The Business of Government Hour


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The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

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Stanley Sinclair interview

Friday, March 16th, 2001 - 20:00
Stanley Sinclair
Radio show date: 
Sat, 03/17/2001
Intro text: 
Stanley Sinclair
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of the Endowment for the Business of Government. We created the endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the endowment by visiting us on the web at

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Our conversation today is with Stan Sinclair, Dean of the Department of Veterans Affairs Learning University, and Chief Learning Officer at the Veterans Health Administration.

Welcome, Stan.

Mr. Sinclair: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation is Greg Greben, also a PwC partner.

Mr. Greben: Hello.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Stan, let's start by finding out more about your roles at VA. Could you tell us about your role as the dean and also the chief learning officer?

Mr. Sinclair: Sure. The dean of the VA Learning University is a new organization, a new title. It's about a year or so old, but it was put in place to try to bring the department to more of a one VA look at cross-cutting learning objectives across the department, for example, areas like finance, I.T., procurement, H.R., public affairs. What we were interested in doing was bringing together resources to handle cross-cutting learning issues for the department. Also in that we wanted to create that in a virtual or an electronic environment. So that's a summary of what value is designed to accomplish.

In the VHA and the Employee Education System, we're in the business of providing learning for all the employees in the Health Administration. That spans across 172-plus hospitals, 600 outpatient clinics, and numbers somewhere just under 200,000 employees.

Mr. Lawrence: Stan, let's spend some time talking about your career. When did you start with VA and what positions have you held?

Mr. Sinclair: I started with the VA around 1976, 1977 as a counseling psychologist. This was in the Veterans Benefits Administration. From there I moved into Veterans Services Division and then on into adjudication where I served as a ratings specialist.

From there I had an opportunity to move over into the finance world and debt management. I provided the department with the current debt management system that they're using, and then from there went into program analysis and evaluation.

About 8 years ago, I was asked to become the deputy for management for the department and served in that position for 7 years. There is quite a bit going on in the world of IT as well as finance procurement and financial policy. And then on to recently, about a year ago, became the dean of the Learning University.

Mr. Lawrence: How is the culture of VA changed since you started?

Mr. Sinclair: I think it's changed significantly. I know back in the '70s and '80s, we were really wrestling with technology. We were -- seemed to be really under the gun of trying to produce more and more end products, so to speak. We really, I don't think, as an organization were embracing technology and the possibilities of improving our service to veterans in the way that we could have.

Today, I think that, you know, there's much more of a willingness on the part of the leadership to understand the role of technology, to understand the benefit of how we can benefit the veterans with technology without losing that personal contact.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you think the culture might change in the future?

Mr. Sinclair: I think that in the future you're going to see a culture that's going to be much more open to changes. I hear, as everyday business around VHA, there's telemedicine going on. We're continuing to take more and more treatment to veterans; by that I mean with outpatient clinics.

I think we're much more engaged in the needs of the veteran, the veteran population, than we've ever been and I don't think that's going to stop.

Across VHA right now, we are looking for a quest for excellence where we're looking to continue to improve quality. And so I think that in the future you're going to see a higher quality environment; by quality I mean in service to veterans.

I think you're going to see a better trained workforce and I think you're going to see leadership that's very much into creating an environment that's conducive for everyone to be a leader and for everyone to have an impact on the direction of our organization.

Mr. Lawrence: What factors drove you into your current position and involvement with VA's learning initiatives?

Mr. Sinclair: Well, you know, I've kind of gone in a full circle. When you start out as a counseling psychologist where your primary function was to help veterans select appropriate career fields and educational routes, you realize very early on that you're a learning human being. And that critical to the success, not just of a person but of an organization, is the knowledge that a person and the organization has.

So I find it an honor to be in the position now, as I enter into my soon-to-be 30th year of service, I really find it an honor to be in the position to have an impact on the service that we give to veterans through knowledge and through education. I personally think it's a real challenge for us.

Mr. Lawrence: In your years of government service, what qualities have you observed as key characteristics of good leadership?

