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How are Exceptions with staff members managed?

With non-staff elements in the agency eco system, we can directly intervene with one of the three strategies discussed earlier – slow the effect, reconfigure the system, repair or replace the element – or a combination of strategies. With staff members, however, management is neither as simple nor as straightforward. Our intervention is more indirect. Nonetheless, the available options remain the same. We slow drift, we reorganize, or we repair by counseling or retraining staff members. Replacement is, of course, also an option. The key here is understanding what we mean by indirect intervention.

Just as SSI Managers maintain a balance between traditional and adaptive management, they maintain a balance between influencing staff members through personal persuasion and interpersonal acuity on the one hand and through staff empowerment and involvement on the other. They combine these approaches with slowing the effect, reconfiguring the system, and repair and replacement, striving to influence staff members to minimize drift within the SSI internal eco system. Let’s look at how SSI Managers use each of the strategies with staff members.

Slowing drift within the SSI eco system with staff members is complex. In the absence of effective management, staff members tend to function less effectively as time goes on. This tendency is significantly more pronounced for some staff members than others, but is to some extent present for all staff members. Their performance gradually, or sometimes abruptly, deteriorates. We see here the assumption the performance of staff members is first at the level it should be and then changes, with the change moving in a less desirable direction. Staff member performance could, in principle, simply be at an unacceptable level without having ever been at an acceptable level. Determining this condition would be based on an understanding of what acceptable performance would have been. For the present discussion, though, the assumption is staff member performance is not at the level of excellence it should be. As a result, the overall functioning of the SSI ecosystem or a sub-function within it is proportionately deteriorating.

This deterioration may be continuous, intermittent, or aberrant. If continuous, the issues are persistent. If intermittent, the issues only come up now and then within a system normally functioning well. If aberrant, the issues seem to just pop up unexpectedly. Whatever the pattern, SSI Managers must slow the appearance of these issues in the SSI eco system and minimize the likelihood of their recurrence.

The underlying question here is what accounts for increases in ineffectiveness, errors, or omissions with a staff member who has been functioning acceptably. The first step is to talk with the staff member. He (or she) likely knows. Often, simply acknowledging the issue and talking about it is sufficient to reduce or eliminate recurrence. Additionally, this gives both the staff member and the Manager the opportunity, if possible, to correct or modify any situation or condition potentially contributing to the issue. Beyond this, there are other approaches that may serve to slow drift.

It is important for SSI staff members to feel valued and appreciated as well as believe they are contributing to an endeavor that makes a difference. People who commit to careers in the human services place a high personal value on making a positive difference for other people. They want to help and need to know their efforts are helpful; thus, SSI Managers formally and informally let staff members know what they do is important and really matters. Additionally, the SSI work environment and opportunities within it convey a clear message each staff member is valued and his contributions are appreciated. It helps here to give a moments thought to a simple truth. SSI staff members are not likely to take any better care of their duties and responsibilities than SSI and its Management take care of the staff members.

There are also less interpersonally oriented ways SSI Managers support the success of staff members. The better they are supported, the less likely it is to see deterioration in the performance of staff members. The goal is to retard drift in the internal eco system before it develops momentum. Staff members are themselves the best source of insight into what will support their efforts. They usually know what will help. Among the possibilities is a safe, clean, orderly work environment adequate for their purposes. Additionally, good equipment, social opportunities, flexible hours, and manageable workloads generally support staff members in ways they recognize and appreciate. The point is to do what needs done along with what else can be optionally done to support staff members. Only to the extent staff members are successful will the clients for whom SSI is responsible succeed.

SSI Managers also use reconfiguration as a useful strategy with staff members to minimize drift within the internal eco system. One of the keys to SSI’s success is assuring the right people are given the right responsibilities. Even the most competent staff members do not do everything equally well. It is important to talk with staff members and review their interests and qualifications to get the best fit between them and their SSI responsibilities. Beyond this, there is another factor.

