Increasing social problems and decreasing federal support for welfare programs are placing new demands on public agencies and straining existing human service delivery systems. This article presents a case study of a typical state social service agency, describes the current situation, identifies problem areas, and recommends structural and managerial changes.
Some of the issues pressuring welfare agencies are stagnant family income, increased divorce, growth in reported child abuse and neglect, violent juvenile crime, escalating medical costs, and an aging population (Cherlin, 1988; Lynn, 1990; Levy and Michel, 1991). The problems are national in scope. Medicaid spending more than tripled between 1986 and 1993, while corrections experienced comparable growth rates. The nation's child welfare system is also under stress today, a result of unprecedented growth in the number of reports of abuse and neglect (American Public Welfare Association, 1990).
These problems are escalating at a time when the federal government has significantly reduced its role in social welfare. In 1981, major cuts in welfare programs were proposed by President Reagan and approved by Congress. Since 1981, state expenditures for public aid have increased significantly faster than federal spending, 57 percent compared to 20 percent (Bixby, 1990). During that period the federal share of public aid spending has declined from 65.5 percent to 62.5 percent.
Welfare has never been a popular issue, particularly with state and local politicians. Still it remains a significant portion of state and local government budgets. State and local governments spent nearly $220 billion on social welfare programs in 1992 (Burtless, 1994). That figure accounts for roughly one-quarter of all state and local government spending (Bixby, 1990). All indications are that the federal role in social welfare will continue to contract and that the role of the states will increase (Gold, 1990).
The growing pressure on states has raised the question of whether or not the current organization and management of human services programs might be altered to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery. In order to deal with the pressures created by expanding roles in social welfare, state governments must develop the capacity to manage resources more effectively. Based on clear observation of the operations of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS), this article identifies opportunities for improving managerial and organizational performance.
This article is based on a study conducted for the Governor's Commission on a Policy Agenda for Kansas. The seventeen member, bipartisan commission was appointed in August of 1989 to identify issues critical to the future of Kansas, to solicit views from the public at large, to draw upon the expertise of university faculty to analyze the issues, and to identify policy choices available to Kansas to respond to these issues (Flentje, 1990). One of the issues selected was the organization of human services. Public interest in this topic was high due in part to serious budgetary overruns that were experienced by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services during fiscal years 1987-1990.
The research took place over a six-month period and included structured interviews with the Secretary and former Secretary of SRS and all fifteen area directors (the number has since been reduced to twelve). Informal interviews were conducted with commissioners, various program administrators within SRS, the secretaries of the related departments, and private service providers.
In addition, as part of a concurrent evaluation of the Kansas Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) program, unstructured interviews were conducted with over fifty caseworkers in four different Kansas counties, two urban and two rural. Although these interviews were primarily designed to collect data on the implementation and performance of JOBS, the social workers and income maintenance workers interviewed volunteered significant information about the organizational culture of SRS. Also, as part of this program evaluation, twenty-nine AFDC/JOBS clients were interviewed by a social work scholar about their involvement with SRS welfare-to-work program and about their experiences with SRS.
ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE AND SRS
There has been considerable debate in both the public administration and services literature about the role that organization plays in policy. The most recent consensus is that how the government is structured is important in both policy and societal terms (Wise, 1990). It has also been acknowledged that public organizations are often designed for political reasons or for the convenience of the bureaucracy, with little or no consideration given to the way in which organizational structure affects and is affected by the environment in which it operates or to ways in which organizations should adapt to changing circumstances (Ibid.).
The question at hand is whether changes in the current organization of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services would be likely to improve coordination with other agencies and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery. Before addressing this question, however, some understanding of the organizational culture of SRS is necessary. It is organizational culture that drives the way in which things get done (Schein, 1985). Interviews conducted for this study created a reasonably consistent picture of the agency. They identified a set of factors, some internal to SRS and some external to the agency, that help define the culture of the organization.
In many ways SRS reflects a classic Weberian bureaucratic organization characterized by large size, hierarchical chains of command, formal rules and procedures, division of labor based on specialization and technical knowledge, and centralized authority (Goodsell, 1985; Golembiewski, 1990). These factors have contributed to an environment that emphasizes prevention of error over encouraging innovation. In addition, the agency suffers from a lack of research and analytical capacity and a lack of strategic planning and management.
