A successful Management Team member accepts and closely adheres to the guiding principles discussed above. Additionally, he (or she) exemplifies cooperation, loyalty, caring, sharing, respect, trust, and integrity in everything he does both professionally and personally. Beyond these essential characteristics, the following questions are useful when assessing the functioning of Management Team members and others who want to join the Team.
- Does he (or she) understand and value the agency’s mission? It is important to emphasize an agency’s mission relates to a future state. If there is a mission statement, but the statement does not specifically relate to a future state, the agency does not have a viable mission. There is nothing for Team members to usefully understand or value.
Further, the mission specifically commits the agency and the people associated with it to affecting a narrow outcome, i.e., improving the capacity of clients to cope with the needs, problems, and vulnerabilities in their lives. The current state focuses on clients who are not adequately coping, for whatever reason. The future state focuses on clients who are coping better, as a result of agency intervention. The agency mission is to enable clients to transition from the current state where they are not coping adequately to the future state where they are coping more adequately. However the transition is stated, Management Team members must both understand and value this outcome, this mission.
An additional point related to the agency’s mission requires careful and specific attention. In order for a Management Team member to understand and value the agency’s mission, he must be absolutely clear about who the client is. The client transitions from less adequately coping to more adequately coping and any confusion about who the client is quickly results in outcome drift that frequently goes unrecognized. For example, services intended to enable handicapped people to function more adequately can easily drift toward efforts to placate family members. Services are adjusted to make dealing with the handicapped person more comfortable for relatives. The result may be the handicapped person does not achieve the level of autonomy and independence he might otherwise achieve. In child protection settings, services intended to achieve safety, permanence, and well being for children may shift to extended efforts to habilitate the parents who abused or neglected the children. The result may be outcome drift emphasizing parent habilitation and de-emphasizing child protection. These and similar types of outcome drift are not uncommon and serve to reinforce the critical importance of unequivocal understanding and valuing of the agency’s client-centered mission.
- Does he value the people associated with the agency and their contributions to agency excellence? The significance of this requirement is less than obvious. It would be easy to simply nod and move on to the next question. Instead, we need to remember the agency staff is only a sub-set of the people associated with the agency. The broad agency eco system includes potential clients, Initiators, Authorizers, Implementers, and the people associated with the external entities and organizations connected with the agency through point “0” in the Helping Triangle. Team members value all agency stakeholders – internal and external – and their individual contributions to agency excellence.
- Does he see the agency’s goals as personal action steps? We can assume agency staff members work diligently to enable the agency to reach its goals. Were this not the case for individual staff members, they would no longer be part of the agency staff. For Management Team members, however, a higher standard applies. For them, simply doing what is expected to reach agency goals is insufficient. Team members are personally and professionally committed to more than merely reaching agency goals. They are committed to agency excellence. Doing whatever it takes to accomplish this outcome is a personal agenda for each Team member. Agency goals are but personal action steps on the way to excellence.
- Is he responsive to the needs and interests of everyone associated with the agency? Everyone associated with the agency – agency stakeholders – includes agency staff but also includes everyone else associated with the agency through the Helping Triangle. Being responsive to the needs and interests of everyone in the agency eco system is a daunting expectation. Nonetheless, agency excellence is dependent on just that. Fortunately, no single Management Team member can or is expected to personally respond to the needs and interests of every stakeholder. Rather, he assures the agency responds to each stakeholder’s needs and interests. No exceptions. No Excuses.
If individual Management Team members cannot respond to the needs and interests of every stakeholder every time, how is it possible to be responsive to the needs and interests of everyone associated with the agency? Team members are committed to being personally responsive to every stakeholder, every time they become aware of a stakeholder need or interest. The member either responds personally or assures someone else associated with the agency responds appropriately. Further, the Management Team – in conjunction with the Leadership Team – continuously scans the agency eco system for opportunities to be responsive to stakeholders and assures all agency staff members do the same. This requires that this level of stakeholder responsiveness is expected of each staff member. Anything less from any staff member is simply unacceptable.
A cautionary note is important here. Being responsive to the needs and interests of stakeholders does not mean agency staff members always do whatever a stakeholder wants done. However, it does mean every agency staff member does carefully listen to every stakeholder every time and thoughtfully considers the stakeholder’s need or interest. Based on this consideration, the staff member then takes appropriate action, also considering the needs and interests of the agency. If the stakeholder need or interest is not going to receive affirmative consideration, the stakeholder does receive a timely and respectful explanation about why. Additionally, the Leadership Team is notified and the Team decides the best way to proceed from there with the stakeholder. The agency is not all things to all people but it is always responsive to everyone.
