Creating Community at The Commonwealth Fund

We at The Commonwealth Fund are delighted to have our work featured in the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s latest report, Employee Empowerment, which highlights the key to employee satisfaction. Over the last ten years, we have taken a number of steps to improve staff satisfaction, starting with surveying our staff on a regular basis, and we have been pleased to see the payoff in satisfaction through staff empowerment and building a stronger sense of community within the organization.

One of our first efforts toward greater employee satisfaction was to improve our recruitment and hiring processes. Today, every potential hire starts out with a detailed job description developed with the supervisor that provides a clear picture of the responsibilities. Candidates submit writing samples and take a timed test. They are interviewed by a committee comprised of several Fund staff selected just for that hire. By taking these steps, we make every effort to ensure that candidates understand the expectations for the job as well as the Fund’s culture, operating policies, and practices before they join the staff.

We also set out to hire people who have the most to gain by working at the Fund. These are people who are committed to our mission of improving the health care system in the United States. Over the years, we have found that hiring people with a passion for our work has improved the organization’s morale, and we have seen our staff satisfaction ratings rise along with a stronger sense of community.

Once staff members are on-board, we provide extensive training and begin to involve them in the daily work of the Fund. Staff members are encouraged to attend program planning meetings where strategic plans for each of our programs are discussed.

Every employee also attends our monthly all-staff meetings and board meeting debriefings. The all-staff meetings give Commonwealth Fund staff members the opportunity to share their best work—and learn about their colleagues’. Staff from all three of the organization’s departments—programs, communications, and administration—are asked to give short presentations on an interesting recent project. Topics have included an overview of The Commonwealth Fund’s hospital quality improvement website, a look at changes in grantmaking and financial rules for foundations, and analysis of the underlying reasons for high health spending in the United States.

Such presentations bring staff together literally and figuratively as they learn more about each other’s personality, talents, and areas of focus. The meetings also reinforce the feeling that we are all part of an organization working, in different ways, toward the shared mission of promoting a health system with greater access, improved quality, and greater efficiency—especially for the most vulnerable.

Likewise, the three board meeting debriefings each year remind staff of the value of their work. Our outgoing president, Karen Davis, has led these meetings, sharing highlights from the board meeting grant and program reviews, high-level discussions of the future of health reform, and the future of the foundation. Karen’s leadership skills shine during these debriefings, which reinforces every staff member’s pride in being part of our efforts to create a health system in which everyone has affordable access to the care that they need.

We value our employees and emphasize their development, including encouraging them to pursue related advanced degrees when appropriate. We have an intensive annual appraisal process where staff review how they have progressed toward the personal goals set the previous year and how their work aligns with the overall mission of the Fund, and, in this context, lay out their goals for the following year. This interactive process includes feedback to the supervisor and, on occasion, from other colleagues or vendors. It also gives staff a strong understanding of what’s expected and an appropriate level of authority to make decisions that affect their work.

We believe these efforts help to keep the staff fully informed of the organization’s long term goals and shorter term efforts. Being part of this process empowers the staff and increases their satisfaction in being part of the Commonwealth Fund’s mission.


Diana Davenport is Vice President of Administration and John Craig is Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at The Commonwealth Fund. You can find The Commonwealth Fund on Twitter @commonwealthfnd and join the conversation about this report at hashtag #Empower.

Employee Empowerment, foundation staff/program officers, Staff Perception Report
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