Photo caption: Two CPAP students in Professor of Practice Tom Hickok’s Advanced Topics course, part of the Center for Public Administration and Policy’s MPA program, join the Honorable William A. Hazel Jr., MD, Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources, for dinner at CPAP Richmond. Sherri Dorsey, (l), is the AmeriCorps Program Officer & VISTA Supervisor for the Virginia Department of Social Services and Cecily Rodriguez, (r), is the Director of the Office of Cultural and Linguistic Competence in the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. Both students are employed by agencies within the HHR Secretariat, led by Dr. Hazel.

The complexity of managing for performance at the state level was the focus of a special July 9 guest lecture by the Honorable William A. Hazel Jr., MD, Secretary of Health and Human Resources (HHR) for the Commonwealth of Virginia, to Masters of Public Administration (MPA) students at Virginia Tech’s Richmond Center. The talk also was simulcast to MPA students and faculty at Virginia Tech’s Alexandria campus.

Following a bright Hokie-bedecked dining space and a jambalaya dinner prepared and provided by current and former MPA students, Secretary Hazel described how the public sector’s task to “do more with less” is especially challenging in the HHR, where the commonwealth’s strapped economic position and reduced staffing levels sometimes collide with complex regulatory requirements and deep client need. The HHR Secretariat is comprised of 11 state agencies and employs more than 16,000 staff members, with biennial budget of $26.7 billion. The budget includes revenues from several sources: general funds, (from state revenues) and non-general funds (comprised primarily of federal matching dollars for health care.)

‘Dashboard’ performance spread sheets, awash in green, yellow, and red, provided lecture attendees with visual features of performance management strategies within the HHR Secretariat. The colors indicated progress in or barriers to process improvement. Using these dashboards, Virginia’s 2013 Agency Head Work Profile and Performance Evaluation, and other reports, Secretary Hazel described the data collection, analysis, and use in the development of outcomes-based goals and programs. MPA students studying party polarization and its effects in the public sector, were interested to learn that the current HHR performance management plan was set in motion under a Republican party governor, and continues today under a Democratic party governor.

In 2009, Hazel’s team launched a performance management plan to address program measurement and management, training and development, and cross-team communication. The focus of the plan was a belief that HHR ‘customers’ would be more likely to receive proper service if the level of competency and performance was elevated across the agency’s workforce.

One of Secretary Hazel’s first activities under the performance management plan was to gather all agency Human Resource (HR) managers to discuss hiring and staff development issues. Prior to that meeting, HR leaders within HHR had never met one another, nor had they discussed a comprehensive human capital strategy. Initial outcomes from the meeting included the need for each HR leader to develop a “Job Plan” for his/her agency. The job plan addressed broad personnel issues, such as bringing long-term, or on-going staffing concerns to the leadership team for assistance, and the plan addressed strategies that synergized with the department’s ‘Agency Work Plan’. As a component of the agency work plan, the 11-agency secretariat began a closer examination of its human capital strategy. Now, the heads of HR in each agency meet monthly to discuss departmental and staffing performance.

According to Secretary Hazel, the need to collect data – the right data – from those who serve and those who receive services in the HHR is critical to developing transformative systems goals. Each system goal is accompanied by a metric set. Training and development programs, along with computer and technical needs, were established to help with full integration and implementation. Goals and measurements were calculated (i.e., time spent with clients completing medical forms reduced by “x” percentage, with “x” percentage error decrease, and so forth). The job description for agency deputies was rewritten to include ‘pushing and championing’ the strategic planning goals down to the staff level. Deputies were newly responsible for helping staff members find linkages between their work and the overarching “Key Enterprise Initiatives” of the HHR Secretariat. The ultimate concept was to ‘manage by plan versus manage by crisis’.

Hazel’s view is that the only approach to solving the host of issues is comprehensive: critical organizational assessment, resource mapping and infrastructure building, and strategic planning. These elements are tied together through a performance management approach. The strategy is vital because mistakes in the HHR have significant financial implications. Past errors in this secretariat have cost Virginia’s taxpayers. The cost implication drove Secretary Hazel’s establishment of a 0 percent defect policy. Admittedly, it’s a lofty goal, says Hazel. However, the 16,000 staff members who are tasked with serving some of Virginia’s most vulnerable residents must be aware of, understand, and properly deliver services and support for optimal client service. Progress is being made as a result of performance management. For example, in 2009, the PERM (Payment Error Rate Measurement) eligibility error rate for Medicaid (administered by the Virginia Department of Social Services, an HHR agency) was about 16 percent. It has dropped significantly over the past five years, standing now at less than 1 percent.

Richmond MPA student and Virginia Social Services employee, (a department within the HHR Secretariat) Sherri Dorsey summed up the evening with her favorite comment by Secretary Hazel, “In Public Administration, we are trying to create public value. We must demonstrate what we are doing now and how we know when it is better. How do you show value of good governance? To be successful, you have to tell a story and share your goals.”

The event was hosted by Dr. Tom Hickok as part of his Extended Summer MPA course at VT’s Richmond Center, “Advanced Topics (AT) in Management: Creating and Sustaining High Performance Public Organizations”. Graduate students in the AT course learn theories and practices about the use of metrics in public sector management in order to increase efficiency, effectiveness, and human performance. Dr. Anne Khademian, Director of the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs, thanked the Center for Public Administration and Policy (CPAP) for coordinating the event and welcomed attendees, including Dr. Joe Rees, Richmond Center CPAP Coordinator, CPAP Visiting Professor Bill Leighty, and CPAP Adjunct Professor Jonah Fogel. Dr. Khademian introduced Leisha LaRiviere, MPA, Director for Strategic Advancement for CPAP, who coordinated the program. LaRiviere both introduced Secretary Hazel and presented a certificate of appreciation, and card and small university-themed gift from the AT course students and professor.

For additional information about public sector performance measurement in Virginia, Secretary Hazel recommended the Virginia Performs website ( He noted that the site provides public access to the goals and departmental performance data as well as tools for student research and civic education.

Written by Leisha G. LaRiviere, MPA