpose, Values & Principles are so fundamental to the work that we do that I believe they could be chiseled into stone at the entrances to our nine sites across the Greater Toronto Area, and our school, the Michener Institute of Education at UHN.

The first part of that chapter would describe the process of coming together – thousands of us – in meetings, groups, town hall sessions, and through our two-day electronic jam session. The second part of that chapter would list the outcomes achieved through basing everything we do on our PVP – fundamentally changing what drives UHN and providing meaning to the work that we do every day. I can’t wait to read that chapter!​

Peter Pisters
President and CEO at University Health Network

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