For agencies who have been around a long time, with either new or seasoned leadership teams, it is easy to fall into an inability to see the forest from the trees. What we do is so vital to our communities and to the people we support that we can find ourselves caught up in fighting the good fight, day in and day out. While, depending on the size of your organization, leadership teams and Executive Directors should always have an amount of hands on engagement, it is vital that we remember that leadership teams have the responsibility of keeping the agency healthy, and not get caught up in case management, but rather maintaining the building blocks of your organization.
Having a little fun with this topic, let’s compare the building blocks of a good restaurant with those of a good social services agency and see if we can translate.
Restaurants create an experience, and nothing has more to do with that experience than the meal itself. How do you create a meal without quality ingredients? You don’t! Your organization is also trying to create an experience, but your service is the main attraction, and you will get no where without quality staff. The vast majority of our services are provided through trained, or licensed people who provide the supports, treatment, or coordination that a person needs. As a leader it is critical that you are able to take a step back and ask yourself whether or not we have the necessary quality people to even have a chance at delivering good services. Perhaps you will ask yourself how choosy your organization is regarding your ingredients. Do you scrutinize and review who will be hired? Do you care about your ingredients, and assure they are not bruised after they arrive, or left wilted and spoiling?
Who hasn’t watched Iron Chef at some point and wondered at the amazing kitchen gadgets that are used to create masterpiece dishes? My point here is the tools that a restaurant has back in the kitchen can be just as important as the quality of the food. Forget gadgets for a second, how about sharp knives a working stove and an assortment of high quality pots and pans? You have gone out of your way to assure you have quality staff for your services, but what do they have to make their job run smoothly and make sure all the dots connect? It is no secret that our Medicaid payment system is becoming more complex, both by way of regulations and risks as well as by payment schemes and billing schedules. Your people need the tools to make what they do simple and as straight forward as it can be. We are not making PB&J for a packed lunch. Your agency is delivering high end, life changing services to people. We need to be able to serve that up in incredible ways.
Technique and Experience
Technique, to me, means training, and we all know how much we have to still learn about our own jobs. People certainly come to us with techniques that they have learned, but new research and new studies share new ways of addressing treatment, care and personal connections. Doing the work is necessary, as a means to keep what we do know sharp. We have all heard the phrase, “Use it or lose it”. So we can think of training in regards to learning something new, as well as keeping what we have sharp and ready to use. Kitchens have people with different specialties as well as different amounts of experience. We can never be settled with what we come into a situation with, but rather we should continue to develop through practice and learning.
Let’s not forget about you and what you are able to bring to the table. Each of us have a little bit of je ne sais qoui, that helps create the culture of a place; helps to make it a little different than the one down the street. I know I have my favorite fish and chips place; my favorite greasy spoon and diner. They each have a character and a feel that is all about the “you” coming together to make something great. You will bring various things to organizations to make them wonderful experiences for the customer. You will have quality staff, who have the best tools, and great training, who you care about, while all the while pushing them to learn and develop new skills. But don’t forget about the “you” and risking enough to share a part of it with your agency and your mission. It is truly the one unique piece that will make your agency different.