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How are the functional parameters managed?

Managing the functional parameters within the SSI eco system starts with understanding SSI Managers are, first and foremost, SSI staff members. They meet all of the above criteria and operate with the same degree of autonomy and flexibility extended to other staff members. As they interact with other staff members, they model those criteria and consistently treat other staff members as they themselves expect to be treated.

SSI managers are held to a higher standard, however. Proehl (2001), in a useful discussion and literature review related to change and leadership (p. 102-115), distinguishes between heroic and instrumental leadership. The former’s expertise is with envisioning the future, motivating others to fulfill the vision, and enabling others to perform their work (also see Mosley, Megginson, & Pietri, 2007, p. 231).  The latter’s expertise is with implementing the processes and procedures needed to accomplish the work and assuring people get the work done. Proehl (2001) points out, “…it is important that heroic leaders and managers or instrumental leaders work in tandem to insure the change is not only initiated but implemented as well.” (p. 107) She cites a set of criteria defining such leaders: articulating one’s vision, managing complexity, having industry (human services) insight, a manager perspective, a drive for success, personal integrity, being flexible, being an active learner, influencing without authority, able to develop talent, fostering team work, being open to change, and respecting followers (p. 107-108).  SSI managers are expected to reflect these leadership qualities and talents as they function within the SSI environment. They have both heroic and instrumental leadership responsibilities as part of their day to day management opportunities. Given these expectations, the following behavior and approaches are seen in all SSI Managers as they work with staff members to fulfill SSI’s mission and manage related functional parameters.

  1. SSI Managers make sure a job can be done before holding anyone responsible for it. SSI staff members are certainly expected to try, to give it their best. However, they are not held responsible for an assignment not working out unless the SSI Manager can objectively confirm the assignment was doable.
  2. SSI Managers are clear with people about what they expect. This starts with being clear about whether they actually expect the job to be done. They may only expect the staff member to give it a try, work on it if there is time, or to do as much as interest and resources allow. Alternatively, they may expect the job to be done and done on time. SSI Managers know being clear about expectations is a touchstone of SSI management. They are clear about what they expect. Staff members do not wonder or have doubts about what is expected.
  3. SSI Managers take time to be sure staff members understand how their responsibilities fit in with other people’s duties and activities. They always understand how what they do fits into the plan for the agency to achieve its mission. They know why they do what they do. Although they may not see every connection, knowing why their job is important is essential to their success and to the success of SSI. Staff members do not doubt the value of their contribution to SSI’s success.
  4. SSI Managers give people clear reasons and explanations whenever they ask for them. Why? is a question for which people want an answer that makes sense to them. If they do not get it, they fill in their own answers. Having filled in the blank, they have a do-it-yourself explanation for everything. People make sense of their environments, whether it has any relationship to reality or not. What is the result? There are many and usually conflicting explanations for anything happening and nearly as many for things not happening and that are not going to happen. This is unlikely to occur within the SSI internal eco system, though. If SSI staff members bring their questions to an SSI Manager, they get the honesty and respect they deserve. Not to give them reasons and explanations when they ask for them is unacceptable.
  5. SSI Managers delegate often and well. Delegation is, for them, a critical key to their success.  They follow three rules when delegating. First, they appropriately delegate tasks and duties. Delegation is not a whoever happens to be around process. SSI Managers are careful to only delegate to people who have the skills and know-how to get the job done. Second, they do not delegate a job to someone and then try to manage it themselves. They give staff members the freedom they need to do what they need to do. Third, SSI Managers always delegate enough authority so the staff member can get the job done. This does not mean they give staff members unlimited, free rein. What each staff member does must fit with everyone else’s activities. At the same time, each staff member has the freedom and authority to do what needs to be done.
  6. SSI Managers access the resources needed to get the job done. A Manager’s responsibility is to facilitate other staff members’ success. Being sure available resources are sufficient for success is, in turn, the Manager’s responsibility. There may be other staff members who have tasks and assignments related to resource development; but if the resources are not there when they are needed, the Manager has not gotten the job done. SSI Managers know not having enough of the right resources when they are needed is a certain route to failure.
  7. SSI Managers are skilled at using informal strategies to get things done. There are formal policies, procedures, and ways things are to be done. It is also true they sometimes do not work and situations come up where there is no formalized approach to get from here to there in the time available to get there. Now and then people take this to mean they can ignore the rules, not pay attention to the formal processes. This is not SSI Managers’ perspective. The informal approach supplements formal procedures and is not a substitute for them. For SSI Managers, the informal approach is simply one more strategy available to them within the formal context. They want SSI staff members to use informal strategies, to talk with each other, to informally innovate when they need to, to avoid being too rigid about the rules when something unusual comes up not quite fitting into the established procedures. Staff members are responsible people who can and are expected to use their good judgments and common sense.

