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Trust, as a construct, has two dimensions. The first addresses the way in which staff at all levels treat/interact with one another and, in turn, treat children, youth and families. This is the “relationship” side of trust. The second addresses the extent to which the agency and its employees are considered competent and consistent in their work, that is, can be counted on to do their jobs well and with integrity. This is referred to as the “task” side of trust. Most agency value statements are a combination of how the agency wishes to handle relationships and tasks. Common values supporting trusting relationships include respect, honesty, caring, and safety. Common values supporting “task” include integrity, competence, reliability and accountability.

Spotlight on...

There are a number of markers that indicate high levels of trust in an organization. All can be behaviorally anchored, measured

and observed. Several are included here as examples.

  • Issues are addressed directly and proactively. There is little need for an overactive and generally inaccurate grapevine. 
  • Good work is noted and rewarded; staff are pleased for, not resentful of, their colleagues’ good work.
  • There is a presumption of goodwill and good intentions.
  • Decision-making is shared and staff are competent in the use of data and decision-making processes. 
  • Each level of approval adds clear and compelling value to the process.
  • Employees are provided ample opportunity to contribute to problem solving and continuous improvement processes. 
  • Employees do not withhold reactions, suggestions, or ideas.
  • Employees’ investment in the organization is reflected in low turnover.
  • Employees evidence little fear of reprisal for speaking their minds and taking reasonable and necessary risks. 
  • Stewardship is high. “We versus them” attitude and turf wars are at a minimum.
  • Work is focused on problem solving, not blame. 
  • Staff do what they say they will do.
  • Micro-management is minimal.
  • Employees know their jobs and value the work of others.
  • Stakeholders turn to the agency for its expertise and willingness to innovate and change.
  • Accountability is evident and transparent.

Embedding Trust

Several actions identified in the section on embedding a new culture are directly applicable to embedding trust in an agency. Several are referenced below. There are two additional actions, however, that are particularly useful in embedding trust. They suggest ways to minimize confusion and resulting mistrust that is generated when staff do not know where they or their organization stand.

 

Anchor the Vision

Trust starts with a vision that is compelling and attainable. There must be something that is worth investing in and worth following. Having a common goal helps staff focus on the children, youth and families rather than their own personal needs and wants.Trustworthy behavior then is measured not by personal standards, but by commitment to a common purpose.

 

Articulate Policy Positions

Leaders must be clear about and articulate their positions on a number of critical issues, both programmatic and administrative. They should expect that other stakeholders may hold different and/or opposing positions and be prepared to discuss their positions numerous times and in numerous settings. Positioning is the antidote to defensiveness and retreat. Knowing a leader’s positions and seeing them play out consistently day-to-day frees up energy and time for problem solving and innovation that would otherwise go to second-guessing, blaming or justifying. Critical issues include, but are not limited to, the following. Guidance in this and other domains addresses and answers many of these.

  • Nature and causes of child maltreatment
  • Public child welfare practice including how data and research inform and modify it 
  • Assumptions about and treatment and/or engagement of families
  • Use of authority within the agency and with families and children
  • Relationship to and engagement with various stakeholders
  • Use of and engagement with legal representation of the agency and the courts 
  • Composition of and roles and responsibilities of the Executive Team

Position the Agency

Trust is materially affected by how the director “positions” the organization to handle events and drive change. It speaks directly to how confident and competent an organization is, i.e., the level of trust it has in its own ability to perform effectively. A leader has four options that represent a continuum of responses an organization may make. Trust is enhanced to the extent the organization is more assertive, i.e., in control of its own destiny. The positioning speaks directly to whether an agency will “manage or be managed.

 

Reactive

There are times when an agency faces a situation that it could not reasonably anticipate. Over time, however, the goal is to build systems and strategies for handling crises in general. It is not necessary to know the precise nature of a crisis in order to act proactively.

 

Change the Internal Environment

Trust is increased when the agency has strategies, systems and processes in place that are predictable, supportive and outcome focused. Staff can trust that similar situations, issues, policies will be handled in a similar manner. Strategies and processes are designed, not only to encourage, but require risk taking and challenges to the status quo. Staff are empowered to the extent possible and expected to actively engage in continuous improvement processes.

 

Change the External Environment

More assertive leaders act upon the external environment to make change congenial to its needs. They are able to reframe issues such that external stakeholders change their perspectives and positions. They understand the politics of a situation, use data effectively, and know when the timing and circumstances are right to push for change. They maintain effective working relationships, even with opponents.

 

Establish a New Link Between the Internal and External Environment

This position results in resetting the conditions or relationships between the internal and external environment so change is mutual and reinforcing.

 

Improve Decision-Making

Trust is built or increased when the executive team is focused, purposeful and transparent in its deliberations, decision-making and direction. Trust does not require perfection. It does require that messages are consistent within and among programs, that commitment and investment are apparent and that staff overall feel they are in “good hands.”

 

Model Personal Behavior

Actions always speak louder than words. Effective leaders know and should expect to be held to a higher standard. They tell the truth. When they cannot divulge information they say so and why. They know every interaction is an o portunity to teach and/or learn. They stay calm in the face of criticism and they are not idiosyncratic or arbitrary in their actions.


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