SRS is large by Kansas standards. In May of 1990, SRS employed 11,230 individuals. Roughly 3,00 of these are employed in the central office and twelve area offices. The remainder is employed in seven institutions for the mentally ill and mentally retarded and in four youth correctional centers. Approximately three-fourths of all employees are full-time.
SRS also has a very clear hierarchy. This fact is not often mentioned by agency employees but is easily observable to outsiders. Workers are very aware of rank within the organization, who is licensed and who is not, who has a title and who does not, who may appropriately communicate with whom, who has authority to make decisions.
Related to this hierarchy is a perception of top-down management. Much of this perception is real based on the strong authority exerted over the department by its original Secretary, Robert Harder, Dr. Harder joined the state as Director of Social Welfare and Secretary of the State Board of Welfare in August of 1969. He was appointed Secretary of the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services when it was created in 1973 and remained in that post until July of 1987. He served again as interim Secretary during the first half of 1991.
Combining 105 county welfare programs into a single state agency required a strong, authoritative management. Harder, already familiar with the programs and individuals involved, moved quickly to establish control over the new department.
One of Harder's greatest successes was his ability to work well with the Legislature. As a former legislator himself, he had a thorough understanding of bureaucracy and of the policy-making process and used that knowledge to the benefit of the agency. He maintained credibility with the Legislature by maintaining tight personal control over policy decisions and the operations of SRS. He was extremely knowledgeable about policy and program operations and he alone spoke for the agency to the Legislature and to the public. This allowed him to be extremely effective with elected officials but created considerable dissatisfaction among employees, although as sole public representative of SRS, Harder successfully shielded employees from most political pressures.
Harder was opposed to extravagance or any appearance of extravagance. During his tenure, the agency operated with bare bones administrative staff partly because Harder himself was capable of mastering so much detail. The long-term result is that SRS never developed a sustained institutional capacity for planning, research analysis or financial management.
The biggest disadvantage of Harder's leadership style, according to many, was that it created an organization that could not function well without him. Because the Secretary retained control of most major decisions, the rest of the agency failed to develop adequate decision-making capacity.
There are very few individuals in SRS who have a complete picture of the agency and its mission and goals. Programs and offices are compartmentalized. To the extent that clients are eligible for and in need of multiple services, this compartmentalization can lead to loss of client-centered service delivery. In fact, employees perceive that there is very little reward for providing quality services to clients. The primary goal is to meet deadlines or court orders in any way possible.
These first three factors are related. The traditional approach to managing an organization as large as SRS has been through the creation of vertical hierarchies that compartmentalized subcomponents of specialized activity (Goodsell, 1985). But the "list of those proposing that the bureaucratic model is too costly, not only in terms of effectiveness but also in terms of efficiency, is long and growing" (Golembiewski, 1990:146).
Interviews indicated that an underlying value in SRS is avoiding controversy. This is a logical consequence of authoritarian management and typical of large bureaucracies. Contributing to the problem is the fear of litigation and of the media. The agency deals with extremely complex and difficult problems and staff believe that the press and the courts have not always been willing to treat the issues with an appropriate level of understanding. It is the very complexity of the issues, however, that makes controversy unavoidable. The negative consequence of this behavior is that, in avoiding controversy, decisions that should be made are avoided. Efforts to keep everyone happy are doomed to failure. Nevertheless, this reluctance to make decisions is perfectly consistent with the hierarchical management that requires confirmation of every decision by the net higher authority.
Related to this "don't make waves" philosophy is a suspicion of outsiders. Requests for information are often met with the response "Why do you want this information?" SRS staff complain regularly that the public needs to be educated on the problems with which the agency deals, yet rather than treat requests for information as an opportunity to inform, SRS employees often react to public inquiry with hostility and delay. But this response, like many others, is a rational reaction to past experience in which requests for information have been used out of context to embarrass the agency, its programs, and its employees.