Mr. Sinclair: Well, I think, first of all, a good leadership organization has to have some fundamental core values, things like trust, respect, commitment, integrity. But at the bottom of that, I think it's also a leadership that's very visionary, that's always thinking about down the road and not just a year or two, but out into the future.

I think that if you have leadership that demonstrates that you will find a whole lot of employees that are more than willing to follow that type of leadership style.

Mr. Lawrence: What positions or challenges helped you fine-tune your leadership skills?

Mr. Sinclair: I think the biggest lesson I had to learn along the way was to embrace technology. I mean, clearly, what happens is as you're coming along, in particular when you don't have a lot of money to be creative with technology. I don't think that leaders in government or myself ever really had the opportunity to take advantage of that, even back in the late '80s, when we were working and designing a debt management system. At that time, we were looking at doing it on our own instead of going out and trying to buy a software package that might do it for us or partnering with another government entity.

So I think where I've matured the most is personally in the areas of really beginning to embrace technology for the good of the objectives and the goals of the organization.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let me push on that a little bit. How did you learn to embrace technology?

Mr. Sinclair: Well, you know, you have a success mixed with a failure. It took about three years for us and the VA to design a debt management system, and it was really awesome. By that I mean it would do everything that we needed for it to do from offset IRS refunds to go to credit reporting agencies to go to Justice; it had every avenue that we wanted.

As soon as we had done this project within about 3 months, I was invited by a small company to come up outside of Shady Grove to talk with them about a product they had. They demonstrated a product that would do everything that we had just spent years building, and the lesson there is that I could have bought that system at a fraction of the price of what it cost us to develop it. So, you know, I think that's where you learn.

You learn in a lesson to where you spend a lot of time doing something that others on the outside may already have the expertise to do and can really do much more cost-effectively.

Mr. Lawrence: Yet at the same time, technology cuts both ways. It perhaps replaces employees and forces them to get new skills. How, as a leader, would you have dealt with that?

Mr. Sinclair: Well, we had to deal with that. Realistically, though, what happens is, is where technology really benefits us, it may replace employees but in reality what it does is it gives us a much larger return on investment.

Through training, through cross-training, I've yet to see in anything that I've been involved in where an employee has lost a job. We've been able to redirect their skills, retrain them, cross-train them, and actually they're in a position now that's much more useful for us as an organization. So it's not a problem balancing that if you really work toward the goals.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice would you give to another leader who is contemplating the decision you just described; buying something off the shelf that may or may not get you exactly all that you want but is much cheaper and easier versus growing it yourself?

Mr. Sinclair: I would give a couple pieces of advice. One is be careful not to reinvent the wheel that you've had in place for years. I think that we in government tend to think when we talk about reinventing something, we're talking about just applying technology to a process to where, what we need to do is to really look at cycle time reduction, revamp, and forget the process. Come up with a new way of looking at that and doing business and then apply the technology.

The gains that you get there are several. But in reality, if you go out and you buy a product that you're going to customize, it ends up in the long run costing you significantly to do that.

So in essence, you have wasted your time and what you have when it's over is the computer application or a software application of the process that you've had in place all along. You really have to think past that.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm talking with Stan Sinclair. This is the Business of Government Hour. We'll rejoin our conversation in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and today's conversation is with Stan Sinclair, the Dean of the VA's Learning University, and Chief Learning Officer at the Veterans Health Administration. And joining me in our conversation is another PWC partner, Greg Greben.

Well, Stan, the VA issued a strategic plan that runs through FY 2006. How does EES fit into that plan?

Mr. Sinclair: The most important piece about the strategic plan from an employee standpoint is that we are very interested in having capable skilled employees that take us into the future.

We want to make sure that we can be an employer of choice and that when employees are with us, we can provide them with a continuous learning environment and culture that will allow them to stay skilled in whatever profession they're in.

So by fitting into the strategic plan, our goal is to make sure that we have a ready workforce. And in the Employee Education System, as well as in the VA Learning University, that's a primary goal to be in touch with what the department needs, skill set-wise and employee-wise, to take us into the future.

