The article examines whether subjective performance assessments from health system executives match objective performance assessments and qualitatively explores ways to achieve high performance. We interviewed 138 C-suite executives of 24 health systems in California, Minnesota, Washington, and Wisconsin between 2017 and 2019. We used maximum variation sampling to select health systems to achieve diversity in performance on objective measures of clinical performance. Our interviews focused on executives' perceptions of their own health system's performance and factors they thought generally contributed to high performance. In our analysis, we grouped health systems based on objective performance levels (high, medium, and low) used in sampling, compared objective performance ratings with executives' subjective performance assessments, and used thematic analysis to identify reasons for subjective assessment of health system performance and levers of high performance in general. There was poor agreement between objective and subjective performance assessments (kappa = 0.082). Subjective assessments were higher than objective assessments and captured more factors than are typically considered in performance accountability and value-based payment initiatives. Executives whose views were inconsistent with objective performance assessments did not cite clinical care quality per se as the basis for their assessment, focusing instead on market competition, financial performance, and high customer satisfaction and loyalty. Executives who cited clinical quality metrics as the basis of their assessment offered subjective ratings consistent with objective ratings. Executives identified organizational culture, organizational governance, and staff engagement as levers for achieving high performance. Future research should explore the benefits and drawbacks of considering subjective performance assessments in value-based payment initiatives.
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