A staff member may have a specific assignment that seems like a good fit, but his performance is not as good as expected. The tendency is to criticize the staff member and deal with him as if he could and should do better. The problem is it may not be true he can do better with the new assignment. Just because he has done well with other assignments does not necessarily mean he can do well with this one. The first approach of an SSI Manager is always to give the staff member the benefit of the doubt. If he could do better, he would do better. Given this truth:

·       The staff member may need additional training or instruction. He may not know how to do what needs done.

·       The assigned responsibilities may exceed the capacity of the people assigned to them to do what needs done. They may require more resources.

·       The assignment may have to be redefined to make it more understandable and doable. It may simply be confusing or difficult to understand.

There are many possible reasons why a staff member may not be performing well with a specific assignment. SSI Managers always take time to determine those reasons before focusing on the staff member and his individual performance as causes of the issues. Dealing effectively with those reasons usually involves reconfiguring resources, assignments, or people to enable staff members to function at their best. If configured correctly with the right people assigned to them, most tasks are handled successfully.

When we think about reconfiguration, our attention goes toward people and equipment. We typically focus on assigning and reassigning people and on rearranging work areas, moving equipment, and generally altering the physical environment. We understand the agency eco system includes people, equipment, work areas, and so on. It also includes other types of elements and factors.

·       It includes policies, rules, procedures, and processes.

·       It includes specific assignments and responsibilities.

·       It includes concepts, ideas, and the individual perspectives of staff members.

·       It includes talents, skills, abilities, and capacities.

·       It also includes limitations, skill deficits, bad ideas, and blind spots, including those of Managers.

SSI Managers know they too can and do make mistakes, use poor judgment, and fail to understand particular situations and circumstances. When drift in the internal eco system is recognized, SSI Managers use multiple strategies to correct the issue or problem. Reconfiguration is one of those strategies, understanding all of the elements and factors in the internal eco system are subject to reconsideration and reconfiguration. Every system – including the internal eco system – is ideally configured to get exactly the outcomes it is getting. Thus, if we do not like the current outcome, some degree of reconfiguration is a clearly necessary strategy for changing the outcome.

Along with slowing drift and reconfiguring aspects of the agency eco system, SSI Managers use repair and replacement to manage identified problems and issues. Assume there are performance issues with a staff member and the above strategies have been unsuccessful in correcting the issues. The staff member either will not or cannot do what is expected. Although we already discussed this situation in an earlier chapter, let me merely reiterate here repair is always the first approach for SSI Managers. The staff member is not functioning successfully and there are one or more reasons why. His being unwilling to do what is expected is the least likely of those reasons. In his book, The Driving Force: Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People, Schutz (2005) cites five questions that tap into the essence of “what really drives performance.” Why are we here? What is expected of me? How am I doing? What’s in it for me? Where can I get help? (p. 250).  SSI managers assure these questions are each answered for each employee. Not until the questions are asked and answered can managers proceed to analyze and respond to performance issues. There is a term used by physicians: differential diagnosis. This means a problem has symptoms that might relate to various conditions. There are several possible diagnoses. The challenge is to discover the actual condition before treating. The principle is diagnose and then treat. SSI Managers apply this principle as they strive to manage internal eco system drift. With staff members, Managers work to fully and accurately understand and then correct the performance issue before any consideration is given to replacing the staff member. A few additional, brief points are helpful here.

SSI Managers understand there are ordinarily several ways to get a job done or to complete an assignment and usually not a best way. They keep the perspective the goal is to achieve the expected outcome. How the staff member achieves the outcome is ordinarily not more than a minor consideration. They typically do not concern themselves much over whether the staff member did the job exactly the way they were expected to do it so long as they achieve the expected outcome and do not go outside the functional parameters or interfere with or disrupt other aspects of the internal eco system. – Recall the any reasonable interpretation principle discussed earlier. – Further, SSI Managers understand the 80% rule: not until 80% of staff members with the same assignment complete the assignment correctly and on time 80% of the time should they insist on 100% from anyone. With this point in mind, they give employees clear, frequent, and accurate feedback, spending as much time telling them what they are doing right as what they are doing wrong. They simply assume staff members are trying to do well, are trying to succeed, and if they are not, they assume they do not know how, do not think it matters, or are somehow being prevented from succeeding. To reiterate, the SSI Manager diagnoses first and then treats, diagnoses first and then intervenes.

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