- Does he understand his roles with others, where and how he fits-in? This question is more complex than it may at first seem. No one on the agency staff is permitted to define his (or her) role exclusively in terms of what he perceives to be his primary agency function. People usually reflect this orientation by responding to What do you do for the agency? by saying something like I am a . They complete the statement with words like supervisor, therapist, secretary, day treatment worker, adoption specialist, accountant, Director, social worker, case aide, or receptionist. The list of such self-defining terms can quickly become extensive, especially for larger human services agencies. When people define their roles this way, the agency becomes internally compartmentalized and functionally segmented.
Any of us who have spent more than a few months in a human services agency is familiar with how difficult it can be to get different groups or departments to work cooperatively. Even in fairly small agencies, the barriers to communication, coordinated effort, and integrated work with clients and stakeholders are frequently all but unmanageable. A major source of these issues is a lack of clarity, starting with members of the Management Team, with respect to their roles with others, how and where they fit-in. The underlying issue is agency staff members do not have a single role or function. Everyone has multiple roles and functions. Let’s explore this a little more here.
To be an agency staff member and more particularly to be a member of the Management Team, a successful candidate understands:
· His primary role is to help clients function more successfully. If he does not contribute to this outcome, he is not needed as part of the staff.
· His role is to respond to the needs and interest of stakeholders. If he does not contribute to this outcome, he is not needed as part of the staff.
· His role is to contribute to agency excellence. If his work is not necessary to achieve this outcome, he is not needed as part of the agency staff.
· His role is to support and facilitate the work of every other staff member. If he does not do this, he cannot remain on the agency staff.
· His role is to also function as a supervisor, therapist, secretary, day treatment worker, adoption specialist, accountant, Director, social worker, case aide, receptionist, or so on. If he does not do this successfully, he cannot be an agency staff member.
Every staff member has multiple functions and sub-functions. Members of the Management Team also have multiple functions and sub-functions. Additionally, they are responsible for the meta functions required to assure all staff members understand their multiple roles with others, how and where they fit-in, and for assuring all staff members completely and consistently fulfill their multiple functions. The functioning of the internal eco system is dependent on the Management Team’s success here.
- Does he work within the scope of his responsibilities and authority? Management Team members not fully understanding and functioning consistently with the full scope of their responsibilities and authority are far more common issues than Team members exceeding or working outside of their responsibilities and authority. All responsibility and authority internal to the agency are initially vested in the agency’s CEO. This responsibility and authority are, in turn, partially delegated to other members of the Management Team. Frequently, it is not completely clear exactly what and how much responsibility and authority are passed along to the Team member, especially in relation to situations and circumstances occurring only occasionally. If the Team member is not certain, he (or she) tends to error on the side of accepting too little responsibility or exercising too little authority. He takes what he perceives to be the safest course. Within this gray area between what the CEO thinks was delegated and the Team member knows for sure was delegated is ample room for significant misunderstanding and inaction. Think of this gray area as delegation drift.
Given the prevalence of delegation drift, determining whether someone works within the scope of his responsibilities and authority is not necessarily clear. It is usually clear if he is working outside of the gray area but within the gray area itself, there is ample room for disagreement and ambiguity. Even so, it is important for each Management Team member to function within the scope of his responsibility and authority, accepting maximum responsibility and exercising maximum authority with respect to what has been delegated to him. The Team member’s immediate organizational superior must be sure his subordinate clearly understands the scope of his responsibility and authority and only then can the subordinate be judged in terms of whether or not he works within the scope of his responsibility and authority.
There is an additional principle operating here. The Team member is delegated sufficient authority to carry out his responsibilities. How he goes about that leaves room for individual judgment and discretion. The principle is he may use any reasonable techniques or strategies consistent with agency policies and practices. Further, he may use any reasonable interpretation of the responsibilities delegated and the outcomes expected. When evaluating his performance, the standard is not what the person who delegated the responsibilities specifically had in mind. It is, rather, what a reasonable person with similar training and experience would judge to be reasonable, given the situation and circumstances.
