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119 JANUARY 2008
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Administration of a Children's Organisation: Concepts and Guidelines (2)

Geoff Pawson

Staffing an organization

(a) Unifying philosophy
The philosophical underpinnings of an organization can be integral in unifying staff into a sense of loyalty and commitment to the work performed on behalf of clients and to the role of the agency in this process. Staff require training in the philosophy of the agency, and they require a statement of the values, so the mission, purpose, and operating principles have a frame of reference from which to be considered. The need for training around the philosophy of an agency increases with the complexity of the programs delivered and the diversity of staffing structures required to carry out services.

The philosophy of an organization shapes the organizational culture that guides behaviour, affects morale, and creates an identity. It is the assumption of beliefs, based upon a shared value system, that impacts on the habits, customs, stories, practices, and traditions of an agency (BerrymanFink, 1989). Administrators need to recognize the power of the organizational culture and utilize this process in building unified teams.

Larger organizations with interdisciplinary staffing structures need to pay particular attention to agency philosophy. In a large residential treatment centre, staff may have a variety of professional backgrounds such as social work, psychiatric nursing, education, child care, recreation, and psychology. If the organization in which these people are employed is a social work agency, then the framework of social interaction must be predicated on social work values, skills, and knowledge. Team members from differing disciplines must fit their areas of competence into this framework and must adhere to the values at the centre of the social work profession. Skills and knowledge of other disciplines need to be maximized, but the application of this expertise must fit the philosophy of the organization and the model of practice assumed by the agency.

The mission statement of a social agency is derived from its philosophy and serves as a direction toward which the agency is headed. A mission statement usually includes a description of basic services, the functions it will perform, and the clients it will serve (Bittel, 1989). The mission statement provides the basis for developing strategic planning, agency goals, and the motto of the organization. Administrators need to keep the agency mission as a focal piece for supervision. During the induction of new staff, it is an excellent means of building understanding about the purposes of an agency, expectations in carrying out staff functions, and attitudes inherent within the agency toward the client.

An example of the power of a unifying philosophy is a project called the Outdoor Hockey League that was initiated by a teacher at the Ranch Ehrlo Society. The project started when a Ranch classroom decided to obtain donations of used hockey equipment for inner city youth as part of a school Christmas program. It was hoped that ten youth could be outfitted, but the concept caught the imagination of businesses, the media, and youth-serving organizations, which resulted in 300 young people receiving completed hockey outfits. The Outdoor Hockey League evolved from a single school project, and the teacher has now organized outdoor ice, coaches, and referees to participate with these new hockey players for a six week period each winter.

The Ranch has always worked with poverty youth, and the organization is strongly committed to community approaches of primary prevention. The teacher developed an idea and the organization facilitated his work through small financial contributions, arranging community and business contacts, and volunteer help. He was given a free hand with fundraising, media releases, and community contacts that included members of city council. The trust displayed by the Ranch was based on the knowledge that this person totally accepted the philosophy of the Ranch, and the values he held were totally aligned with that of the agency. An article in the newspaper described him as “a man with a mission.” It is hoped that the Ranch has helped to shape this purpose and direction.

(b) Training
Training is a major means of building quality into the work of an agency. It is a way to build enhanced skills and knowledge, as well as a means of teaching attitudes toward work, quality, coworkers, technology, or clients (Bittel,1989). Covey (1992) focuses on teaching attitudes and principles that he believed must be process-oriented. Such training allows people to make their own structures, systems, and styles increasingly congruent with the mission, values, roles, and goals of the agency. This model not only focuses on building organizational well-being, but also recognizes the relationship between the personal fulfillment of employees and the health of the organization.

The philosophy of an organization helps direct the training needs for staff. Perrow (1970) describes two organizations that handled the same type of client, but one was controlling and punitive, while the other was caring and nurturing. Attitudes toward training staff in these two agencies were in total juxtaposition. The controlling agency hired nonprofessional employees that used “common sense” in handling delinquents, thereby leading administration to believe that minimal training for staff was required. In contrast, the nurturing agency studied dynamics of behaviour and attempted to understand the etiology of problems, which led administration to hire professional staff and to participate in ongoing training for their employees. Agencies who are on the cutting edge of change will use training as a means of maintaining quality and of bringing new ideas into an organization.

There are two types of training that can be utilized by a social agency: external programs through the use of conferences, seminars, or contracting with external instructors; and in-service training that utilizes formalized instruction, supervision, on-the-job learning, and other related involvements. Both forms of training can be useful.

In terms of external training, staff participation in outside community education programs gives them access to new information from other agencies that may be operating under different value systems and operational assumptions. It also allows for comparison of services delivered by their agency with other similar programs, and it provides a networking system for new ideas with an expanded group of quality colleagues. Acceptance of new ideas into an agency that has been stimulated by an external source requires careful analysis. It is necessary to ensure that the information aligns with the purposes of the organization and that the operating principles underpinning the new concepts fit with the philosophy and values of the agency.

