Process and protocol help turn an organization around
A not-for-profit agency, with more than $50 million in annual revenue, had grown exponentially overnight with the receipt of a state contract to provide adoption services for the children in state custody. Managing the many systems that needed to efficiently coordinate at this rate of growth reached a state of crisis. By June 2001, the organization was struggling to meet key operational and financial goals. The Board asked management to seek outside help to assist with process improvement. By early 2002, the organization’s ability to continue to operate beyond June 30, 2002 was questionable.
TeamTech was hired in April 2002 as a key partner to the Chief Operating Officer, the Executive Vice President of Human Resources and their respective teams. Our approach encompassed six key strategies:
- Assess and Understand. This initial assessment took two days to complete. A financial analysis was the first step. We quickly determined that our process improvement efforts needed to be expanded to a turnaround effort. Next, we focused on resources within the organization – which key processes were adding to net assets and which processes were draining net assets. We identified key values that would guide decision-making and potential process improvements, including adhering to best practices. Finally, we assessed internal leadership to tap strengths as well as supplement and address weaknesses.
- Identify, Link and Translate. Together with leadership, we identified the key organizational processes that linked to the critical performance indicators identified by the Board so we could closely monitor the impact of changes. Then, we translated these indicators into front-line language. For example, social workers became involved in calculating the number of children they needed to place each month to reach certain adoption placement percentage goals while maintaining best practices. As a result, associates beyond finance and top leadership became aware of the impact they had on the organization’s performance.
- Involve Those Impacted. We formed Process Improvement Teams, which included front-line staff members and supervisors, to focus on improving the operational processes that drain net assets. Leadership set goals for each team. Teams received process improvement tools “as needed” rather than through formal classroom training, and the core operating values became: data-driven, customer-focused, process- (not people) focused, and time- and budget-conscious. These teams were essential for four reasons:
- staff members needed some sense of control in the midst of the turnaround,
- the associates doing the work were the ones that knew how to improve it,
- individuals were encouraged to develop their analytical and decision-making skills so the improvement process could remain intact beyond our engagement, and
- we were able to increase our ability to assess morale and concerns. TeamTech initially facilitated all of the Process Improvement Teams.
- Focus, Focus, Focus. Due to the short time frame and crisis situation, actions were prioritized into three categories: immediate, mid-range and long-range. Actions that would positively impact the key performance indicators on or before June 2002 received immediate attention.
- Partner with, Mentor and Coach Key Leadership. We had to make tough decisions quickly. We met or talked daily with the Chief Operating Officer in our role as a sounding board, mentor and coach. We sat down regularly with the operations leadership team to help facilitate decisions pertaining to the redesign of the service delivery model. We suggested and validated strategies as well as raised questions to ensure thinking was as comprehensive as possible.
- Close the Accountability Loop. With the COO as the leader, we were fierce about deadlines and accountability. We created an action plan of who was to do what by when at the end of every meeting and used it as the agenda for the next meeting. We hammered away at the need to “close the feedback loop” so we would know if the changes made to improve processes had the intended results. We facilitated regular meetings with operations and finance staff members to study weekly cash flow statements, monthly financials and key performance charts to ensure understanding. We shared and celebrated the accomplishments of each Process Improvement Team.
The ability to move quickly and effectively was accomplished through the collaborative efforts of many departments and teams. Individual efforts were critical and surpassed expectations. Buy-in was built among the staff members by the leadership and participation of Operations and Human Resources.
- Within 60 days of the beginning of the engagement, the negative drain on net assets stopped, with surpluses in the following months;
- More than 450 people kept their jobs;
- Process Improvement Teams remain intact, and are now a regular part of the way the organization “gets things done;” and
- Children in state custody have continued quality and continuity of care.
Building Skills for Big Picture Thinking
The Organizational Development Department of a multi-disciplined, global asset management firm employing more than 3,000 people, discovered through manager surveys and departmental feedback that big picture thinking skills were a core competency required of their employees. This competency was needed to enable managers and their teams to be more effective when analyzing situations, anticipating the implications and implementing successful decisions. They wanted a curriculum that prepared employees to:
- Understand corporate decisions from a big picture perspective;
- Communicate more effectively the implications of those decisions to their departments and teams;
- Make decisions using a “systems thinking” approach; and
- Plan and coordinate change efforts with a greater understanding of all the dynamics involved.
TeamTech, in partnership with the Organizational Development Department, customized a curriculum that gives employees the skills and tools to:
- Understand the major systems and structural forces at work in the organization and how outside forces (economy, competition, technology, etc.) create pressure to change;
- Utilize this learning to interpret how the company has changed over the last 10 years and develop a broader understanding of corporate decision-making;
- Analyze their department, team or a particular situation from a systems perspective and identify strengths, weaknesses and next steps;
- Communicate clearly with employees and involve them in deciding and implementing change; and
- Review and plan a comprehensive approach to addressing an immediate problem or issue the employee is currently facing.
Since 1996, this customized curriculum has been successful and is currently being taught four times per year. In addition, Team Tech certified three internal trainers to deliver this curriculum. Feedback from participants on the benefits of this curriculum follows:
- “It gives me a better understanding as to why my department is making some of the decisions it is in a bear market.”
- “This will help me communicate my ideas and develop new ones that are more thought out.”
- “I will take a broader approach to making decisions.”
- “I am now able to better identify my role within the organization and more effectively communicate with management.”
