Effecting Change within the Child Welfare System
On January 4, 2012, a Compromise and Settlement Agreement was signed by the lawyers in 08-CV-074-GKF-FHM in D.G., by Next Friend G. Gail Stricklin; et al., vs. Brad Yarbrough, Chairman of the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services, et al.. This settlement agreement ended a multi-year class action suit involving the Department of Human Services (DHS) in Oklahoma. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of several children who had died or had been injured by physical and/or sexual abuse while in the care of foster families and shelters, all under the control of DHS. Unfortunately for the children of Oklahoma, this suit had been in the making for approximately ten years. It took the external factor of the lawsuit to bring about the recognition of drastically needed change within the organization of DHS. This paper will discuss the required process to develop change within a diverse workforce of an administrative agency such as DHS.
While speaking with a law professor of Administrative Law, he stated, “anyone can change policy”, and he is correct. But the path to changing policy is a tremendous task involving several steps and the legislative branch. The problem is, administrative policies and procedures must be followed and are treated like laws. But these policies and procedures are a product of a process that answers the questions of “why” and “how”.
The question is more important than the answer. Don’t get me wrong, the answer is important, but you must begin with the question. The question brings about understanding, a series of questions bring about movement, a roadmap so to speak. Asking a question out of sequence can lead to misunderstanding, skipping over a question can lead you down a different path. If you already know the answer, then the question is rhetorical and is designed for someone else.
There can be a big difference between questions, i.e. “how?” versus “how come?” or “why”. For an administrative agency the “how” becomes the procedures. The “how come” should be the policy. However, for DHS, the employees make no distinction between policy and procedures. An example would be DHS’s policy of “We protect and serve vulnerable adults and children”. This “how come” should be explained in what DHS does (procedure) in fulfilling this policy. There are two issues with this among DHS employees. First, they believe policy and procedures are synonymous. They often defend their behavior in court by stating they are simply following their “policies and procedures”. The second, is top management has not explained to employees the “how come” of the procedures. This could be eliminated if top management had input from employees on both policy and procedures. Meaning true face to face communication to bring about understanding.
The finger pointing is less than productive at this point, it will not bring about change. DHS must realize that [a]ccording to Bauman (2011), “researchers have found that people tend to attribute intentionality to those who allow a harm to occur even if they did not intend it to happen” (p. 285). And when it comes to DHS, just as in any corporation in crisis, people will hold DHS and corporations to higher standards of foresight (Bauman, 2011, p. 285). After all, it is DHS who states its policy on its own website, “Safety: We protect and serve vulnerable adults and children and reduce the risk of harm to individuals and families.” Yet the effectiveness of DHS’s procedures should be defined by accomplishing this stated policy (goal). Too often the lack of effectiveness fell on “there are not enough resources”. But effective supervisors think ahead and schedule work so that enough resources will be available to complete its stated goal. Those who accomplish stated goals carefully plan their work (set goals, priorities, timetables) and stick to their plans (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 12). Instead, top management put in place their procedures without a careful and strategic plan on how to reach this stated safety goal. Therefore, middle management simply went beyond their own policy limits of caseloads per worker and blamed it on limited resources instead of the lack of strategic planning. Not only was DHS not effective, but they were not efficient either. Greer & Plunkett (2003) stated, “[e]ffectiveness with inefficiency can often be tolerated by organizations, at least in the short run. But efficiency without effectiveness is intolerable, even in the short run” (p 12). Due to DHS’s ineffective and inefficient work, the children could no longer wait. The external pressures of a lawsuit would demand change. The issue becomes learning from how the harm came about and how to prevent it in the future. What needs to take place to bring about a pro-active agency rather than waiting to be forced into a re-active agency?
