First and foremost, if there were ever a time for a leader to be externally oriented, mission focused, and opportunity seeking, this is it. If the agency traditionally does what it has always done in the manner in which it has always done it, there will be a tremendous amount of work to be done to transform to a family centered, neighborhood-based approach. A shared vision which sets forth the values which will underpin the directional change must be created and shared. The agency’s mission that defines the agency’s unique contribution to those values and the FCNB, directional change must be created and shared. Priority initiatives which identify what must be done first, second, and so forth to “turn the ship” must be decided upon and discrete activities to begin the hard work developed. This planning must be done in cooperation with the neighborhood, the broader community, and agency staff. No shared plan, no success.
As discussed previously, excellence is not a place, it is a destination. Anyone expecting this transition to occur in a short period of time is unrealistic.
One of the successful, adaptive leader’s primary tasks is to gauge the amount of pressure the agency, the neighborhood, and the broader community can bear without collapsing and setting the “pressure gauge” slightly below that level. Additionally, while you are transforming the manner in which business is conducted, the day-to-day job of assessing reports of child abuse and neglect, working with families in crisis, recruiting foster and adoptive families, and the many other tasks required for safe children and stable families must continue. The leadership of the agency must comprehensively bifurcate its efforts and, in all likelihood, there will be no clear line of demarcation as to how that will occur.
Beyond that, and once the stakeholder map is developed, relationships must be forged or strengthened with existing and potential stakeholders. Support and legitimation must be garnered from neighborhood leaders, political office holders, the media, the judiciary, and other key stakeholders you have identified on your map. Certain members of agency leadership will be more appropriate to “open doors” with certain external stakeholders than others. The executive must be the one to approach certain key elected officials, community leaders, and others. Other agency staff may be more appropriate to open the door with foster parents, the media, community leaders and others. Whoever is chosen, the decision should be strategic and not merely whomever is available or just happens to be assigned to do it.
Internal agency work must be maintained while at the same time be adapted. Different staff members may be chosen to champion these efforts. New technologies of family case conferencing, structured decision making, supporting staff and foster parents to make the transition, and involving the neighborhood and broader community in appropriate decisions become desired behaviors toward which all must adapt. This adaptation must be supported with clear expectations, training, and monitored continuously. Data must be collected and shared regularly within and without the organization to determine if the interventions being made do positively affect children and families and to maintain commitment to the change when energy is low or crisis occurs. This feedback loop is absolutely critical to maintain momentum.
The polestar that guides these transformation efforts incorporates the values (vision), the mission (safe children and stable families), and the outcomes which have been identified to contribute to the attainment of both. The series of system transformation plans set forth the steps to move toward the destination of excellence that has been mutually defined with the neighborhood and broader community.
The leader must keep his hand on the rudder of the boat, maintaining the appropriate compass bearing toward the destination while providing all possible supports for the staff and neighborhood to do the many transformational and maintenance tasks required to come closer-and-closer to the desired destination. This requires the leader to be rigidly focused on the ends and less concerned with the means (as long as they are prudent and ethical). This type of adaptive leadership approach fosters adaptation and increased leadership at all levels of the effort, enables creativity to flourish, and shares the tremendous amount of work needing to be done in a positive manner. The leader who succeeds is smart enough to know that he cannot accomplish such an adaptation by himself.
As resources are diverted from institutional or congregate care, there may be certain public and private stakeholders who attempt to exert political pressure to stop this diversion. From a private stakeholder perspective, this change may mean the end of its existence if children are not placed in sufficient numbers to maintain financial solvency. From a public stakeholder perspective, the lack of convenience for agency staff or the court to have a quick placement for children may be an issue. Agency leadership must foresee and manage these issues since private agencies and courts may have access to political officials who can undermine the change effort.
The agency must have data measuring:
· Whether children are better off with this new approach.
· Whether the approach is more cost efficient.
· Whether the initiative achieves the values and mission of safe children and stable families.
Strategic communication efforts providing ongoing information to political stakeholders, the courts, private agencies, the media, and the tax paying public, setting forth how FCNB practice not only provides better outcomes for children and families but also is more cost effective, are critical. Who can argue with better outcomes at a cost savings without looking self-serving?
The transition from a single agency providing child protection services in a traditional manner to a family centered neighborhood-based approach to child protection provides the opportunity to illustrate the application of the concepts of leadership, systems transformational planning, strategic communications, stakeholder mapping, adaptive leadership, self-evaluation, and others set forth in this book. FCNB was chosen because it is not a unilateral silver bullet approach like children’s homes, foster care, permanence planning, and family preservation were. Instead, it encompasses all these philosophies and adds the concepts of “neighborhood” and self-evaluation to an integrated approach to increasing child safety and family stability.
For the new adaptive leaders in child protection to be successful in making this transition, they must create the value for the change itself. This requires a sustained effort over time. However, it is clear from the focus group research discussed earlier that the public values child safety and family stability. Those are the central outcomes or ends it values. The adaptive leaders job is to create a means to better accomplish the public’s desire.
Additionally, the adaptive leader’s job is to acquire enough legitimation and support from the authorizing environment to move forward and sustain the change through time. Blatant as it may sound, the leader must “manage” the political environment. The bottom-line outcome is no less than replacing the old way of doing business that is in-place and has been well-entrenched for years. Since this takes time, the political actors and landscape will change over that time and must be managed on an ongoing basis for the change to become embedded.
Third, the adaptive leader must develop the operational capacity to implement the change. This may mean new financial resources at certain times in the transformational process, maintaining current resources, and tapping the wealth of resources from the neighborhood that have been cultivated through the effort.
Finally, the adaptive leader must measure his strategic performance. Are his strategies and adaptive efforts resulting in increased value, higher legitimation, and stable, adequate operational capacity? If so, the adaptive leader is succeeding. If not, children and families are less well off than they deserve to be.