Mr. Lawrence: In recent years, there's been a consistent message from VA leadership in the area of workforce development. How are you personally taking an active role in this area?

Mr. Sinclair: This is a very critical initiative for us in the VA. I'm personally involved in being part of the steering committee, making sure that workforce development happens across the department. In VHA, I'm also involved in that particular group as co-chairing a group of folks that is looking at workforce development and succession planning.

Again, the objective here is to make sure that we're in touch with what the needs are of the organization in the future and begin to plan to provide learning to cover those needs.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the different delivery methods to provide education to employees?

Mr. Sinclair: Currently, we're very much in the traditional mode of delivering much of our education, anyway, in the classroom environment. What we're trying to do at VA is move us into a future and look at that through electronic learning, Web-based training, as well as through using satellites.

We have three channels across our system and one of those is primarily used for communications. So one of the things we want to try to do is to begin across VA. Keep in mind that we literally have employees in approximately 1,000 locations around the country, so classroom instruction is not meeting our needs.

What we want to do is to use the technology to begin to get the knowledge to the fingertips to the point to where the employees are; so satellites, web-based, electronic learning opportunities, as well as still the traditional methods when we need to.

Mr. Greben: I imagine you're constantly getting requests from the field and from employees about their various training needs. Given a limited budget and limited staff, how do you deal with priorities?

Mr. Sinclair: Well, we have put together what I would call an integration council which is made up of leadership from central office headquarters and the chief officers in the Veterans Health Administration, as well as leadership from the field, including VISN directors and hospital directors. And what we've done is, based on that, we've developed a list of 19 learning priorities for VHA, the Health Administration.

To accommodate that, I have approximately 280 employees that are in around 10 sites around the country, and so we took those learning priorities and divided it among the skill set of my staff around the country. For example, obviously being in the hospital business, we have three centers that are dedicated to clinical education, one being in New York, one in St. Louis, and the other in Birmingham. And therefore, we're able to be in constant touch with the needs of what the chief officers and the employees across the system are in need of. It also gives us a chance to make sure that we have prioritized and that we're meeting the needs of the organization.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the benefits of providing training online? And is it effective?

Mr. Sinclair: Well, there are several answers to that. Go back to the scenario of having over 200,000 employees and over 1,000 locations. Classroom training is just very difficult and very hard to have that meet all of our training needs, that modality.

The satellite gives you an opportunity to reach everyone, literally. You can reach everyone. We have an initiative going now, well let me just put it this way. If you're in the VA now and you're going to observe a broadcast, we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 downlinks around the system. And so if you're in a hospital or a regional office, we're able to communicate over the satellite system.

What we want to do, though, is we realized that if we changed and moved to more of an outpatient care environment, many of our employees are not accessible even to a satellite broadcast. So we have a pilot going now in two VISNs to where we're beginning to deliver satellites at the desktop.

What we're doing is we're putting servers around the system where the broadcasts are stored on those servers and then the employees can go in and access those and see those at their convenience. We really are in the business of trying to deliver communications and knowledge at the desktop, so this is a strategy that we've employed.

We hope that by the end of this year, by the end of December, that we'll have that technology available to approximately 35 to 40 percent of our employees and next year, we'll continue to close that gap.

Does it work? An interesting question. What we found is when you're using the satellite system, if you get into a 2-hour or 3-hour broadcast you lose people very quickly. If you're in a position, though, to where you can have quick learning objectives and then keep the broadcast under 30 minutes and make it interactive; by that I mean allow the individuals on the other end to either call in questions or have it to where they can use a touch pad to interact with you, then that type of environment is very effective. But keep in mind, you have to keep your learning objectives down to one or two hours not to a long period of time.

Mr. Greben: Stan, back to the question on priorities. What are some of the learning priorities in the VHA in nonclinical areas?

Mr. Sinclair: In nonclinical areas we're looking at areas such as finance, procurement, and IT. They're all the cross-cutting type initiatives or programs that not only go across our entire hospital system but also across the entire VA. I think that when you get into the business of trying to deliver those types of programs, you'll find that, for example, for an accounting person or accounting technician, that job is the same no matter where you go in VA and so it allows us an opportunity to leverage that occupation across our whole organization.