- Does he follow the agency’s policies and procedures? Policies and procedures are similar to responsibility and authority. They too are frequently not clear and leave room for differing interpretations and misunderstandings. Policies are simple statements of what the agency and its staff are expected to do. If they are developed as clear, declarative sentences, they usually do not leave much room for misunderstanding unless they include vague descriptors such as high quality, responsive, reasonable, effective, and the like. On the other hand, procedures are usually more equivocal. They show how policies are to be implemented. The format is a step-by-step, instructional guide to be followed. The steps are often somewhat vague, permitting some degree of professional discretion. Further, there are circumstances when the steps cannot be followed exactly or perhaps should not be followed in unanticipated situations. The result is an additional gray area between what is expected and what actually happens. This is another instance of outcome drift. We return to policy development and implementation in a later chapter.
I hope fundamental aspects of the agency eco system are gradually revealing themselves as our discussion proceeds. We see the system tends to degrade in the absence of ongoing meta-processes to prevent or at least control the processes. This tendency to degrade operates somewhat like entropy. The internal eco system degrades toward internal chaos and ineffectiveness if this type of entropy is permitted to progress. Agency policies and procedures are merely additional areas for potential entropy.
For the above reasons, restricting Management Team membership to people who clearly understand agency policies and the procedures related to their responsibilities is very important. When recruiting people from outside the agency for Management positions, assuring they understand and accept the policies and relevant procedures is a needed step in the process. Further, whether someone is joining the Management Team from the outside or is already a member of the Team, adhering to the policies and following agency procedures in his (or her) agency work are critical elements for achieving agency excellence. All Management Team members and prospective members are carefully scrutinized with respect to following agency policies and procedures – using the reasonable person standard mentioned above – even when the procedures are not specifically related to their usual work.
- Does he see how his duties and responsibilities relate to other areas of the agency? It is important for all agency staff members to understand how their duties and responsibilities fit in with those of other staff members, but this level of understanding is critical for each member of the Management Team. The primary responsibility of the Management Team is to assure the internal eco system functions successfully in the interest of achieving the agency’s mission. Team members assure each member of the agency staff functions consistently with his (or her) assigned duties and responsibilities. In addition, Team members recognize and manage all aspects of the natural entropy in the system to minimize outcome drift and other system tendencies to degrade over time. Only by clearly understanding the inter-dependencies and interactions of all staff members can Team members fulfill this essential responsibility.
- Does he avoid passing his frustrations and negative opinions along to others? An agency’s internal eco system has an exceptionally low tolerance for negative energy. This is generally not more or less true for one agency than for another. The simple reality is internal agency eco systems are fragile. Any severe or persisting negative energy acts like a toxin slowly poisoning the system. Along with this toxic affect, there is a correlative issue. The available energy in the system is fairly constant. If a significant portion of the available energy shifts in a negative direction, the available positive energy to do the agency’s work proportionately diminishes. The result is a gradual degrading of the agency’s effectiveness. Little-by-little, the agency becomes literally less able to achieve its mission.
We have all seen this negative process operate in agencies to some extent. As a temporary aberration, it usually can be managed and corrected. In some agencies, however, the toxic effect of such negative energy develops so gradually it goes unrecognized or at least is accepted as normal. If this goes too far, either the agency fails and closes or, if that is unlikely as in the case of government agencies, the Authorizers replace the Management Team in the hope agency performance improves.
If passing frustrations and negative opinions along to others is potentially toxic, how do Management Team members handle their frustrations and negative opinions? They understand feeling frustrated or holding negative opinions are indications all is not well in the internal eco system. They first identify what is prompting these perceptions and consider what is required to alter the cause. What is the problem and what will it take to correct it? Frustrations and negative opinions are thus converted into Management opportunities. The Team member then pursues this Management opportunity with the Management Team or with someone who is in a position to affect the perceived cause. Together they develop strategies to correct the problem or issue. Anyone who either will not or cannot manage his (or her) frustrations and negative opinions this way is inappropriate for membership on the Management Team.
It is worth noting anyone in the internal eco system who spreads his (or her) frustrations and negative opinions around indiscriminately, with little to no consideration given to whether other people can or will do anything to correct the perceived issue or problem, is a localized toxin. If he (or she) persists with this behavior, the toxic effect spreads. Other people parrot the behavior with a concomitant increase in generalized toxicity and system jeopardy.
