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Balancing the Eco System

A human services agency internal
eco system is a sophisticated enterprise and balancing the elements in the
system so they efficiently support and complement each
other is a delicate process. Think in terms of two dimensions I call diversity and scale. The diversity dimension addresses the number of dissimilar
elements present in the eco system and the scale dimension addresses the number
of similar elements. An agency’s internal eco system includes both dimensions. As we see in Figure 6 -
by selecting one option from each column – we can represent the idea: high
diversity and high scale, high diversity and low scale, low diversity and high
scale, and low diversity and low scale. Keep Figure 6 in mind as we expand our

Diversity addresses the number of
dissimilar elements in the enterprise. For example, SSI has units or
departments for Executive Services, Fiscal Services, Administrative Services,
Human Resources, Public Relations, Client Services, and others. These are
dissimilar elements collectively populating the eco system. The more such
elements there are, the more diverse the system.

Diversity extends to the next level
within the eco system. For example, the secondary functions discussed above are
each further divided into multiple sub-functions. Other services areas may be
likewise divided into dissimilar elements thus compounding the diversity of the
system. For example, client services might be divided into separate departments
for assessment, counseling, and case management. Each of these may, in turn, be
divided into separate units specializing with respect to particular clients or
specific problem areas.

Scale addresses the number of
similar elements in the eco system. For example, an agency with five counselors
has lower scale with respect to the element than an agency with twenty
counselors, assuming one counselor does more or less equivalent work to another
counselor. An agency with ten case management units has higher scale with
respect to the element than an agency with three case management units,
assuming all case management units are more or less similar to each other.

The complexity of a system
increases as scale increases. The complexity also increases as diversity
increases. The point to see here is this. Large agencies have higher scale than
smaller agencies, but may have lower diversity. Alternatively, small agencies
have lower scale, but may have higher diversity than larger agencies. The
conclusion is the diversity of an agency is not necessarily related to its

We attend carefully to scale within
our agencies. It is important to allocate enough resources to each element
within the system. Equally importantly, we avoid allocating more resources -
people, facilities, services, equipment, etc.
– to an element than minimally necessary to assure the success of the element.
Resources are limited and must be allocated carefully and thoughtfully.

The point frequently overlooked is
diversity must also be carefully and thoughtfully allocated. Individuals and
organizations cannot function effectively if diversity is either too low or too
high. For example, some SSI resources must be allocated to both Assessment
Services and Case Management. Some resources must be allocated to Public
Relations and Human Resources. This allocation process leads to diversity
within the enterprise. The issue is what elements are necessary for the
successful functioning of the eco system. Clearly, there is a minimum,
necessary diversity.

At the same time, unnecessary
diversity results in the system becoming excessively and unnecessarily complex.
It becomes too cumbersome to effectively manage. At the extreme, diversity can
expand to the level where virtually everything each person
does is seen as unique and separate from everything done by anyone else in the
agency. Everyone is a specialist and everything people do is specialized. If we
do not attend carefully and thoughtfully to both diversity and scale and to the
value associated with either increasing, both tend to increase more or less
spontaneously over time. In the absence of competent Management, the complexity
of the internal eco system tends to increase in terms of scale and diversity
without a
corresponding increase in either productivity or

Just as each expenditure is
carefully evaluated, each increase in diversity must be carefully examined.
Just as expenditures – scale – are intentionally reduced to the minimum
necessary for operational success, diversity should likewise be reduced to the
minimum necessary for operational success. Excessive or unnecessary diversity
is as ill considered and inappropriate as unnecessary scale. The optimal goal
is always in the direction of lower diversity – lower scale.

Before we leave this discussion, a special area of what we can
call diversity drift warrants some
attention. There are many ways SSI cooperates or collaborates with other
agencies and entities. Usually, these activities are routine and do not
negatively affect the ongoing functioning of the SSI internal eco system. These
activities may include consultation about specific clients, cooperative fund
raising, participation in community planning, and so on. At times, these
activities require commitment of significant resources, recurring SSI staff
involvement, changes in how SSI manages particular clients or activities, and
the like. When they start, the activities seem fairly miner and
inconsequential. Over time, they expand and evolve into definable functions to
which SSI has become committed. They represent a substantial demand on the
resources and energy of SSI and strain the SSI internal eco system. The
activities are themselves a new, unintended, identifiable element in the
internal eco system. Diversity has increased and the internal eco system itself
has to be adjusted, if the activities are to be sustained. This may require
adjustments in Administrative Services, Fiscal Services, Human Resource
Services, and so on. After the fact, we learn diversity drift is jeopardizing the entire internal eco system.

The message is to see diversity drift is a possible consequence of
every unplanned activity, agreement to cooperate or collaborate, or sometimes
by simply not saying No, when asked
to do something outside of our routine. This does not mean we should refuse to
cooperate or collaborate. Rather, it means diversity drift is real and we
should be alert to those major and minor situations where inadvertently
increasing diversity within the internal eco system is a potential outcome. Our
decision to proceed should be made only after evaluating the potential costs
and benefits of proceeding.

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