So that's the kind of things that we're doing. We're picking out, based on the needs of the organization, cross-cutting learning opportunities that will allow us to service the whole department, not just VHA.

Mr. Greben: Have you looked to partner outside of VA?

Mr. Sinclair: Yes, we're doing quite a bit of that. As a matter of fact, if I had 10 listeners on this phone or on this radio show today that would be willing to give me a call, I would say that I would enjoy quite a bit of dialogue around this very topic.

An example - Finance occupations, procurement occupations, IT, HR, and others are the same no matter where you are in government. So probably the one lesson that we can learn from each other is that we don't all need to be going and doing our own thing. We really do need to spend time partnering. We really do need to take advantage of what others are doing across government and put ourselves in the business of really taking advantage and leveraging what's available.

Mr. Greben: What's the feedback from the recipients of this communication and training?

Mr. Sinclair: It's very early. By that I mean we just, within the last few months, put up the three channels in the sky. Before that, we were using mostly an analog system. The one we have now is digital; and the analog system, it was pretty effective, especially in VBA. We were also using it, but we never really concentrated on using the system as a communications system.

As we speak, we're having a small studio built in our headquarters. We're going around and providing training to all the chief officers and the leadership of VA to get them engaged in learning about how to use the small studio, the Teleprompters and things like that. And so what we're doing is we're beginning to put out a schedule. And initially, we're going to do a live broadcast 2 or 3 hours a day, 2 or 3 days a week, and then we'll build on that.

But clearly, you know, you have to keep in mind that our employees that are sitting out in the field aren't going to have time to sit down and watch the satellite all day either. So we're trying to be very strategic on this in making sure as we plan that we can put these broadcasts out at good times for employees. In VHA we have shift work. I mean, a hospital's a 24-hour day, so we are broadcasting on the first shift, second shift, third shift, and re-broadcasting as necessary.

I think that the real benefit and the real outcome will be when we're able for individuals to see these delayed broadcasts at their desktop. And that way we will have been able, I think, to meet the needs.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's time for a break. We'll be back with more of the Business of Government Hour and our conversation with Stan Sinclair. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with Stan Sinclair, Dean of the VA Learning University, and Chief Learning Officer of the Veterans Health Administration. And joining me in our conversation is another PWC partner, Greg Greben.

Mr. Greben: Stan, we understand you are conducting some benchmarking research on employee learning and training. What have you found so far?

Mr. Sinclair: We have put quite a bit of value and effort into benchmarking some of the best practices that we see going on across the country. We looked for organizations that are a similar size to us, over 200,000 employees, with the same problem of having to get employees in the position of receiving learning in that type of environment so keep in mind, 200,000 employees and multiple locations of those employees.

What we have found at the companies that we have visited is all of them are in the business of trying to provide at the fingertips, the knowledge that employees need to do their job, just-in-time learning at their fingertips.

They've moved away from large classrooms. They've moved away from bringing individuals together on a recurring or a regular basis for large conferences and trying to include training. What they have moved toward is an environment that puts that learning opportunity at the fingertips.

Mr. Greben: How are the learning and the training preparing VA employees to serve customers better?

Mr. Sinclair: One of the things that we've spent a lot of time on in the VA is customer service. And what we want to try to do is to provide more information to our employees about the VA in general. We just completed several "One VA" conferences around the country where we brought together VA employees with the intent of learning more about our whole organization.

When you find yourself as dispersed as we are with this many employees and as many different administrations, including the National Cemetery Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration, and the Hospital Administration, we really don't know very much about each other. So as a "One VA" initiative, we found that it's important for veterans coming to us seeing us as one organization instead of three different ones.

So we've recently put out an orientation program for new employees. We're also inviting any employee from any administration to go to this because it does begin to talk and give you the opportunity to learn more about "One VA".