A number of individuals commented that SRS tends to "go the cheap route." The agency has always perceived itself as "poor," an attitude fostered by Harder. This norm is still deeply ingrained and manifests itself in a reluctance to invest in staff development or automation. Training, out-of-state travel, and program evaluation are considered luxuries that the agency cannot afford. In a government bureaucracy which is accountable to the public for how it spends its resources, a no-frills attitude is generally desirable. It becomes a negative when it precludes the notion that some spending is an investment that can pay off with future benefits.
Related to this question is the issue of quality of service. SRS pays below market rates for child we and nursing home care, for physician services, for drugs, and other purchased services. As budgets have been cut during the past. decade, responsibilities borne by workers and providers have increased with little or no increase in compensation. For example, the number of foster children in the state's custody has increased more than twenty percent since fiscal year 1987. There has been no corresponding increase in the number of social workers handling these cases (Kansas Legislative Post Audit, 1990). At some point this reduction in resources inevitably affects quality of services. Whether Kansas has reached that point is arguable. Further investigation of this issue is needed.
Very little strategic planning or program evaluation takes place in SRS. "Crisis Management" is a phrase often used to describe its operations. The department produces enormous amounts of information on a regular basis but very little is useful for management purposes. There is no real management information system in place to provide administrators with statistics that can assist in policy decisions. Instead, a number of small microcomputer systems have been developed for different programs, none of which are compatible with each other or with the new mainframe system called KAECSES (Kansas Automated Eligibility and Child Support Enforcement System). This system was designed for eligibility determination, case management, and child support enforcement purposes and has not proved capable of useful report generation, so far at least.
In addition, the new system is inconsistent with the old system so that time series data must be collected by hand. KAECSES is also extremely slow. Waiting time between screens averages 45 seconds and often exceeds two minutes. These delays seriously reduce productivity and create significant stress for the workers who must spend large amounts of time waiting for the system to respond.
The inability Co collect data cheaply and quickly may have contributed to the lack of program evaluation. Information is compiled to meet federal reporting requirements but little of it is used to determine if programs are actually meeting their intended goals. It takes time and resources to do this kind of evaluation and agency leaders have generally preferred to devote scarce resources to other purposes. This may be a sensible short-term strategy but is costly in the long term to allocate funds to programs that fail to do what they were intended to do.
The lack of easily collectible data contributes to another problem. When information is not automated and data must be collected by hand, the reliability of the data that are collected declines. Mistakes are inevitable when dealing with large amounts of information. In addition, the temptation to meet reporting requirements by inventing data is irresistible. A number of workers confided that they estimate or make up numbers rather than fail to meet a reporting deadline. It does not appear to occur to them to say that the data do not exist. But in general, the damage is minimal because they know that no one will ever use the information. This may be a symptom of the hierarchy which does not give line workers the option of saying no or of explaining the real costs of data collection. Or it may be recognition of the fact that much of the data requested should exist but do not.
A serious problem facing social welfare agencies is the inability to recruit talented staff. SRS generally pays salaries that are competitive with private employers of social workers and other professionals. Nevertheless, top graduates of social work programs are often advised to avoid public agencies and the bureaucracy they entail (Reeser and Epstein, 1987). The result is that individuals who are hired are likely to fall into one of two categories. Either they are strongly dedicated professionals committed to the public service or are individuals who lack the ability or initiative to find alternative employment. Retraining qualified workers is a serious problem for SRS. Most enter the field of public social welfare for altruistic reasons. They quickly become discouraged by the amount of paper work and lack of flexibility in meeting client needs. Workers do not seem to believe that good performance will be rewarded or that poor performance will be sanctioned.
A related problem is one of staff training. Before the budget cuts of 1981, SRS would pay for employees to acquire a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. Reimbursement for educational expenses was unavailable until very recently when Federal Title IV-E funds tapped. Title IV-E provides a 75 percent federal match for training and the state universities have been able to cover the remaining costs. If federal welfare aid is converted to block grants, it is highly unlikely that the state will continue to support the current level of academic training.
SRS does provide in-house, one-time supervisory training to all employees who become or wish to become supervisors. Virtually all other training that takes place is narrowly programmatic in nature, designed to inform employees about changes in program rules.