The top management teams (TMT) should create and then insure the Mission Statement is communicated clear down to all employees. “Every organization needs a mission . . . [t]op management articulates the corporate vision of where the organization is headed and to what it wants to commit its resources in the short and long run.” . . .all the people in the organization must know about them and subscribe to them” (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 92). From this Mission Statement, goals are formed with the input from employees. All along the way, communication is critical from leadership. Furthermore, “[t]o create a proper mission, top management needs two things: a recognition of what the organization does best – its core competencies – and a continuing focus on the future” (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 49). In order to accomplish this, TMT should be in direct communication with middle management, continually coaching and building middle management into the necessary leaders for the employees. This involves team building skills by management, starting at the top. “Teams develop direction, momentum, and commitment by working to shape a meaningful purpose . . . [m]ost successful teams shape their purposes in response to a demand or opportunity put in their path, usually by higher management” (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 49). In order to bring about change, team members require direction and motivation. This comes from planning as the “. . . first and most basic of the management functions. Through planning, managers attempt to prepare for and forecast future events” (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 64). Through this planning, program details would have been constructed towards “. . . action designed to achieve stated goals through the use of people and other resources.” (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 64). The lack of planning will always result in failure. Detailed planning will take into consideration the tasks to be performed, who is required to complete these tasks, and what necessary resources will be needed. Without this detailed planning, upper management will not have any indication to the issues being faced by workers. Part of the planning involves upper management and employees establishing goals to be achieved together.
These goals should be a desired future state of the organization. It is important the criteria of the goals be both time-specific and quantifiable. “The company-wide goal must be translated into divisional, departmental, team, and individual goals” (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p.92). Stated goals must not only be specific, but proper resources should be identified and made available. “Once your goals have been determined, they should be precisely stated, communicated, and kept constantly in mind by all concerned until they are achieved” (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 93). In order to insure continued improvement, focus needs to be on quality improvement and productivity.
Management must also “properly and directly oversee, facilitate, coach, train, evaluate, discipline, reward, and staff” (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 66). Through this, management will be able to identify and correct any deficiencies found in each phase of implementing the stated objective. Management should establish the standards of performance, while communicating them to employees, and then use them to measure the operation and performance of the employees along with the entire organization. This will give employees a sense of direction and support, having the opportunity to be successful in the workplace. Successful employees are motivated employees. “. . . [T]he success of an organization greatly depends on the performance of its employees. Therefore, managers should continually determine the factors and best practice that influence employees’ motivation” (Khan, et al., 2011, p 1428). The employee’s perception of the company and the employee’s internal emotional settings greatly influence the job performance. According to Khan, et al., (2011), these motivations are directly related to “. . .the need of individual personal growth and provide satisfaction if exist, [t]hey include status, responsibility, sense of achievement and growth etc” (p 1428). These are found in the top three levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Employees will become motivated by changing their perception. This requires an understanding of all those involved. “A transformational leader will foster closer relationships with subordinates that are characterized by having less distance between them despite ‘their power’ and by an individualized consideration of member needs and capabilities” (Salanova, et al. 2011, p 2258). This creates a motivation in employees to go above and beyond the normal work requirements. Their perception is no longer “what’s in it for me”, but “what can I do to help you”. Khan, et al., (2011), stated “. . . when working conditions are pleasant, . . . it actively generates a driving force among employees to achieve their personal and organizational goals” (p 1432). “This relationship is sustained by both mutual trust and openness and the richness of verbal communication and bi-directional feedback between leaders and members” (Salanova, et al. 2011, p 2258). Trust can only be built by keeping open the lines of communication between employees and upper management.
Tyagi (1985) stated to motivate employees, leadership needed to understand what they wanted, continuously monitor employee’s perceptions regarding the job, leadership, and motivation through the use of surveys (p 83). This is done daily, weekly, and quarterly meeting with employees. It takes continuous communication and most importantly, listening. Staff feel value when their ideas are sought and helps formulate “their goals” and the “organization’s goals”. “Leadership behavior plays a very important role in enhancing . . . work motivation . . . including leader trust and support, goal emphasis, group interaction, psychological influence, and hierarchical influence” (Tyagi, 2011, p. 77). This is how the staffs’ perception of the organization and leadership motivate them to go above and beyond their routine jobs.
Leadership must also include “. . . articulating and communicating a compelling vision that shows the direction in which the unit or organization needs to move in the future” (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 258). This will allow the employees to understand their role and required action needed to move in the proper direction. This can only take place when management communicates the vision effectively such that employees will create the necessary changes.