Being skilled at using informal strategies includes knowing when to use them and when formal is better. If informal strategies are used too much or inappropriately, things become disorganized, chaotic, and quality suffers. If they are used too little, SSI’s internal eco system becomes rigid and inflexible, creativity and innovation disappear, and the agency loses its cutting edge. The real skill in using informal strategies is in finding and maintaining the balance.

  1. SSI Managers understand and tap the knowledge, skills, and resources of everyone. They are successful with identifying the specific know-how, particular skill, or best resource for the immediate purpose, whatever the need happens to be.
  2. SSI Managers distribute work and responsibilities fairly. They do not take advantage of anyone. There are obvious and not so obvious ways people are taken advantage of, e.g., when a staff member has more and more work piled on top of work piled on yesterday. Another version of the same kind of abuse happens when work is given to someone just because the Manager is not going to get any hassle or flack. Some people have especially positive attitudes and just do not say No when asked to do something.

Two other areas of unfairness and abuse warrant a special note here. First, tolerating anyone’s not doing what is expected or doing less than is expected is unfair to others. Letting shirkers get away with it does nothing but shift the burden unfairly onto other staff members. Second, assuming everyone is equally efficient is wrong. This is particularly unfair to those who are unusually efficient. The exceptional few can routinely do a two-hour job in an hour and a half. Do we then expect them to do more work in the extra half hour? I do not think so. We discuss options with these staff members but the choice is theirs. We do not increase the load just because someone is especially efficient and hard working.

  1. SSI Managers defer to others when they are more knowledgeable, skilled, or competent. They do not ignore or overlook expertise in others and especially not in people whose knowledge, skills, and resources may increase SSI’s chances for success. Their reason for deferring to the expertise of others goes a little farther, though. They truly value differing styles and opinions. Each staff member has know-how, skills, and resources unlike those of anyone else. Each has his (or her) special area of expertise. He also has his individual approaches, ways of thinking, and perspectives. Not to fully access these talents and knowledge is unacceptable.
  2. SSI Managers deal with problems before they become emergencies. They take care of all issues as soon as they become aware of them. It is part of their Do today’s work today, approach to everything.
  3. SSI Managers do not react to people or problems impulsively. They resist the temptation to just do something, do anything to make the person or problem go away. An important benefit of their more considered approach is they have an opportunity to fit their reactions to the situation or circumstance.
  4. SSI Managers are hard on problems and soft on people. They know people deserve consideration; problems do not. They want good people to stay, annoying problems to go away. Problems need solutions; people need support. People are not the problem, problems are the problem. For these reasons, SSI Managers are ordinarily flexible and willing to compromise. A few things are not negotiable, but most are.
  5. SSI Managers remember and own what they say, agree to, and do. They know people think they said what they think they said, agreed to what they think they agreed to, and did what they think they did. Therein lies SSI Managers’ opportunity. On the one hand, Managers could automatically say I never said that. Or I certainly did not agree to that. Or I did not do it. As option one, these responses have the advantage of simplicity. On the other hand, the Manager could capitulate. Although I do not remember saying that, you are undoubtedly right. Or If you think I agreed to it, then we have a deal. Or If you say I did it, then I did it. As option two, this has the advantage of avoiding conflict. For SSI Managers, if they said it, agreed to it, or did it, they acknowledge the fact. If they believe they did not, then they say That surprises me. I must be blocking on that one. Will you help me get focus? If you will, take me back to when you are talking about. You were there so help me into the picture. Surprisingly often, the response is Well, I wasn’t there but so-and-so told me…. Other times, the Manager is reminded the person really is right. Whatever the outcome, the Manager has an opportunity to reprocess and reinterpret the event. The outcome is not necessarily better but their commitment to Management Excellence is intact. – Let me note the any reasonable interpretation standard is used here as with other issues and misunderstandings. The question for the Manager is how a reasonable person with similar training and experience might have interpreted the situation, instruction, or event, not the Manager’s recollection of his meaning or intent at the time.
  6. SSI Managers work with people instead of merely relying on their power and control. They know relying on power and control stifles innovation, creativity, and cooperation. Further, it increases tension and apprehension while causing staff members to become anxious and fearful. Even if they are not the focus of the power and control, the effect is about the same. Just being in a power-oriented environment is unsettling and stressful. SSI Managers recognize these unacceptable outcomes, but their favoring working with people rests more specifically on the less obvious downside of routinely using power and control. Regularly using power and control is ineffective and counterproductive. In the long run, it does not work. Specifically, the more skilled the employee, the less effective it is; the more important the person’s participation is to the agency, the more using power and control jeopardizes the agency’s success.
  7. SSI Managers make the tough or unpopular decision when necessary. This dilemma is at the heart of adaptive management. When should a Manager defer to the collective wisdom of others and when should he go with his personal best judgment, given what he knows at the time? An SSI Manager’s solution is fairly simple. He always goes with the collective wisdom of others unless he believes very strongly the other people are wrong. It is not enough to believe he is right. He has to also clearly believe they are wrong. Having made this decision, he may still go with the collective wisdom if he believes the consequences will not be excessively problematic or can be reversed, if necessary. They might be right; and even if they are not, their empowerment entitles them to their turn at bat, so to speak. On those few occasions when he clearly believes he is right and others are wrong and the consequences of going with their recommendations would be very negative and not reversible, the Manager does what he has to do. He has only one responsible choice. He can handle people’s being unhappy or upset with him at times. He cannot accept his failing to do what he knows needs done. Even more to the point, he cannot accept his failing to manage.
  8. SSI Managers give staff members clear, frequent, and accurate feedback. They are as quick to tell them what they have done right as they are to tell them what they have done wrong. Importantly, though, SSI Managers are also as quick to tell staff members what they have done wrong as they are to tell them what they have done right. Equal attention is given to both. This requires a very sensitive balance. Finding and keeping the balance is based on taking it for granted people are trying to do a good job. They do not intentionally make mistakes or perform below their abilities. SSI staff members consciously and intentionally give the little extra to move good work into the excellent category. Their commitment to excellence is a major reason why they are SSI staff members.

