That someone is Steve Muro who heads the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) responsible for 131 U.S. national cemeteries where more than 3 million veterans and their families are buried. The NCA is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs headquartered in Washington, DC. whose motto reads “for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan. These words were spoken by Abraham Lincoln during his Gettysburg Address and are now on a pair of metal plaques at the entrance to the VA. Next time you’re in Washington, take a short stroll down Vermont Ave NW. They’re really quite inspiring. But back to Mr. Muro and what we can learn from him as project managers.
Recently, the NCA received the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s highest rating ever, surpassing top corporations and all other federal agencies. Quite impressive. When asked by Tom Fox , Vice President for Leadership for Public Service, about any particular experiences which formed his leadership style Mr. Muro had an extremely moving story to tell.
His very first assignment was the burial of an infant who was less than a year old. When the hearse pulled up to the gravesite the mother emerged from the car holding her child’s casket in her arms. At that exact moment he knew we don’t have a second chance to do it right. We have to do it right the first time. This has been his guiding principle for many years.
When he was asked how does he maintain this very high level of quality he enumerates four things that we as project managers in our work can apply immediately.
First, he says we assess our performance and then we pour through those assessments highlighting where we did well and where we could improve, and what changes do we need to make to get better NOW. Sounds a lot like lessons learned doesn’t it?
Second, he realized that training employees in all aspects of the work is extremely critical. Apparently, he doesn’t go the cheap route many companies are using today by encouraging people to take MOOCs, sit through what amounts to be marketing webinars, or watch grainy YouTube videos. He does it right.
Third, he believes in and practices that everyone needs clear accountability in their roles. If there’s confusion quality will suffer which may ultimately be experienced by the family and loved ones of the deceased at the time of burial; how awful!
Finally, what sets Mr. Muro apart from many managers is that he credits his “amazing employees” (his words) as it relates to the NCA’s extremely high satisfaction ratings. After all, he says they are the ones that deal with the family members day in and day out, and it’s their professional work that has raised the bar so high.
So, the next time you pass a national cemetery think of Mr. Muro. We sure can learn a lot from him.
How about you? Do you only have one chance to get it right? Should you have more than one?