Saturday, June 06, 2009

Transforming Attitudes and Skills of Organizational Employees

Recently, I was asked to share my thoughts and experiences about the preparation of staff working within a community rehabilitation agency’s center-based production or non-work service programs during a period of organizational change.

  1. How does a service provider prepare its staff facing a fundamental rebalancing of its services from center-based programs or organizational employment models to integrated employment approaches?
  2. How does an organization motivate and secure “buy-in” from its staff whose time is dedicated primarily to non-work rehabilitation or habilitation programs?
  3. What management strategies have been successful in guiding a transformation of an organization’s staffing roles, duties, and functions to individualized employment approaches?

    All great questions! And yes, no easy answers but certainly attainable goals with effective organizational leadership.

    Since the core attitudes and skills preparation of an agency’s employees is so critical to fundamental and sustainable change, I want to share my observations and experiences about this topic with my readers. Here are 17 strategies I’ve observed to be effective in supporting organizational employees and staff in making a successful transition. When these strategies are blended into a powerful marketing campaign and multi-dimensional workplan, it can generate excitement and motivate an agency’s employees to work together toward a common purpose of organizational excellence.

    1. Clarify. Engage leadership! The single most important quality of organizational leadership is communication and clarity. Be abundantly clear about your organizational strategic plan, goals, and activities.

    2. Persuade! The organization’s management team needs to work hard and efficiently to secure staff “buy-in” regarding its organizational change objectives.

    3. Include. Teach organizational employment and center-based program staff why and how they are critical to the goals of organizational change. Make sure all staff is included in organizational change planning & rebalancing activities.

    4. Reward. Right from the beginning--insure all staff shares in the excitement and rewards when your agency’s participants obtain integrated employment outcomes in the workforce.

    5. Measure. What gets measured, gets done! Develop a scorecard and share your agency’s progress at every possible opportunity with the organization’s board, staff, business leaders, and community.

    6. Communicate. If your agency holds independent meetings with its organizational employment and center-based program staff, communicate outcome performance progress in these meeting structures as well.

    7. Visualize. Make and regularly update a simple visual performance chart to communicate your progress in meeting organizational rebalancing goals. Place your integrated employment outcome performance chart in a highly visible location so staff sees it daily.

    8. Document. Share information and evidence with staff concerning supporting research studies to increase awareness about the measurable outcome benefits to be realized by your agency’s participants who advance into the workforce. These outcome benefits (i.e., personal, social, and economic) are clearly weighted in the direction of integrated employment! Why wouldn’t your organization make these outcomes available to as many people as possible?

    9. Educate. Teach about the effectiveness of supported employment and customized employment (SE/CE) practices (i.e., share journal articles, develop access to training webinars and technical assistance websites, use expert trainers, etc.).

    10. Challenge. Gently challenge your doubters and attack myths, stereotypes, and half-truths about the employability of individuals with significant disabilities in the workforce. Replace these stereotypes with facts.

    11. Showcase. Share success stories (your own as well as others) about individuals with significant disabilities leaving organizational employment or center-based programs and obtaining integrated employment. Success stories are powerful and illustrate how the theory is transformed to actual practice.

    12. Replace. In real organizational change, new policies and practices must be introduced to increase integrated employment outcomes. Also, some existing policies and practices must be replaced or reduced significantly to rebalance to integrated employment outcome performance (i.e., closing the "front door" and introducing new service policies and practices to divert new agency referrals directly into the workforce).

    13. Connect. There is comfort in understanding you are a part of a larger shift in thinking and organizational practices. Send your organizational employment and center-based program staff to SE/CE conferences (i.e., APSE) to generate excitement and increase their awareness about promising practices and possibilities for integrated employment.

    14. Mentor. Use staff shadowing and mentoring strategies with organizational employment and center-based program staff to introduce them to supported employment principles and to give them "first-hand" experiences.

    15. Prepare. Build momentum by investing in organizational employment and center-based program staff who are natural leaders in the team. Expand their roles and transform their duties to SE/CE practices incrementally as more individuals from your organization are placed into the workforce. This is a necessary rebalancing of organizational time and resources into the area of desired change.

    16. Encourage. Encourage staff buy-in by motivating organizational employment and center-based program staff to become part of the solution. Give these staff autonomy and a role in brainstorming solutions and developing creative ideas to address employment barriers (i.e., organizational, situational, and individual participant).

    17. Celebrate. Make sure organizational employment and center-based staff share in the celebration of all achievements made by the organization. Acknowledge and reward their participation and roles in obtaining integrated employment outcomes.

    Finally, let me say that organizational change is a challenging proposition for many professionals who are highly vested in traditional rehabilitation and habilitation programs. And honestly, not all organizational employees and staff will make a successful transition to more progressive, employment first approaches. Simply said, some individuals will be hard to win over and others will refuse to modify their stance that integrated employment is a viable or suitable possibility.

    Some staff may be worried about job security and feel they are being abandoned by the organization without a clear strategy for engagement in the planning and implementation of the agency’s strategic plan. Regardless of strategy, others will be unable or unwilling to acknowledge this new vision of an integrated workforce where individuals with disabilities, including those with complex lives, have a rightful place working alongside others in our economy. Further, a small minority may actually work against the agency’s plan for change without an articulated plan for hands-on management.

    Despite obvious challenges, the leadership of the organization can make significant changes by engaging the right strategies and involving all of its employees in the plan. When these organizations are successful in generating universal excitement and securing openness to the possibilities, many of its employees will effectively translate their value to the organization’s future and work to secure the competencies they need to become a fundamental part of the change.

    Editor’s Note: Several years ago, I wrote about a phenomenon I call The Axis of Inertia and this article may also be of some help in understanding a leader’s role in organizational change. In The Axis of Inertia I identified five overlapping factors that tend to paralyze agency leaders, managers, and staff from taking the necessary steps of organizational change. These five enemies of organizational change are fear, apathy, arrogance, ignorance, and tokenism. For more information about The Axis of Inertia and leadership strategies in addressing these barriers, you can link to this article here.

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