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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:

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

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

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

includes policies, rules, procedures, and processes.

includes specific assignments and responsibilities.

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

includes talents, skills, abilities, and capacities.

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
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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