Management of SRS and most social welfare agencies is dominated by social workers. In general social workers are not educated as managers. In fact, many are socialized to hold contempt for traditional managerial and financial considerations (Abels, 1973; DeHoog, 1986). There is a serious lack of on-going managerial training in SRS that prepares professional service providers to move up the hierarchy.
Furthermore it is relatively rare for talent to be identified and monitored through the system. Although some efforts have been made to overcome this problem, both internally and in university schools of social work, much remains to be accomplished. SRS desperately needs internal expertise in management, policy analysis, and financial administration.
There are other kinds of training that would be useful in improving the productivity of employees. These include information on new trends in social welfare policy, time management, information resources management, communication, and dealing with the public. Ironically, one of the consistent complaints from supervisors was that newly trained social workers do not know how to deal with poor people. This is another area of training that should be explored.
In addition to internal factors contributing to the organizational culture of SRS there are some environmental factors that also have a strong influence on behavior within the organization. Among the factors considered here are the influence of the federal government, the judicial system, and public ambivalence toward social welfare.
The first of the external factors is the federal government. In an effort to maximize federal funding for the state, SRS tends to "do what it is told" even if what it is told to do is expensive and unreasonable. In recent years, as federal funding has diminished and federal initiative in new programs has all but ceased, the amount of regulation attached to administration of most federally funded social welfare programs has remained constant or even increased. The volume and complexity of regulation, particularly in income maintenance programs, greatly adds to administrative overhead costs (Burtless, 1990).
Another external factor that greatly influences behavior within SRS is the judicial system. In areas of child protection, foster we, commitment to treatment for substance abuse and mental health problems, and equal treatment, the courts and district attorneys can place additional demands on already scarce resources.
The final environmental factor has to do with public attitudes toward social welfare. The public and politicians have always been ambivalent about human services (Heclo, 1986). They support the humanitarian desire to meet the needs of the underprivileged, yet are reluctant to legitimize behavior that does not conform to middle class standards. The ambivalence carries over into the delivery of human services (Lynn, 1990). Although resources are inadequate to meet all needs, SRS has been unable to set cleat service priorities about the level of service delivery or about who will and who will not receive services. While indecision can be considered a management failure, in this case it also reflects public ambivalence about the tradeoffs between meeting human service needs and paying for those services.
Nowhere is the failure of public policy to address these tradeoffs more evident that in the budgetary process for SRS. The Kansas Legislature meets annually from January to April. During the session it approves the budget for the fiscal year beginning in July 1 of the same year. SRS has routinely been underfunded and in danger of running out of funds before the end of each fiscal year. Consequently, during a typical session, the Legislature must deal with two SRS appropriations, one to supplement the current fiscal year's budget and one for the next fiscal year. A 1977 Legislative Post Audit report on controlling the need for supplemental appropriations for medical care concluded:
An examination of the budget process for medical assistance in Kansas showed that the budget process itself, not unforeseen medical assistance program costs, led to the need for supplemental appropriations for medical assistance ...
he original budget estimates of the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services proved to be a better predictor of final program expenditures than the figures produced by the Division of the Budget, possibly because the budget reductions were not linked to reductions in medical services. The Division of Budget did not recommend that services be reduced, and the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services did not make its own program changes to accommodate the reduced budget ...
This approach to budgeting for medical assistance programs virtually ensures that supplemental appropriations will be needed. It also means that the Legislature is reviewing an unrealistic program estimate as well as a program that cannot be accomplished within the budget estimate.
Little has changed to alter this situation during the past thirteen years. With the exception of fiscal year 1982, the year in which major budget cuts were introduced at the federal level SRS has required a supplemental appropriations every year. These supplemental appropriations have ranged from $1 million to $17 million. This system of reducing SRS's annual budget request and supplementing it later allows elected officials to claim that they have kept welfare spending down without requiring that they make any difficult decisions to cut programs. "Spending for services for the poor and disadvantaged has been a relatively low budget priority for states" (Gold, 1990:100). Kansas is no exception.