With decreasing budgets and increasing workloads, DHS is in dire need of change. Over the years, DHS has handed down the way to conduct business. In some instances, no one knows why business is conducted as it is, other than “it is just the way we have always done it”. The workers have come to rely on “business as usual”. This has created a sluggish, expensive, and dangerous system for the children. Employees need to understand the rationale for the change and everything the organization does should reinforce the desired changes in behavior.
Kurt Lewin discussed managing change in a “three-part process” of unfreeze, change,
and freeze. (Mariana & Violeta, 2011, p. 699) However, Mariana and Violeta “…noticed that there are many models that do not contain explicitly the step of reducing resistance to change.” (p. 699) It is important to communicate with all those to be affected by the change. This communication will be more productive if done in such a way to encourage and motivate everyone. (Mariana & Violeta, 2011, p. 700)
Kotter described a change model using “…eight step change model…” (Mariana, P. & Violeta, S., 2011, p. 700).
1. Increase urgency – inspire people to move, make objectives real and relevant.
2. Build the guiding team – get the right people in place with the right emotional commitment, and the right mix of skills and levels.
3. Get the vision right – get the team to establish a simple vision and strategy focus on emotional and creative aspects necessary to drive service and efficiency.
4. Communicate for buy-in – Involve as many people as possible, communicate the essentials, simply, and to appeal and respond to people’s needs. De-clutter communications – make technology work for you rather than against.
5. Empower action – Remove obstacles, enable constructive feedback and lots of support from leaders – reward and recognize progress and achievements.
6. Create short-term wins – Set aims that are easy to achieve – in bite-size chunks. Manageable numbers of initiatives. Finish current stages before starting new ones.
7. Don’t let up – Foster and encourage determination and persistence – ongoing change – encourage ongoing progress reporting – highlight achieved and future milestones.
8. Make change stick – Reinforce the value of successful change via recruitment, promotion, new change leaders. Weave change into culture.
(Mariana, P. & Violeta, S., 2011, p. 700).
This cannot be accomplished with handed down procedures. The first ones to agree change is needed are those most negatively affected by the current status quo. The current way of doing things is not working for these individuals. However, it is the ones less affected that will have the most resistance to change. “Organizational change involves moving from known to unknown.” (Agboola & Salawu, 2011, p. 236) Because of this and the fact that the less the status quo negatively affects you, the greater the resistance to change there will be. People “…generally do not support change unless compelling reasons convince them to do so.” (Agboola & Salawu, 2011, p. 236) In regards to DHS, it took a lawsuit to change the status quo. Without top management identifying the necessary change, change cannot occur. (Mariana, P. & Violeta, S., 2011, p. 701) Once management has identified the necessary changes, it will be up to them to “…formulate and articulate a clear vision, accompanied by implementation of succinct strategic goals and objectives.” (Bruckman, 2008, p. 211) Articulating this vision must take into consideration how the necessary changes will affect everyone.
Resistance will occur
“…because it threatens the status quo (Beer, 1980); Hannan & Freeman, 1988; Spector, 1989), or increases fear and the anxiety of real or imagined consequences (Morris & Raben, 1995; Smith & Berg, 1987), including threats to personal security (Bryant, 1989) and confidence in the ability to perform (Morris & Raben, 1995; Toole, 1995). Change may also be resisted because it threatens the way people make sense of the world, calling into question their values and rationality (Ledford, et al, 1989) and promoting some form of self-justification (Staw, 1981) or defensive reasoning (Argyris, 1990). Resistance may occur when people distrust or have past resentments toward those leading change (Block, 1993; Bridges, 1980; Bryant, 1989; Ends & Page, 1977; O’Toole, 1995) when they have different understandings or assessments of the situation (Morris & Raben, 1995), or are protecting established social relations that are perceived to be threatened (O’Toole, 1995).