The real issue here is criticism. SSI Managers praise publicly and only criticize in private. They also are very careful to assure their criticism is an exact fit with the problem or issue, not overdoing it or under doing it. Criticism, no matter how well it is managed, introduces a negative element into a fast-moving, stressful environment. The effect is the staff member who is criticized – as well as anyone who is coincidentally in the immediate environment – becomes apprehensive and less productive, at least for the moment. Criticism is always temporarily counterproductive. For this reason, SSI Managers are quick to praise but very cautious when criticizing anyone, for any reason. They know providing constructive and effective criticism is a delicate management area. If the feedback is inappropriate or excessive, the staff member may overreact or withdraw, and the outcome is often worse than the original problem. If criticism is not forthcoming when it is appropriate or is not focused enough, the problem or issue persists and likely will get worse. Getting criticism right is critical for SSI Managers.

There is an additional dimension further complicating the matter. The SSI performance standards increase over time. Yesterday’s acceptable performance levels are under continuous review and may not be acceptable today. Staff members who have performed adequately in the past may have the same quality of work criticized and judged unacceptable today. They find they have shifted from valued staff members to marginal performers. At a minimum, the bar is constantly being raised and higher levels of performance are expected. The possible result is a staff member has to leave SSI. If this happens, other members then become anxious about whether they might be next. Because of this anxiety, any criticism must be managed very carefully and judiciously.

The major requirement here is an SSI Manager must be a good teacher. Further, all incidents or situations potentially leading to criticism are redefined as teaching opportunities. SSI Managers seldom criticize. It is just too dangerous. Instead, they know how and when to teach and are careful to never miss a teaching opportunity.

The key here is in understanding the nature of the teaching opportunities. The most common prompt for these types of teaching opportunities stems from an inadequacy in work or work performance. The staff member’s performance is not up to the expected level in one or more areas. Dealing with this is fairly easy. Simply sit with the staff member to discuss the inadequacies and to develop a mutually agreed on plan for correcting them. This may mean more training, more attention to detail, connecting with a mentor, or anything else to reasonably get the valued staff member from here to there. Set specific dates for activities, for evaluation of progress, as well as for having the deficiency corrected.

The more serious challenge is when the staff member either cannot or will not do what is expected or continues unacceptable behavior after having been warned. There must not be any delay. It is unfair to the staff member to put off confronting the issue. Further, avoiding doing what needs done gives the staff member the impression there is no problem. Do today’s work today, even if it is uncomfortable or potentially unpleasant. The task only becomes more uncomfortable and unpleasant if it is postponed until tomorrow.

When SSI Managers do confront the issue, they say My problem is…. – They are quite specific. – You either will not or cannot do what SSI expects. If you cannot, we will talk about it. If you will not, there is nothing to discuss further. You cannot remain on the SSI staff. If the staff member feels capable and the SSI Manager agrees, the Manager and the staff member develop a plan to correct the problem. If the staff member feels incapable, the SSI Manager reassigns him to other responsibilities, if possible. If the conclusion is the staff member has to leave SSI, the SSI Manager makes the arrangements, giving as much consideration to the individual’s needs and circumstances as possible. The staff member is still a valued person, even though staff membership is terminated. People in this situation are entitled to the same level of humanity and respectful treatment as they received while they were being recruited for the SSI staff. The adaptive Management Excellence basics still apply every day, every time, with everyone, no exceptions, no excuses.

People leaving the agency – for whatever reason – do so in the way that works best for them. As they disengage, some people behave and relate as they always have. There is no change. For others, their behavior and pattern of relating noticeably change. They have their own way of separating. So long as they do their work, contain their behavior within acceptable limits, and do not disrupt the functioning of other staff members or clients, it is important to support their style of leaving. Tolerance, flexibility, and understanding are still important as people leave. They continue to be valued and deserve our respect and consideration, always.

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