In recent years the state's cash balances have been relatively low, making it increasingly difficult to supplement SRS's budget. This should mean that the initial budgets are more complete and accurate. This, however, has not been the case. The SRS budget that is presented to the Legislature by the Governor is based on unrealistic assumptions about program costs, client caseloads, and employee turnover. Neither the Governor nor the Legislature can make sound policy decisions without accurate information on the costs of programs that are in place under existing law. Yet, that is what has been happening apparently since the creation of SRS in 1973.
The inability or unwillingness to deal realistically with the cost of human service programs in Kansas is an indication of the reluctance of the public and its elected officials to address the serious policy questions associated with social welfare.
ORGANIZATIONAL AND MANAGERIAL OPTIONS
Given this description of internal and external factors that influence behavior in SRS and given the intractability of the problems faced by the agency, the question remains: What if anything can be done to improve the situation through enhanced organizational and managerial capacity.
The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services is an umbrella organization in which programs are administered through a central agency and delivered at the local level through twelve area offices. The agency includes seven commissions which provide a wide variety of services to overlapping client groups. Two separate commissions, Adult Services and Youth Services, are responsible for the delivery of social services. Rehabilitation Services provides assessment, counseling and training for individuals suffering from disabilities. Income Maintenance distributes cash and assistance to families and individuals who qualify on the basis of income and administers child support enforcement. Medical Services administers the Medicaid program. Mental Health and Retardation administers the state institutions for the mentally ill and mentally handicapped. It also licenses community mental health. Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services distributes grants for treatment, education, and prevention of substance abuse.
There is no model organizational structure of human service delivery. The states vary a great deal in the configuration of both program design and field operations. The umbrella concept is by no means generally accepted. A number of states retain county administration of most social welfare programs (Weinstein, 1988).
In designing a system from scratch, policy-makers would ideally start with a clear concept of the desired policy outcomes. They would also recognize that an effective organization should be structured in such a way as to facilitate, rather than impede, relationships with clients, service providers, and other agencies, including levels of government. In other words, implementation would take place through a system of "backward mapping" that defined the desired client outcomes and worked upward through the organization to design policy (Elmore, 1982). This concept is in stark contrast to current top-down implementation procedures.
Despite the fact that the current delivery system of human services is fragmented and uncoordinated, it is unlikely that anyone will have the luxury of designing an entirely new system. The most probable changes will be incremental based on existing structures. Even so, there are some basic questions that need to be addressed. In particular, should human services be organized on the basis of programs, as most are now, or should they be organized on the basis of clients served, for instance, a single agency meeting all of the social welfare needs of a particular population such as the aged?
Organizing around populations rather than programs would inevitably result in duplication, for instance, two income maintenance programs and two medical programs, and some inefficiency. The relevant research question is whether or not resulting improvements in program effectiveness would outweigh those costs. There is duplication and inefficiency under the current program. There is no right or wrong answer to this question and, at this point, no evidence that one organizational structure is inherently better than the other. Recent research on private-sector management, however, indicates that successful companies are "thinking horizontal" as they design work teams that cross traditional vertical boundaries on the organizational chart (Galbraith, 1977).
Concern in Kansas centers on the question of whether or not SSR is too large to manage effectively. General consensus is that the most serious problems facing the agency are escalating Medicaid expenditures, particularly for nursing home care; a seriously flawed foster care system; an increasing incidence of juvenile crime and overcrowding in the youth centers; and inadequate mental health and mental retardation services.
Suggestions for change include the creation of a separate department of mental health and retardation; creation of a separate department of medical services that would combine Medicaid, substance abuse programs, and the public health delivery functions currently managed by the Department of Health and Environment; creation of a separate youth authority or transfer of responsibility for juvenile offenders to the Department of Corrections; moving Rehabilitation Services to either the Department of Education or the Department of Human Resources (Labor); moving adult prams to the Department on Aging; allowing SRS to become a Department of Children and Families; and moving Child Support Enforcement to the court system
Another perspective on the organizational question deals with the relationship between the commissions and the area officers. Under the Harder administration, policy decisions were made in Topeka. Although area directors were regularly told that they were direct extensions of the Secretary, they had very little discretion in policy matters. They saw themselves as implementers rather than policy-makers, a perspective that has deep roots with public administration (Wilson, 1887). Ironically, area directors did have considerable autonomy in that implementation role even though they were constrained by policy guidelines. Harder's successor, Winston Barton, gave area directors more authority. This change has led to some uncertainty about the balance of power between commissioners and area directors.