Another thing that we have done is we have developed a learning map, which is not just for our employees, but it's one that veterans can use. And it gives you an opportunity, it's kind of like a Monopoly board, of coming in, and it takes a couple of hours, but you can learn about what's going on across the department on this learning map.

So those are a couple things that we have done. And we in VA really do take a great deal of pride and honor in serving our veterans, and so customer service is very important to us.

Mr. Greben: What kinds of activities have you undertaken to make employees more comfortable with the technology involved in distance learning?

Mr. Sinclair: We're trying to provide training wherever we can. Keep in mind, we're on the brink here. We do have the three channels, but we don't have a full-time broadcast going. We are taking time to train anyone that's going to use the system because we do know what makes a successful broadcast.

On the electronic learning side, we have several classes now. There are a lot of mandatory-type classes that we have in the VA on patient safety, things like that, and we've done quite a few of those in an electronic environment and they've been very successful.

One of the things that we're also looking at, and I think it's important, is we want to know if the training makes a difference in performance. So linking learning and performance is one of our critical success factors. To do that, we've got a contractor that's working with us to look at our return on investment to help us learn how to build in factors as we're building curriculum to make sure that we're going to meet our learning objectives and that the learning experience will result in improved performance.

Mr. Lawrence: Earlier you spoke of partnering with other distance learning organizations, universities, and even other government agencies to provide additional courses and content and technology. How will these partnerships work?

Mr. Sinclair: Well, the way we're trying to set it up at the VA is that we are partnering both with government agencies, private organizations, colleges, and universities to put together a learning environment. We want to take the best from all of those entities and put it together in an electronic environment. What you might see if you were a VA employee is when you would go into your system and click on the VA Learning University icon.

Keep in mind, the VA Learning University is clicks not bricks. All it is, is an electronic environment, but from there you could go in and search for a particular class or broadcast that you want. You'll be able to go down and scan the schedule that the satellite broadcast has going at that time, as well as see what might be coming up. You'll be able to go down into an e-learning environment where you can sign up and take courses from high school classes to self-improvement courses, certificate programs to degree programs, all in an electronic e-learning environment. Or you'll be able to go down into our traditional learning areas to which value would be covering the cross-cutting opportunities but then we would have a listing of all the other courses that we offer across the department.

So if you wanted to take an accounting course, literally you could go in through the search engine of the system and you'd be able to see all that's available and make choices.

One of the things that we've discovered at the VA is that the average age of our workforce is not folks just out of college so we can't just turn everybody immediately into e-learning or to satellite learning. We're going to maintain that other environment because we realize that there are many opportunities where we still will need face-to- face, but what we're trying to do is to put together a package here that will offer employees choices and managers choices.

Travel dollars are very scarce. So maybe instead of sending folks away for a week and taking them out of the job, they'll be able to come up on the individual development plan with a way of taking advantage of satellite broadcasts and e-learning opportunities to make the learning opportunities happen.

Mr. Greben: I understand you're currently implementing a management system to help control the department's education and training resources. Can you tell us about that?

Mr. Sinclair: Yes. We have a product going that we're currently developing that's designed to basically -- if you decide -- you're an employee and you go in to the Learning icon, and you decide you want to take a course, whether it be in the electronic world or over in a classroom course, you'll be able to go in and register for that class.

If it requires any preparation, you'll be able to give that or take care of that. And then in the end, when you're through taking the course, it will update your electronic personnel folder.

So what we found is there's a real need. When you have 200,000-plus employees all over the system, there's a real need of knowing how the system is being utilized and who's taking the classes. So this is a way of taking that responsibility into a technology environment.

Mr. Greben: Is there a linkage to an individual's development plan?

Mr. Sinclair: Yes, there will be. It will house an individual development plan. At this point in time, that product is being piloted in several of our hospitals out in the west, and I hope that by the summer we'll be putting that out across our entire system.

I know it sounds funny, but if you have a learning situation opportunity, if you don't make it convenient, if you put it in a situation also to where employees don't have choices, it really makes it more difficult. I think that employees will be able to see the courses, see the opportunities, plan that with their supervisor, sign up, and take it, and it will also begin to change the culture.

