How We Made This Work

We recognized from the start that much of the new program relied on the considerable but unique talents of each of our professional staff. Considering the raw man-power and herculean effort that would be required to affect our vision, we were at once overwhelmed and quite honestly a little dubious about ever pulling it off. We knew that the success of our vision was entirely dependent on what each of us brought to the program, yet there was no way we could pour enough hours and energy into what was needed to get the project off the ground.

Having reached this point of despondency, we realized that we had to step away from direct labor and specialize in training. Only in this way would we deliver the needed skills, knowledge, vision, and talents required to bring this to fruition and beyond that to achieve sustainability. And so by the good fortune of having visionary directors and very committed department heads, we were afforded elevated job-descriptions that made us acting managers of our respective sub-departments with the  ability to acquire interns and wage-labor associates. As with all Social Welfare Agencies, there were (and still are) various departmental, governmental and policy regulations which must be consulted over, worked with and around, and ultimately satisfied. Thankfully, most of that falls under the venue of another Department and its very patient staff. Here’s the story:

Environment of Excellence

In light of the trend toward Marketization in Social Services, which had grown to the extent that we were seeing pressure on our sustainability by virtue of intensified third-party competition, we convened to address this. While it is true that we maintained a substantial edge for the present, we could see the encroaching need to distinguish ourselves from the crowd (and defend our reputation from the charge of outdated service franchise). We brainstormed and came away with an idea of creating a leadership context via an environment of excellence.

Creation of the Environment of Excellence

Creating our Environment of Excellence did not come without certain fiscal challenges.

First, there was the commitment of all our staff-members which required that everybody was on-board with each project initiative. This became even more important with each subsequent phase because we were essentially asking each member to input more work and energy; sometimes doing the work of two or more professionals themselves. We knew we couldn’t sustain this kind of request without running the risk of acquiring a bad reputation for worker exploitation. Exploitive reputation and bad reviews in the professional forums was seen as antithetical to our  community of excellence idea so we did not feel that we could go to our team and ask this in any fairness. It is also not very easy to get buy-in from any team under these conditions.

So we knew going in that we would have to offer some kind of incentives. And we addressed this by asking honestly, what would constitute fair incentive for our project. Right away, we heard better money, and loud and clear.

Additionally, we wondered whether some combination of professional enhancement and further training would help to offset a lack of monetary reimbursement. Two interesting facts emerged; first, incentives in lieu of money were frankly, not enough incentive. This was not surprising since our workers were already giving all they have in the service of professionalism.

Secondly, it became clear that incentivizing our workers through greater training and professional advancement only made our low-pay workers more marketable to recruiters from our competition and more easily enticed away from our program. The cost of recruiting their replacement and training them back up to the level of our lost employees was not only better applied to incentive pay to keep them but the loss in quality was also antithetical to our quality and excellence program. This type of drain on Human Capital was unacceptable.

Our Response

What we came up with is the following. Right away, we elevated everyone’s position (all our current workers) via  office and title. In particular, everyone became a departmental head under their current specialty. This corresponds to another of the current trends in Social Work Agencies; Managerialization. Since this promotion was in title only, we knew that the enhancement to their professional resume would make these employees more vulnerable to recruitment and enticement by our competitors. To offset this likelihood, we needed to come across with slight but significant pay increases that did not hurt our fiscal budget yet increased loyalty and buy-in from our seasoned employees. Considering replacement costs and degradation of service from loss of veterans, we felt that we got a good deal in the process.

At the same time, our ‘new managers’ were given more responsibility; namely, the management of departmental trainees, interns, assistants, and associates, under their description. Through the judicious application of managerialized labor recruits, we succeeded in turning a workforce of 5 professionals into a dynamic swarm of 10 regular and up to 15 part-time variably compensated laborers. We did this through on-going internships, associate members, volunteers, and other categories of special trainees. Each department officer became responsible for acquiring and maintaining her own tiny work-force, as well as completing the administrative paperwork.

Complexities We Encountered

Central to our renovated program style was our Supportive Employment Program and its very able director. Not only has this department emerged into a powerful hub of the overall Community Initiative, but the lessons she learned through accountability was shared with our whole Facility via team development trainings.

Third party transportation services abound in our locale and our clients are making the most of these affordances. It rapidly grew into a question of whether we should marshal our own remaining forces or concede all transportation duties to the competition.  We still had group-style transports to make in light of our programmatic needs and also retained a professional driver on our payroll.

The 3rd party dynamic is complex and ever-changing, often bordering on chaos and traumatizing disruption. This did not suit our model of excellence in services to our clients.

With the elevation of personnel to managerial specialists, we were able to better orchestrate the menagerie of transportation complexities with reduced frustration and barely any disruption. Our former driver turned out to have formidable controller skills when it comes to dynamic logistics. Her ability to juggle the paperwork is second to none. For these reasons her logistical talent has become invaluable to the Supportive Employment Specialist in the transport of raw recruits, in and out of the community, who would have fallen through the cracks as underserved citizens. Needless to say, these issues are important in their impact to our Community Engagement Initiatives.

Underserved Citizens

The Danville area and especially including the surrounding Pittsylvania County have greatly heteroclitic dissimilarities which are compounded by the attempt to design affordable, efficient social services and bring them to bear in the community.

The expanse of urban agencies and their ability to leverage the complexities of their naturally vast assemblage of affordances gives them a powerful advantage over our local CSB.

These fractal community disparities have been the primary challenge in funding and application of uniform services to all our area’s citizens. Consequently, many fall through the cracks and the social safety net is, sadly, severely lacking for most people (in practice, though not in theory).

Our model of excellence is better served by the inclusion of these underserved and marginalized citizens, as well as our mission as a CSB. It is to this end that we have proposed our sustained commitment to the Community Engagement Initiatives program.

Community Engagement Initiative

As a Community Service Board, we are committed to serving our community. This has meant certain traditional things, as a legacy from our social services agencies in their historical context.

In light of post-modern developments such as Peer Movements and Crowd Sourcing Collectives, Social Labs, Community Architecture and Complex Adaptive Organization, we have embraced the need for intensified community engagement. Being well aware of the despondency of marginalized populations and former disincentive for self-advocacy, we feel that it is contingent on our Agency, with its commitment to Leadership Context and Environment of Excellence, to do everything in our power to initiate this engagement, proactively.

To this end…

How this addresses our sustainability and positions ourselves to maintain our professional dominance in the markets of tomorrow, positioning our agency as a leader in…

As our reputation and quality context grew, we found that we were in a position to better enable our search for enhanced monies and alternative funding. Grants and ( ) became especially focused and easier to target while strategic appeals to state and federal agency funding initiatives became obtainable via our enhanced professional networking and innovative successes. This helped to address the initial investment at the outset of our program, eventually leading to much better pay, elevated professional stature, and elite professional marketing for anybody who wanted to venture outside our quality context (perhaps to pursue a start-up csb on their own).

However, we have found that, as a result of this new context, our people rarely want to leave as they are satisfyingly engaged in creative, innovative, meaningful and highly respected avenues of professional excellence.

Also, our model programs are serving as teaching examples for other CSB agencies who want to adopt something similar in their program. This Training need has greatly expanded the available options to our veteran workers in their own vocational pursuits.

Each stage of our success has grown to contribute to further success in subsequent endeavors; feeding the quality dynamics of our Complex Adaptive Organization as it evolves into the 21st Century.