In-service training, on the other hand, tends to be related to teaching organizational roles and functions. New staff in particular require this type of training, and in most social agencies this process is delivered by supervision. Supervisors are usually middle-management staff: seasoned employees who become the bastions of agency values, knowledge, and skills. These managers require special attention by administrators to ensure that their work reflects agency standards and that they are knowledgeable about and committed to the functions performed. Kadushin (1976) details the processes involved in supervision, noting that it is equally as important to provide supportive supervision as it is to provide organizational and educational information.

The use of key indicators for staff is a means of training all persons within an organization to establish quality indicators for themselves in order to meet the expectations of the team and organization. Line staff may have “communication” as a quality indicator, and five types of communication may be stressed. As staff assume higher positions within the organizational hierarchy, the cumulative responsibility changes, but communication remains a key indicator to which they are accountable. If all staff personally track their key indicators routinely and if each manager reviews these key indicators during supervision and team meetings, the expectations for staff are clear, allowing everyone to evaluate themselves on an ongoing basis according to precise and measurable criteria.

Training is the means by which a performance agreement can be developed between staff and the administration. Where there is trust around the establishment of performance agreements, the agency can work toward empowerment and the alignment of structures and systems. In aligned organizations, everything works to help staff be productive and effective; in non aligned agencies, empowerment and trust does not exist and is often replaced by control or reorganization (Covey, 1992).

An example of the power of training programs occurred recently at the Ranch in relation to the three sexual offender units. The cottage managers and caseworkers in these units attended a major conference in the United States. Upon their return, they systematically reviewed the materials they had received and discussed the quality of their services. This led them to decide that they were ready to begin training outside agencies in their home province. A series of training programs has been held through joint sponsorship with a mental health facility. The staff became empowered, and the resulting impact was that the Ranch increased its credibility and visibility as a major treatment resource for troubled youth.

(c) Communication
Communication is the process linking the governing board, CEO, managers, and line staff with their commitment for quality services to clients. The purpose of communication by leaders at all levels of an organization is to define the vision, purpose, and beliefs of the agency, while aligning procedures and policy to the principles, roles, and goals of the organization (Covey, 1992). Where these elements are clearly enunciated throughout the agency, staff inculcate them into their everyday work in the form of values, ideas, norms, and teachings. This process has an uplifting and empowering effect that administrators need to understand.

Communication is also the process that links the agency to its constituency and to the larger community. As discussed earlier, the client is part of the human service organizations, and if clients are dissatisfied with the services provided or if they resent forced participation in programs designed in their best interests, they can be a very vocal force that negatively impacts on an organization. Other constituents, such as parents, can react in the same way if a client leaves a service and is not “cured” according to the expectations they hold.

Part of the staff’s work with both clients and constituents is to communicate the mission, philosophy, and values of the agency and to make clear that successful completion of services is a mutual responsibility requiring full participation of all parties. The agency needs to communicate that it will provide the best quality services possible on behalf of the individual being served, but the other half of the contract involves full participation of the client. As members of a human service organization, the persons being served must be prepared to help themselves and to take advantage of the opportunities being provided.

Legitimation for an agency is often predicated on communication to responsive community constituencies. Funders may receive written reports and may participate in case reviews of clients, so they have an ongoing understanding of the application of program principles and philosophy. Communication with these people is routine, but it is essential that staff uphold the reasons for the type of interventions occurring and the values upon which they are based.

Other community constituents might interact only occasionally with agencies, as the result of a speech or some other involvement. In such interaction, the CEO or staff clearly defines the value of the service and presents the agency as an embodiment of these principles. Groups will be offended if they hear ideals espoused and then learn that operating policy or practice violates these ideals. Administration must keep these concepts in focus in the management of services, so alignment of ideals and practice are part of quality services.

A client who has accepted responsibility for her life can act as a major voice of support for an agency. A female client came to Ranch Ehrlo at age 12 from a violent family that had sexually abused her since age 4. The major caregiver was an older female relative who supplied drugs to local prostitutes who worked for her son. The young client’s mother, a prostitute, had been killed in an accident while hitchhiking on the highway.

This young person should have been totally dysfunctional, but she involved herself in the programs of the agency, particularily the girls' survivor group. She has spoken to a Senate Committee on Youth and she routinely provides part of a lecture to trainees at the RCMP Academy. Her message: “Programs work if you try.” Such a message is a powerful tool for staff and youth, and it is a powerful community message.

The young woman is now married and is pregnant with her second child. She works as a teaching assistant in the alternate school program of the Ranch and is particularly effective with female students who use her as a role model. Her message helps to provide motivation for young people who often feel alone, isolated, and lost.


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This feature: Pawson, Geoff. (1994). Administration of a children's organization: Concepts and guidelines. Journal of Child and Youth Care, 9, 3. pp. 11-26.

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