- Does he bring the same energy and commitment to the job when things are not going well as when they are? The point here relates to the constancy of internal eco system energy discussed above. If a Team member is not bringing a high level of energy and commitment to his (or her) work whether things are going well or not, the effect is the same as with overtly negative behavior. We all know not giving everything we do our best effort reflects a lack of personal integrity and is irresponsible. People who do not consistently give whatever they do their best effort should not be on the Management Team nor should they be permitted to remain as an agency staff member. Responsibility and personal integrity aside, the issue is even more problematic.
An individual has a fairly constant level of energy available to him. Assuming he is not ill and is rested, that level of energy is available to him while at the agency. If he is only directing part of his energy to his work because things are not going well today, the rest of the energy supply is still present. It is expended but as negative energy. This may be hard to see and may be relatively invisible. Nonetheless, the negative energy is there and is poisoning the eco system. If we carefully observe, we will see if one person is not giving a job his best effort because things are not going well, others who work with him tend to pick up the negative mood and attitude. Continue to observe and the spreading toxic effect becomes easier to see. It is not acceptable with any staff member, but is intolerable with Management Team members.
A related issue deserves attention here. Frequently, Managers and Supervisors delay dealing firmly with a staff member who is not meeting agency expectations in one way or another. They are reluctant to confront the staff member or to escalate their response to the issues. They may continue to talk with the staff member about their concerns but do not use their authority to require improved performance. They want to avoid the animosity and negativity of the staff member. As time goes on, the issues persist and perhaps worsen. In the meantime, the poor performance of the staff member depresses the functioning of the internal eco system and negatively affects the functioning of other staff members. The Manager thinks the problem is limited to the specific staff member, but it is not. Eventually, the Manager does deal with the staff member and the issues, but by then, significant damage has already been done. Further, the Managers action far exceeds what would have been needed had he (or she) taken appropriate, sufficient action when the issues first came up. Managers should always do todays work today, understanding Management procrastination is always counterproductive and irresponsible.
- Does he accurately understand and value his skills and limitations? Typically, people tend not to undervalue their skills and abilities. They usually do not see themselves as unable to do things they can actually do well. They may be reluctant to try things they have not done before, but this is more a lack of self-confidence than a matter of under-valuing skills they really have. The issue is more common in relation to people’s limitations. They think they are qualified to do things with which they have little to no experience and for which they are not qualified. This is especially seen in human services agencies in two areas.
First, many people think they are qualified to join the Management Team when few people actually are. Further, people and others already on the Management Team think they are qualified for higher-level positions in the agency when they are not. Carefully assess anyone who wants to join the Management Team or who aspires to a higher position in the agency. It helps to focus on what qualifies him (or her) for the new position and not on how well he handles the position he already has. The new position requires skills and capacities he may or may not have. Be as sure as possible he actually has the needed skills to handle the new position. Promote primarily based on future potential and not exclusively on past performance.
The second area where people under-value their limitations in human services agencies is not specifically relevant here, but deserves a passing note. Human services Providers tend to think they can effectively work with any client who presents at the agency for services. This is particularly seen with clinical staff in agencies providing therapy or counseling services, but is also seen where other types of services are provided. My point here is simply no one can adequately provide clinical or most any other type of service to every client who happens to appear at the agency for services. For this reason, the Management Team needs processes and procedures to assure clients are matched with Providers who are clearly qualified to provide the specific help the client needs.
- Is he well-organized and prepared when handling any job? This is an obviously important qualification for Management Team membership and requires little elaboration. The issue is being sure all Team members and potential members are carefully screened with the question in mind. As part of the screening, note the question includes two criteria. First, the Team member is organized when handling any job. Second, he (or she) is prepared. This preparation happens before he starts the job. He does not do anything off the cuff, by winging it, or without adequate preparation. People sometimes say they could do a job in their sleep someone else might think was difficult. Suffice it to say, if they believe that, they should go do it somewhere else. The Management Team only includes people who invest the time and energy needed to be organized and prepared, with every job, every time.
- Does he handle tasks and assignments in a timely manner? This is an obviously important criterion for Management Team membership. Just be sure to include things like responding to phone calls and emails, arriving at and starting meetings on time, keeping scheduled appointments, and getting back to people when they expect a response. Everything counts, including the little things along with the bigger things such as completing projects or finishing assignments on schedule. Recall the simple standard from Chapter Two: Do the right things right, the first time, on time, every time . If we remember it is on time, every time, the timeliness of tasks and assignments is never an issue.