Staff in the area offices often argue that there are too many central office administrators. (This argument did not appear before 1987) and that central office staff members are out of touch with the realities of service delivery. Rather than provide policy analysis and technical assistance, central office is seen as spending too much time writing regulations that impeded the field staff from doing their job. Proponents of this argument maintain that resources would be better allocated where they can directly benefit clients.
A move toward more decentralized decision-making would be consistent with new management theory that encourages flattened hierarchical structures and more involvement and innovation from line workers (Golembiewski, 1990). A reduction in the size of each commission's staff to a bare minimum could result in a structure in which the commissioners serve as a policy and planning body whose staff provides programmatic technical assistance and analysis to area offices. This would release resources that could be used to enhance field staff development and decision-making capacity.
A third perspective from which to consider possible organizational changes in social service delivery is from the standpoint of privatizing some of the agency's services. The privatization movement has had a profound impact on many levels of government, particularly at the local level (Colman, 1989; Hanke, 1987). In general the emphasis has been on non-human service programs. Services that can be priced are the best candidates. However, there may be opportunities for SRS to contract out more of its services, particularly in the mental health and substance abuse areas (DeHoog, 1986; Fixler and Poole, 1987). SRS has considerable experience with contract administration and should have no trouble expanding the scope of that activity.
It is important to realize, however, that privatization does not mean the elimination of government. Rather, it means that the functions of government change and may become even more complex (Wise, 1990). In some areas, privatization makes sense, in others it may result in more bureaucracy and less efficiency. Decisions must be made on a program-by-program basis and only after careful study.
There is some legitimate concern that reorganization can amount to nothing more than shuffling boxes on an organization chart. Careful observation of SRS leads one to believe that many of the organization's problems are managerial rather than organizational in nature. Honadle and Howitt (1986:2) define management capacity as:
the ability to identify problems; develop policies to deal with these problems; devise programs to implement the policies; attract and absorb financial, human, information, and capital resources effectively to operate the programs; manage those resources well; and evaluate program outcomes to guide future program activities.
Based on this definition, SRS needs to build managerial capacity. Among the areas that should be considered are strategic planning, research, and analysis; professional development and staff morale; contract administration; and solicitation of outside assistance and perspectives.
Strategic Planning Research, and Analysis
SRS is forced to resort to crisis management on a regular basis. Very little real planning policy development or priority setting take place. The absence of planning makes it impossible to manage effectively or to control resource allocation. SRS needs to establish a strategic planning process with input from all levels of the agency.
Effective planning requires accurate data. SRS collects large amounts of data but analyzes very little of it. Data collection is not oriented to managerial purposes. For example, although the group homes and residential facilities that house children in state custody submit quarterly reports to SRS, no one has ever compiled these reports. There is no system that can summarize the characteristics of the children in foster care. Consequently, there is no information available to program managers or service providers on trends in the demographic characteristics of children in we, the circumstances under which they enter and leave state custody, the treatments provided or the number of placements per child.
Management decisions are often made with little or no supporting data. Investment in appropriate automation could have a positive return. On the other hand, data collection and analysis are relatively expensive. It would be inappropriate to develop data collection and handling systems unless the agency has the ability to use them effectively. Acquisition of data handling capacity must coincide with development of analytic and managerial capacity.
Although SRS produces many reports, very little real research takes place, particularly in the area of program performance. Much of the reporting is directed toward monitoring compliance with administrative policies and procedures. But compliance with standards provides little or no information about program outcomes. The emphasis on monitoring distracts agency officials from considering the "magnitude, quality, and durability of program effects, and dampen
their natural curiosity ... how and why certain outcomes may have occurred" (Blalock, 1990:14).