The single biggest issue that we're dealing with is the culture of learning in VA. Again, the average workforce being older, we're mostly traditional learners. We like face-to-face, and so we're going to be doing a lot to try to give everyone opportunities to learn in different modalities.

Mr. Greben: Who's the ultimate owner of that system? Is it Human Resources, Value?

Mr. Sinclair: Value is the ultimate owner of that.

Mr. Lawrence: Could you tell us more about the VA knowledge network?

Mr. Sinclair: One of the things that we discovered when we were doing our benchmarking ideas and looking at those, there were two pieces around the knowledge network that came up.

One was that we noticed that many successful companies use satellite technology to do training. And so what we tried to do was to put together a system that would allow us across administrations to take advantage of that.

The other issue is that we wanted to improve our communications. And so we're trying something that's a little different than what other companies might be worried about. I mean, we really are also using it to take advantage of improving communications in our organization.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's time for a break. We'll be back with more of the Business of Government Hour and our conversation with Stan Sinclair. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with Stan Sinclair, Dean of the VA Learning University, and Chief Learning Officer at the Veterans Health Administration. And joining me in our conversation is another PWC partner, Greg Greben.

Mr. Greben: I imagine constructing an online university is somewhat of a challenge in terms of technology and cultural issues. What have you observed?

Mr. Sinclair: Well, it might surprise you to know that putting together an online university is not a major challenge. It's not difficult because that can be easily found; solutions are in the technology world. So there are plenty of folks out there that are willing to help you put together using technology, an online university.

I think the bigger issue, though, is when you have to begin to deliver that product out to everyone in the field or in all the locations around the country. We can put it out there. We can put it at the desktop, but that doesn't solve all the problems.

You have learning attitudes that you need to deal with. You have some employees that don't have access to computers that you need to worry about. You have some employees and managers that don't have the time or don't want to take advantage of time to send employees to training. So what we're trying to do in the VA is clearly the technology is the easy piece.

The difficult piece is changing the culture and getting the information to the desktop and making sure that all employees have access to it.

Mr. Lawrence: Earlier you mentioned the average age of folks at VA was somewhat older than younger and so I'm curious what advice would you give to a young person interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Sinclair: Well, I would encourage anyone coming out of college or anyone interested in working with the government to chase that dream. I think it's a great training ground. I think it's a wonderful place to come and serve your country at the same time that you're in a wonderful learning opportunity.

You may decide to stay with us, you may not. To me the issue is that we in the government understand that we have a major role here in bringing forward students and bringing forward opportunities for learning. And I believe that when individuals spend time with us, they'll want to stay with us.

Mr. Lawrence: What kind of skills should these young people have?

Mr. Sinclair: You know, I would say just a good general education. I mean, I think that it helps if you're interested in finance, you come in with your business background. But I would think that what we're interested in are individuals that are able and have proven that they can learn, that their attitude is very positive about work, and that they want to come in and do good things and help their country as well as help the government.

Mr. Greben: Based on your experiences, what lessons would you pass along to other organizations developing enterprise learning solutions?

Mr. Sinclair: Well, the first lesson clearly, I've talked about, is don't do it by yourself. What we have found in the VA as we've been moving forward with this, is that the pace of change, the pace of technology is very rapid here and that if you're developing something on today's ideas, you're probably going to have a product that's not going to be useful very far down the road.

So I think it's important that we that are chief learning officers across the government spend time talking about it. I think we need to partner with each other rather than going off on our own.

So before you start anything, call other folks around the government and see what's going on, but don't just look at what's going on in government. You have to look at what's going on in private industry, too.

Mr. Lawrence: Looking 10 years into the future, how will employee education at the VA look and feel?

Mr. Sinclair: Well, my vision of the 10 years down the road would be that cross-cutting opportunities, such as finance, information technology, procurement, HR, public affairs. That the VA would be partnering with a bigger government learning university to where literally those types of cross-cutting occupations, there would be a warehouse of courses that would be available in the electronic world.

