Sunday, January 31, 2010

Managing people or managing systems?

Management policies and procedures often have unintended consequences. I learned years ago when studying Total Quality Management that you have to be careful what you measure because it will skew organizational behavior in that direction.

GCASA is often asked by all kinds of funders and regulatory bodies to collect data on all kinds of indicators which may have all kinds of ramifications for our service delivery systems. Some of these ramifications can be negative as well as positive.

A good manager is aware of the systemic quality to organizations and knows that a change in one component of the organization often has an effect in another component of the organization. People of more limited awareness often do not understand this and this leads to false accusations, and dysfunctional behavior.

We are seeing this kind of thing develop now as Erie County decreases its subsidies for child care forcing working parents to quit their low paying jobs and go onto welfare because they can't afford the day care.

GCASA employees and clients live in a county with the lowest child care subsidies in the state which makes it very difficult for parents of young children to work and also take care of their children. One of the indicators which GCASA is asked to measure in its client population is how many get back to work when their substance abuse problems are addressed. GCASA will not perform as well as agencies in other counties which provide better day care subsidies to its clients who have young children and want to go back to work.

My point is that there or institutional barriers to the employment goal which are invisible until you look behind the screen and see how the system is stacked against the working poor.

The biggest thing that Genesee County might do it get parents with young children back to work is to provide better day care subsidies. More substance abuse treatment is not going to fix this.

When GCASA had to curtail some of its services because of deficits in its budget one of the cuts was to eliminate the Voc Ed counselor that it had on its staff. It's not that the staff person wasn't doing a good job, it's that the person was having a hard time getting people back to work when the system is designed to block low paid people with children from doing so.

Managers do not just manage people and departments and programs, they manage systems and if they do not have a good understanding of how systems operate they are doomed to failure.

This is article #3 in a series on Lessons In Management.

No comments: