The Management Audit as a Teaching Tool in Social Work Administration

By Packard, Thomas | Journal of Social Work Education, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

The Management Audit as a Teaching Tool in Social Work Administration


Packard, Thomas, Journal of Social Work Education


SINCE AT LEAST THE ADVENT of the accountability movement in social work in the 1970s (Martin & Kettner, 1997) and the popularizing of excellence by Peters and Waterman (1982), social work administrators have increasingly focused on defining and achieving organizational effectiveness. The recent emphasis on outcomes measurement in social work (Mullen & Magnabosco, 1997) has heightened interest in creating maximally effective human service programs, and best-selling authors outside of social work (e.g., Kanter, 1983; Osborne & Gaebler, 1992) have emphasized the need for major changes in organizational management. Presented here is one strategy for responding to these concerns in social work: training administration students as change agents who can provide leadership in making their agencies more effective and responsive to client needs.

This article describes efforts to integrate this training in a second-semester practice course. Responding to a challenge made previously by Patti (1987), the author suggests how such efforts can be used to improve the effectiveness and responsiveness of human service organizations in the future. Secondarily, the article summarizes common themes observed in the organizational functioning of a diverse group of over 40 agencies in a large metropolitan area.

After briefly reviewing the environmental factors demanding change in human service organizations and how the administrative sector of the profession has responded, three models of organizational change are reviewed, as is the literature documenting case examples of organizational change. The article then turns to the two practice course assignments used to train administration students to be change agents. The first assignment involves the completion of a management audit of the student's internship site; the second involves the development of an organizational change plan to address a weak area represented in the audit. The author then presents data from audits collected over a four-year period, gives examples of student change goals, and discusses the implications of such training for social work education and administrative practice.

The Environmental Context for Organizational Change

Clients, taxpayers, politicians, and the public at large are expecting more responsive and effective services at lower costs. This concern has increasingly occupied the profession (Patti, Rapp, & Poertner, 1987) and is reflected in the current attention to outcomes measurement (Mullen & Magnabosco, 1997). Welfare reform has variously affected governmental and not-for-profit organizations, notably in increased purchase of service contracting (Kettner & Martin, 1996) and competition for service provision from for-profit organizations. External expectations for interagency collaboration, entrepreneurial behavior, and more aggressive fundraising from nongovernmental sources create additional pressures for agency executives.

Ten years ago, Hasenfeld (1989) described similar challenges to the legitimacy of social services and the resulting funding cutbacks that came even in the face of increasing social needs. He suggested visionary and transformational leadership on the part of agency administrators, just as leadership books in the business sector in the 1980s dealt with similar challenges. Hasenfeld further emphasized that other organizational variables (structure and processes) would need to be addressed along with leadership to transform social service agencies into more responsive and effective entities.

Recent attention in the social work literature to strategic planning (Bryson, 1995; Menefee, 1997; Steiner, Gross, Ruffolo, & Murray, 1994) has correctly highlighted this promising way to respond to externally forced changes in funding, legislation, and even in the expectations of boards of directors. Another response to these challenges occurred in 1989 when the University of Connecticut School of Social Work sponsored a symposium (Healy, Pine, & Weiner, 1989) to address ways the profession should respond to current environmental changes, including implications for management development. …

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