(Bruckman, 2008, p. 212)

First, to overcome resistance or complacency to change, management needs to recognize the need for change. Data needs to be presented to properly communicate the area needing changed. Here, some DHS employees passed false information to upper management without the proper checks and balances. Therefore, there seemed to be no need for change. But if the area for needed change had been indentified, DHS still must take into consideration the effect on all those involved in the system, from employee to foster family, to children.
There must be genuine communication between management and the employees since a natural reaction to change will be resistance. This can be accomplished in two ways. First, include the employees in problem solving any needed solutions. Hear what they have to say about the problem and potential solutions. This will help facilitate buy-in from the employees. Second, upper management must properly consider all they have to say about the need for change and any necessary action required to address future action.
It is also critical in continuing to motivate and support the employees while reaching the desired outcome. This can be done by “. . . sufficiently consider the benefits for the employees who must implement the change. At some point, everyone involved in a change effort wants to know how he or she will benefit from the change” (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 314).
In order to bring about organizational change, DHS must develop a large-scale plan. This process is referred to as organizational development (OD). “OD is typically a large-scale change process initiated to improve the performance of units or entire organizations. OD is a planned, managed, systematic process used to change the culture, systems, and behavior of an organization to improve its effectiveness in solving problems and achieving goals” (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 329). This process will facilitate and serves as a catalyst for change in three distinct ways. First, by articulating and communicating a compelling vision that shows the direction DHS needs to move in the future. Second, it aligns DHS’s employees with the roles and performance needed to move in this new future direction. Top management’s credibility and ability to communicate the new future direction is critical for employees to desire to make the necessary changes. Nowadays, employee empowerment is typically required to move DHS into the future envisioned by top management. Third, there is a need to inspire and motivate, in order to obtain the support of the employees, in order to make the desired changes. Top management provides such motivation by identifying the needs employees can satisfy by performing the desired activities and changing how they perform their jobs (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 258-259).
DHS failed to identify any of the five fundamental leadership practices (behaviors) that are necessary for exemplary leadership:
(1) a willingness to seek out better ways of doing things, departing from the status quo and taking risks;
(2) sharing a vision of a desired future state that engages the aspirations of others,
(3) sharing power through delegation and trust;
(4) leading by example or walking the talk; and
(5) providing encouragement and recognition”
(Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 263).
For years, DHS has operated under the status quo. According to DHS, there is was only one way to produce their desired results. Promoting the status quo, there can only be one vision of the future. Status quo implies there no desire nor need to plan for the future. New employees are indoctrinated into DHS’s numerous policies and procedures over many days of training before actually beginning work. With this multitude of policies and procedures, there is no need to delegate power, the policies and procedures speak for themselves. Policies do not require management to lead by example, simply read and do as the policies dictate. Working under the policies and status quo for so long creates a disconnect between management and employees. Therefore, there is no encouragement or recognition.
What DHS’s policies and procedures created further was a written ability to micro-manage employees. It was not the results that mattered, but whether or not policies were followed. (At least those policies management chose to enforce.) “Supervisors who micro-manage …likely leads to employee frustration and poor morale. Employees spend more time creating paper trails because they expect to be second-guessed and as they spend time creating protection for themselves, productive time is lost” (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 265). This is true for DHS as more emphasis is placed on following policies than insuring the safety of children. When something goes wrong, the first question is, “were policies followed?” instead of understanding how and why the event occurred. The means begin to outweigh the ends. “The bureaucratic style is typified by the manager’s reliance on rules, regulations, policy, and procedures. It is management by the book. . . .the manger adopts the posture of a police officer religiously enforcing rules and depending on superiors to resolve problems not covered in the manual” (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 274). This became the measure of employee performance. The performance of the DHS employee should not be the rigid following of policies, but rather the outcome for the child. If, according to Greer & Plunkett (2003), “ . . . individual employee performance can be improved by the regular communication of key performance indicators to employees” then the harm occurring to children was not part of such performance evaluation (p. 502). DHS was blinded to the issues of the children due to their own policies. They allowed years of harm to occur to children because their focus was more on policy (means) rather than on the day to day care of the children in their care (ends). It required a lawsuit to possibly reveal their blindness. Employees were managed by policy than being committed to achieving goals. Employee motivation was severely lacking to achieve any goals. Commitment to achieving goals is created when employees have had a role in setting them (Greer & Plunkett, 2003, p. 515).