It would be a collection of the courses from the VA, as well as DOD, as well as all government entities, so you could literally go in and have access to what's going on everywhere. We must stop. We must leverage what we can get our hands on. We must stop trying to do everything ourselves.

The other thing, though, is that in the VA, the technology is going to drive what learning is going to look like. You can easily see how you can be sending programs home. Individuals can be accessing them not just on the computer but through the telephone, through Palm Pilots, through any kind of technology. It's there.

What we're finding is that as technology evolves, learning is right there ready to go. So I think it's just a matter of being poised and ready and coming up with the strategies that are going to make sure your employees can use this.

I want to make the point that you need to make sure -- in the VA, we have a culture to change, but what's going to change that is by making learning more convenient and making sure that we are attaining and obtaining the learning objectives that we're after.

MR. GREBEN: Your vision includes the success of cross-agency collaboration and yet that's been one of the hardest things to do. Did you have a solution in that vision as to how that's going to work?

Mr. Sinclair: Well, you know, I had hoped for a solution like this to debt management 10 years ago because at that time the government was asking every agency to develop and design a debt management system when in reality there's just a need for one or two good ones. And I think that's what we need to do here. I mean, there are obviously places that just cross-cut the entire government. Some may say, well, finance is a little different over here. Eighty percent of the content's the same.

And if we can get our hands on products that all we need to do is tweak them to make them more adaptable to the VA, we should be in that business. I look forward to having opportunities to discuss this with other organizations that are embarking on this.

There are core competencies. There are core areas that may not be the same. I don't have much in common with teaching soldiers the things that they need to do on the battlefield. But for the finance occupations in DOD and for others that we talked about cross-cutting, I think there are really great opportunities to leverage.

Mr. Lawrence: Given some of the challenges that you've laid out, have you set any milestones for VA?

Mr. Sinclair: For VA, I've set several milestones. One is that by the end of this year, I want to have an opportunity for at least 40 percent of our employees to be engaged in satellite learning opportunities at their desktop. I would like for that to be at 100 percent within a year after that.

I would like to have by the end of this summer, contractors selected to provide e-learning courses. I want employees to have access to between 2,000 and 4,000 courses online and I would like them to have access to courses including high school courses, self-improvement courses, certificate programs, and college degree programs.

Then on the end of that I would like for them to be able to have equal opportunity to have access to training that might be available in the classroom.

One of the things as a large organization like VHA, things are constantly changing, you know patient safety, pain management. Our world changes in front of us, so I want to make sure that we build a corporate university that's very agile, very flexible, and can integrate new technology and new learning opportunities as needed.

Mr. Lawrence: In thinking about the changes that are coming in education and learning, we've talked about the changes in technology, you've talked about the changes in management that are needed but we've not talked about the employees. What changes do the employees need to make?

Mr. Sinclair: I think that one of the things we need to do for employees is when we hire them, as well as current employees, we need to have an environment that learning is an expectation. You know, we've seen a lot of changes in the VA in the last 8 years and we had a lot of opportunities where employees needed to be cross-trained.

I think it's important that when employees come into the VA, and for current employees, to be constantly looking at a learning environment. I think that leadership and learning is everybody's responsibility. So it is a cultural change, but it's something that individuals will need to embrace themselves.

Mr. Greben: Does that cross-training mean that there'll be perhaps more employee mobility as well?

Mr. Sinclair: It could. When you have a hospital system, there are opportunities for mobility.

One thing that we're also looking at very closely is succession planning. I think that when you have an organization like ours, as large as it is, we need to make sure that we put in place the right type of programs that are developing leaders.

So from the VA Learning University, as well as from the Employee Education System, we're looking and designing programs that will make sure that we're able to bring good folks and good opportunities up for leadership development.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Stan, I'm afraid we're out of time. Greg and I want to thank you for joining us. This has been a fascinating conversation.

Mr. Sinclair: Thank you. I've enjoyed it also.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been the Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Stan Sinclair, Dean of VA Learning University, and Chief Learning Officer of the Veterans Health Administration. To learn more about the endowment's programs and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness, visit us on the web at

Stanley Sinclair interview
Stanley Sinclair

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