The first step in improving program planning, research, and analytic capacity in the agency is to invest in appropriate information systems and develop the capacity to analyze data and evaluate programs. In fact, the agency is currently designing a tracking system or its youth services and job preparation programs. The most significant impediment to acquisition of this system will be limited resources. Like most states, Kansas is experiencing serious budget problems. Expensive information systems will require that funds be reallocated within the agency. Although most programs and area managers recognize the need for automation, few are likely to volunteer to cut budgets to meet that need. Strong commitment from central administration will be necessary to make this a priority.
Another important step in developing management capacity is to establish priorities for service delivery. The agency lacks the resources to do well everything that it is mandated to do. The result is that few, if any, programs provide the level of service that staff and administrators would prefer. A well-designed strategic planning process that develops specific goals for the agency should identify priorities and facilitate reallocation of resources to serve those priorities.
This will be a difficult process. It is unlikely that anyone will willingly accept his or her program as a low priority. In addition, legal mandates and federal regulations severely restrict the ability of the agency to cut programs. But priorities are currently being set indirectly by field workers who must allocate their limited time across very high caseloads. This means that existing priorities differ from area to area. Case workers need some specific criteria on which to base their decisions and need those criteria supported by supervisors and agency administrators.
Professional Development and Staff Morale
Implementation of automated information systems will require substantial staff training. Currently most of the training that takes place in SRS is narrowly programmatic in nature. Area staff are given regular updates of changing federal regulations and supervisors receive appropriate training. But that training is a one-time only series of short seminars with no updates or supplements. Virtually no management training takes place. There is serious need for more training and for identification and development of talented staff in the areas of financial management, research, and policy analysis.
Enhanced professional development can serve a dual purpose. It can improve staff productivity and morale by letting employees know that the agency has enough interest in their career development to invest in them. In addition, it can facilitate communication across commission lines and help create a better idea of how the various parts of the agency fit together. Increased emphasis on training will be essential if SRS is to flatten its hierarchy and become more decentralized.
The issue of employee morale demands immediate attention. SRS, like any large organization, employs individuals with a wide range of talent, abilities, and attitudes. The work that many SRS employees do is among the most difficult that exist. They deal with life and death problems that most of society chooses to ignore. The public offers very little recognition of the contribution made by these workers. The agency rarely receives good publicity. Legislative debate and public statements often appear to blame SRS and its employees for problems over which they have no control (Goodsell, 1985).
Public employees are no less in need of positive reinforcement than are other workers. The current personnel system neither rewards good job performers nor punishes poor performance and bad attitudes. Leadership that publicly recognizes the positive contributions that SRS employees make to the overall quality of life in the State of Kansas might have a significant impact on overall employee morale, attitude, and productivity.
SRS needs a thorough review of its personnel policies. Central office administrators lack adequate knowledge of the requirements of service delivery in the field. Position descriptions should be rewritten to reflect actual work performed and area directors should have the flexibility to staff in a way that meets the needs of their respective client characteristics and program mix. Criteria for employee performance evaluations should be updated to include specific measures chat consider quality of practice and attitude toward clients, fellow workers, and the public. Poor performance should be penalized and tangible rewards for good performance should be incorporated. Opportunities for professional development could be built into the reward structure. Occasional job rotation should also be encouraged. Moving workers in and out of the central office could improve communication between field and central staff as well as provide alternative perspectives that could enhance service delivery.
Major changes in the personnel system will undoubtedly meet with significant resistance from both line workers and supervisors. It will require preparing supervisors to conduct meaningful performance evaluations and providing area directors with more authority in personnel matters than they have had in the past. And, although any new system will be threatening to employees, it should provide employees with clear expectations and an incentive for supplying quality services.
No one in SRS can identify the number of outstanding purchase-of-service contracts. Some contracts are monitored very closely and others hardly at all. Proposal writing instructions for some grants vary significantly from year to year. Providers have a hard time keeping up with changes that are made without explanation or rationale. Inconsistent evaluation criteria across program areas and over time have contributed to serious mistrust between private providers and SRS.
Contract administrators from the various commissions should share information on a regular basis with the intention of minimizing inconsistencies in evaluation criteria. The agency should also develop department-wide standards for contract monitoring.
Outside Assistance and Perspective
Every organization benefits from outside influences. SRS is, in many ways, a closed system. Most of its top officials have been with the agency for a very long time and a majority has been educated as social workers. This common experience inevitably leads individuals to view problems from the same perspective which, in turn, closes off certain options and solutions simply because they are not suggested.