The “fully adapting organization manages to adapt both its strategy and its managerial and operational levels to deal with the crisis” (Deverell & Olsson, 2010, p. 116). During and after a crisis, this type of organization will not return back to the exact same state. But will sustain change through strategic planning. What occurs is an adaptation according to the strategic plan and based upon the current circumstances. This strategy is “. . . a mediating force between the organization and its environment’ consisting of interpretations of the environment and corresponding organizational decisions” (Deverell & Olsson, 2010, p. 117). It is important when changing corporate strategies that all stakeholders be taken into consideration. DHS must realize the crisis (lawsuit) brought about new stakeholders needing to be taken into consideration. Fully adapting organizations have “deliberately fostered an organizational culture in which flexibility was a cornerstone” (Deverell & Olsson, 2010, p. 116). This flexibility is difficult if the organization is policy driven. But flexibility in dealing with crisis is created with identifying and taking into consideration all stakeholders. “We believe that top managers play a pivotal role in changing organizational strategies that relate to both stakeholder relations and internal operators” (Deverell & Olsson, 2010, p. 120). DHS must move from such a strict policy driven organization which is rigid and inflexible to an organization that has “the capacity to interpret incoming signals and to adjust the organization accordingly” (Deverell & Olsson, 2010, p. 120). These signals being sent to DHS should create necessary “. . . internal cognition, behavioral, and structural changes” (Deverell & Olsson, 2010, p. 120). For DHS to respond with the same policies will not bring about the needed changes. In dealing with this crisis, DHS must answer with a strategic plan. After years of harm to children under DHS’s policies, “[t]he lack of strategic managerial response resulted in an operational response that emphasized the technical aspects and overlooked new stakeholder relations. Strategy change was not enacted and strategic adaptability was not on the organizational agenda” (Deverell & Olsson, 2010, p. 122). Therefore, children suffered for years. Partly to blame is DHS’s status of being the only company on the block, where a sense emerged of you can do as you please and not worry about stakeholders. This crisis was created by top management’s ignorance of the day to day operations of the employees and reliance on policy. Strategic planning would have created a constant reviewing of policy and procedures, eliminating the stagnation of status quo and bringing about the necessary changes circumstances dictated. This would have changed the day to day strategy of DHS and allowed top management to identify and handle the new situations. In handling new strategies, DHS could adjust to the demands of all stakeholders, even under highest of pressure. In so dealing with the crisis through strategic planning, necessary new roles would have been developed. While developing these new strategies, everyone becomes aware of and understands their new role. “[U]ndefined roles that lack clear mandates are likely to have weak –positions…became governed more by spontaneous needs than by strategic planning” (Deverell & Olsson, 2010, p. 125). According to Deverell & Olsson (2010), it will be difficult for DHS to keep a strategic perspective and avoiding getting caught up in operational details, which is a common tendency in crisis management.” (p. 126). It requires letting go of the status quo and developing a flexible attitude in changing routines. It must take into consideration the strategic plan of management, stakeholders, and the balancing of the effects on DHS and its employees.
Corporate strategies must start at the top. These strategies are “. . . mainly determined by the socio-demographic features of the firms’ Top Management Team (TMT)” (Abatecola, 2012, p. 864). The prior strategies or lack thereof, where directly related to the top management of DHS. Complacencies begins at the top and can be created for various reasons. The old saying, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it is one way. There was no urgency from top management to direct the employees. Management supervision was replaced by policy and procedures. Continuous periods of acceptable performance can “. . significantly affect the whole corporate decision making process through a negative mechanism that strategist call strategic dormancy” (Abatecola, 2012, p. 864).
In conclusion, upper management of DHS must open up continuing lines of communication to all employees. A well established hierarchy of communication should be developed, with upper management always being approachable. Upper management must incorporate all employees in establishing the goals for reaching the protection and service of all vulnerable children.



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