- “This provides me with a structure to use when approaching problems.”
- “In trying to help my team through difficult times, all aspects of this class will help. It’s a great tool for dealing with change.”
Mentoring leaders helps strengthen large organization
A large state social service agency, with more than 6,000 employees and an operating budget of $1.8 billion, was challenged to streamline its operations. The FY03 state budget crisis intensified the challenge presented to the agency and its leadership. These challenges created the need for deeper integration of programs and a greater need for staff members to partner with the larger community.
The Agency’s Secretary and her executive team believed that the capacity to be both strategic and facilitative were critical competencies for the agency as it continued to meet growing service needs with fewer dollars and people. Further, she and the team wanted to model this new leadership style.
The Secretary and her seven person executive team committed a year of their time to increase their strategic facilitation skills by working with TeamTech.
TeamTech, in partnership with the executive team, designed a one-year mentoring program aimed at enhancing the team’s and each individual’s strategic facilitation capacity. This mentoring program included:
- A kick-off retreat to introduce the benefits of strategic facilitation and think through how to integrate the team’s strategic plan with this new skill set.
- Eight content sessions that focused the team on:
- Strategic processes which enable people to hold the relationship between the task at hand and the big picture. A critical skill when working with multiple stakeholders.
- Facilitative/Reflective processes which perpetuate the act of thinking and taking action together. A critical skill when managing a tightening fiscal situation, staff reductions and vocal stakeholders.
- Monthly practicums for the executive team and individuals to apply newly acquired strategic, reflective and facilitative skills to upcoming meetings, decisions and problem-solving sessions. These practicums provided opportunity for:
- Detailed planning and preparation;
- Facilitation practice and coaching;
- On-site observations and direct feedback; and
- Feedback and professional development.
- A closing retreat to evaluate the year and project the future.
- The Agency Secretary as well as the seven member executive team finished the one-year training program.
- The leadership team has a working knowledge of the following four skills, which helped them learn to strategically manage the everyday crisis rather than the everyday crisis managing them.
- Big picture thinking so that all the dynamics at play in a problem can be identified and a strategic response developed.
- Being intentional about what people need to know and experience to make good decisions and achieve an outcome.
- Building shared vision so employees and stakeholders can see the practical next steps that need to be taken.
- Facilitating meetings that demonstrate effective communication and collaborations.
- As individuals and as a team they developed competencies in strategic, facilitative and reflective processes – “All critical to the continuous reshaping of our business in ways that increase the value to the public.”
“TeamTech was the best fit for this need because of Kathleen and Joel’s experience and credibility within the agency. Everybody on the team believed they could help us reposition the organization in a rapidly changing environment with growing demand for services and fewer resources.”
Top-to-bottom audit – and creativity – help state save millions
The primary responsibility of the governor is to manage the public’s resources wisely. This is a challenge even in the best of times, but in the face of a serious budget shortfall, only the most innovative thinking will lead to a state government that is not only more efficient but more accessible to the citizens.
Shortly after her election in 2002, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius made good on her campaign promise to conduct a top to bottom performance review of state government. She assembled more than 60 volunteers – from business leaders to citizens – to come up with suggestions for streamlining state government and making it more accountable to its people. The Governor and her transition team turned to TeamTech for help in managing the process and in assuring a successful outcome for participants and the citizens of Kansas
These first Budget Efficiency Savings Teams (BEST) identified potential dollar savings by conducting a top to bottom performance review of state government. More than just an audit, the BEST teams were also charged with coming up with innovative solutions and identifying new ways of doing state business. TeamTech was called on to design a process and establish a plan and framework for identifying solutions. TeamTech worked with private industry, citizens and policymakers to identify key values for improved decision making. Participants agreed that in order to bring about effective change, decisions on the future direction of state government must meet the following criteria:
- Customer focused
- Continuous improvement
- Cross-agency perspective
- Enterprise-wide thinking
- Decentralized decision-making with accountability
- Centralized accessible information
In addition to working directly with the Best Teams, TeamTech also designed a process to gather input from the public. In a matter of eight weeks (mid-November of 2002 to mid-January 2003) these five initial public BEST Teams received over 2000 e-mails, faxes and phone communication from Kansans about ways the state could improve efficiency.
This initial BEST process as led and facilitated by TeamTech produced cost and operating efficiencies by:
- Identifying dollar savings through streamlining and removing redundancies: These initial five BEST Teams identified $60 million in potential savings. Governor Sebelius used these savings ideas in her state fiscal year (FY) 2004 Budget presented to the Kansas Legislature. One year later those dollars had been saved.
- Institutionalizing dollar savings by creating a management culture that encourages collaboration and resources sharing: The work of these initial BEST Teams spurred a more comprehensive internal process. We know that change from the inside out is the only effective way to sustain systemic change. TeamTech continues to facilitate dozens of internal cross-government BEST Teams charged with streamlining and finding savings. Thanks to cross-government purchasing efforts, nearly $27 million in purchased goods and services were realized in FY2005. The County/State Offender Population Prescription Drug Team has realized over $2.4 million in recurring annual savings for both county and state government (both FY05 and FY06).
Governor Sebelius and other state agency leaders consider the first phase efforts of BEST a success.
“Oftentimes, people in organizations have good ideas, but institutional barriers prevent them from being heard. At TeamTech our role is to establish venues in which people at all levels can share ideas and be heard.”
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