SRS would benefit from ongoing advice from private sector operating officials as opposed to chief executives or from a loaned executive program that could include accountants and lawyers as well as managers, Private social service providers could also offer insight into how SRS looks to outsiders who do business with the agency. An outside perspective can help to formulate problems in different terms and raise alternative solutions that were previously not considered. Outsiders may also challenge assumptions about why things are done the way they are and make suggestions for improvements in operations.
SRS has become too large for one individual to serve as both chief executive officer and chief administrative officer. The Secretary must remain accountable to the Governor and Legislature and must be concerned with policy and with articulation of agency mission and values to workers at all levels of the organization. Day-to-day administration should be assigned to a deputy who has the expertise to manage operations in a large and complex organization. Division heads should remain unclassified appointees accountable to the Secretary but should be selected on the basis of program expertise and management experience, not on the basis of politics.
One caveat affecting the development of management capacity is that SRS must be careful about the management theories that it embraces. Management theory developed in the early part of this century was based on manufacturing and emphasized standardized product, command and control authority, emphasis on quantity with minimum quality control specialized labor and short-term return on investment.
In contrast, modern management theories argue that successful service industries have nonstandardized outputs, flattened hierarchies, emphasis on quality, generalist workers who can perform a wide range of ever-changing tasks, and a vision of the long term. Some research indicates that changing technology requires that manufacturing as well as service industries adopt many of the new management concepts (Bowen and Greiner, 1988; Zuboff, 1988). The private sector advisors that SRS chooses need the insight to recognize the differences between manufacturing and service industries and between public and private enterprise.
Following the policy direction set by the Governor and the Legislature, SRS needs to develop an effective strategy for dealing with the federal government. Its approach need not be confrontational but does need to be assertive. Most of the observations made about the organizational culture of SRS, about size, hierarchy, compartmentalization, losing the big picture to concern for detailed regulation also apply to the federal government. It is easy to underestimate the difficulty of dealing with a large bureaucracy--one many times the size of SRS.
State policy-makers have an obligation to the electorate to set the policy direction of the state, to identify local needs, and to design programs to meet those needs. Enhanced managerial capacity and improved organization structure in SRS and other social welfare agencies can strengthen the ability of state governments to meet those obligations.
The biggest problems facing social welfare organizations are neither organizational nor managerial. They have to do with policy. The agency is required by law to provide certain services to all who qualify. The number of individuals who qualify has, for a number of reasons, been increasing. Other major concerns include health care costs, nursing home costs, an aging population, substance abuse, and the numerous other problems facing families today (Levy and Michel, 1991). These are problems that have no simple solutions. What is needed is open, extended, public debate on what populations should be served, what services should be provided, and how much the public is willing to pay for those services.
But SRS and other state welfare agencies cannot wait for the outcome of such a debate. They must move ahead to solve the problems that they face under existing policy. Princeton economist, Alan Binder (1987) proposes that the overall economy would be healthier if policy-makers approached their responsibilities with hard heads that recognized market forces, resource limitations, and difficult decisions but that those hard heads should be moderated by soft hearts that also recognized that opportunity is not equal in this country and that those with more should contribute to improve the standard of living of those with less.
Most social welfare organizations would benefit from some harder heads. More efficiency of operations could be achieved without sacrificing the interests of clients. In fact, failure to make the best use of scarce resources cheats clients of potential services. These agencies need to begin immediately to articulate values, to specify desired policy outcomes, and to adopt organizational patterns and strategic management concepts that can improve service delivery. It will require abandonment of long-held tendencies toward top-down command and control management and avoiding significant decision-making.
It is difficult to underestimate the impact that leadership can make on changing culture in an organization. Excellent management creates a community of shared values and communicates those values throughout the entire organization. Most social welfare organizations are in need of a well-defined sense of purpose and direction in the face of intractable social problems and political ambivalence. Strong leadership, coupled with enhanced management capacity, cannot substitute for clear policy direction but they can make a significant difference in the operating efficiency of any social welfare agency.
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