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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Former Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould

Change Academy
Washington, D.C.
December 9, 2010

Thank you, John, for that generous introduction and this timely discussion about change.

You know, Mark Twain once said that ”a man can live for two months on a good compliment.” And this afternoon, John, I think you’ve ensured my immortality with those very kind words. Thank you for all you and the HR&A team are doing to invest in our people.

Dr. Petzel, thank you for joining us today, and for your continued leadership of VHA.

Dean Muellerweiss, thank you for your leadership of VA Learning University and for launching the Change Academy to support our sweeping transformation efforts.

Brian Hawkins, director of the Jack C. Montgomery Medical Center. We look forward to hearing, first-hand, about the pivotal role our inaugural Change Academy played in your Path to Excellence campaign.

We’re all familiar with the words, Veteran-centric, results-oriented, forward-looking. It’s more than just a catchy phrase. It’s the bedrock of our transformation—the pillars of a high-performing, 21st century VA.

The transformation defined by that phrase basically means three things. It means changing VA’s culture from one of Veterans adversary to Veterans advocate. It means delivering to them improved services and benefits coupled with high standards of quality. And it means building strong yet flexible management systems.

How do we accomplish these goals? In a word—change.

It’s been said, you can have change without progress, but you cannot have progress without change. But we all know that change, by its very nature, is problematic. It demands that we retool our competencies and re-think how to manage people, programs, processes, and resources.It requires us to be sensitive to the dynamics of our environment and to be flexible in our approaches.

Change shakes up the status-quo and upsets tradition, especially in an organization with a rich and noble history like VA

In the same way that people power VA, people power change. All the latest trends, best practices, and forward-leaning policies in the world amount to nothing without good people to implement them.

But we all know people naturally resist change. Change is about pushing past our comfort zones; accepting new ideas and ways of doing things. Let me give you an example. Take the story of Henry Warner, of Warner Brothers Pictures, in 1927. When asked by one of his people about looking into that remarkable new invention called “talking pictures,” he purportedly retorted, “Yeah, well, who the hell wants to hear actors talk anyway?” 

Now that’s serious resistance to change!

That brings me to the subject of our newly-launched, innovative Change Academy. I see it as a critical catalyst for VA’s successful transformation. A leading expert in organizational change, at Harvard University, says that one of the reasons transformations don’t reach their full potential is because employees are not given a sense of the urgent need for transformation. They’re not encouraged to be active participants. And they’re not given the support they need to embrace change.

VA’s Change Academy will help address these issues because it helps leaders lead change, and helps employees understand, cope with, and power change. It assists in transforming our culture—all those beliefs and expectations that dictate how we do business—how we think, work, and serve Veterans. It teaches employees to take the initiative, think outside the box, and innovate. And it encourages risk-taking—the oxygen of progress.

Secretary Shinseki and I believe VA employees are our most important resource, bar none. We have every confidence in their dedication, abilities, and commitment to creating a more agile, more effective, and more responsive VA. We want to ensure they are well-prepared, well-trained, well-informed, and well-supported with the state-of-the-art tools needed to do their jobs—with competence, initiative, and a high sense of job satisfaction.

But more than that, we want them to help drive transformation through their boots-on-the-ground, frontline perspective. Solutions to our problems cannot be driven only from the top down. They also must bubble up from the bottom—from out in the field to 810 Vermont Avenue. That’s the reason for our Change Academy and the ADVANCE initiative—we want to invest in the ideas and innovation, the energy and enthusiasm of our people.

As we’ll hear from Brian and his pioneering leadership team, the Change Academy has established itself as a proven success-builder—success for:

  • The Jack C. Montgomery Medical Center in its quest for organizational excellence.
  • Its employees as they’ve leveraged their potential into high performance.
  • And for VA’s overarching transformation. 

In closing, let me offer my congratulations to VA’s Learning University and to you, Brian. Your facility’s achievements are a model for your VA colleagues across the country.

Thank you, all, for inviting me to participate in today’s briefing.