- Does he take personal responsibility when he sees something needs done and no one is doing it? Personal responsibility is among the most essential characteristics of an effective Management Team member. We saw agency Managers do not manage people. They manage the internal eco system or aspects of the eco system. This means Management Team members are not managing each other nor is any member being managed by someone else. Team members are self-managing organisms within the internal eco system. One effect of this is all members are equally accountable for the successful functioning of the internal eco system. If something needs done and no one is doing it, then each member of the Team is accountable for its not getting done and is personally responsible for assuring it is done.
- Does he pitch in and work a little harder, do a little more when necessary? This is a further example of personal responsibility. The point goes somewhat beyond this, though. Each Management Team member is personally responsible for the successful functioning of the internal eco system. He (or she) does whatever is needed to achieve this outcome. How much he does on any occasion or how hard he works depends on what is necessary to keep the system functioning successfully.
Sometimes this requires more effort, more work and sometimes less. A Team member who always exerted the same amount of energy or did the same amount of work would frequently be out of sync with the internal eco system and its immediate requirements. A Team member who did not pitch in and work a little harder, do a little more when necessary would simply be making it clear he cannot remain on the Team. It may be tempting to think other Team members can or should compensate for the shortcomings of one member. Occasionally this may be temporarily true. On any regular or continuing basis, however, some Team members compensating for other inadequately functioning members diverts system resources and energy away from system success and agency excellence. If the success of the internal eco system does not depend on the best effort of each Team member, the Management Team has members who are not needed. They should simply be removed from the Team.
- Does he invest most of his time and energy in getting the job done? This may seem like such an obvious point as to not need comment. The important phrase here is most of his time and energy. Although we infrequently do see people who advance to membership on a Management Team who invest inadequate time and energy in taking care of their duties and responsibilities, the more common issue is people who are investing too much of their available time and energy in doing what they need to do. Team members should invest most – but not all – of their time and energy in productive activities. No one can sustain functioning at full capacity indefinitely. People need to take a break, slow down a little, and pace themselves for the long-term. This includes some social time at work, time just to think about things, and time doing nothing. Successful Team members invest most but not all of their time and energy in assuring the success of the internal eco system.
- Does he focus primarily on what is working, on what is going well? Within agencies firmly committed to excellence, there is a heightened sensitivity to anything – minor to major – not working as expected or not going well. Although this is for the most part a strength of the Management Team, it can sometimes be a problem. Excessive focus on any aspect of the agency eco system, and especially on a negative aspect, leads to distortion in the perception of that aspect. Management Team members begin obsessing over the negative aspect at the expense of everything else working as expected. A successful Team focuses primarily on what is working, on what is going well. As the Team manages the internal eco system, things not working or going well only warrant the level of attention needed to understand and correct them and no more. Primary attention remains on the successful functioning of the internal eco system, on what is working well.
- Does he focus his and others’ attention and energy on how to get ideas to work and away from why they will not work? There is a simple point here. When someone presents an idea or approach, he (or she) thinks it will work. Focusing on why it will not work disregards the person’s view and discounts his contribution. It is also a particularly arrogant response to the other person. The first response of effective Management Team members is always to explore what would be required for the new idea or suggested approach to work. Virtually every new idea or approach can work under some circumstances and in the right situation. Team members start there and then consider whether the needed circumstances or situation are present or should be developed. Only then do they judge the merit of pursuing the idea or suggestion.
- Does he stay open to the ideas and suggestions of other people? This is a variation on the last question. Not focusing on how ideas and suggestions can work has the same effect as ignoring the idea or suggestion. It serves to disregard and devalue the person contributing the idea or suggestion. Not staying open to the ideas and suggestions of other people has an even worse outcome. It limits the supply of good ideas to those already known and those developed by the few people whose ideas are not discounted or ignored. Effective Management Teams and successful Team members simply cannot afford to close themselves off from any potential source of fresh ideas and useful suggestions. When assessing people for possible membership on the Management Team, spend some time exploring how they come up with new ideas, where their best ideas come from. It is occasionally surprising to learn how arrogant and self-absorbed some people are as they discuss the origin of their knowledge and insights.
- Is he someone you want on your Management Team? This is the final question and becomes the bottom line once the other questions are carefully considered. The only caution is to thoughtfully consider whether any inappropriate factors are being introduced into the decision process, i.e., any traits, characteristics, or other factors not directly related to how well the candidate will or will not perform the duties associated with joining the Management Team and functioning as a successful, contributing Team member.