All managers manage systems. A human service system is an organized community of interest; a group of people with similar concerns that cause similar patterns of behavior. A human service system may be described as a group of interdependent components that are in an organized (or intentional) relationship for the purpose of carrying out a mission.
In order to understand the concept of system itself, it may be important to examine some of the several aspects of systems. Two of them are related to the form, or shape, of the system. These aspects indicate the manner in which systems interact and overlap with each other in a sometimes nebulous network. Two other aspects relate to the strength, or vitality, of the system by indicating the degree of intentionality or directiveness of all of the participants towards a common goal.
The first concern with system form is with the hierarchical arrangement. This means that one system is included, or nested, in another with different levels or ranks and with one system subordinate to others. As an example, a financial recording and reporting system is a subordinate system to the total management system within human service organizations. Thus the head of the financial system is lower in status than the head of the organizational management system. The head of the financial system may also be subordinate to the head of the service delivery system, or at the very least, is no higher. This is because, the intention, or common goal of the human service organization is to provide human services and the financial system is there to enhance, not control, that process. On the other hand, the financial system has its own common goal of accountability; the recording, classifying, summarizing and interpreting of money, transactions and financial events for the purpose of enhancing the human service mission. Thus the financial system and its participants are hierarchically within the network of the human service organization, but can be separated out for the purpose of examining it’s own systemic processes.
A contrary, but not mutually exclusive aspect of form, is that of interdependence, which means that often systems relate in a network fashion with each needing to interact with one another in order to carry out each mission. Clearly there is some level of interdependence in our example above, however a more equal example might be two human service systems which interrelate because their clients have both problem identifications [dual labels, if you will]. Neither is subordinate on a continuing basis, but each may take a subordinate role in a given situation because of their mutual interdependence.
Review of these two perceptions regarding form probably leads most of us to an inevitable conclusion that the interrelationship between and among systems is nearly infinite. System and subsystem become interchangeable terms depending upon one’s point of reference. Thus examination of a system’s form requires a definition of which set one will examine. A “set” may be described as an arbitrary separation of a part of an infinite network which relates to a specific hierarchical pattern. We could choose either the financial system or the human service system as our system “set” to be examined. Such a set will, of course, have a “head” or leadership element.
If the set chosen is sufficiently complex, the leadership is involved in management that covers the gamut of service delivery, financial, personnel and facility areas and can be said to be at a total management level. Even here, however, because of the interactive aspects of the hierarchical networks, these managers have others who “outrank” them -consider for example the public agency-funding source with whom the organization contracts to provide the services. Nonetheless, it is the total management level in any given organization, which most needs to address mission-oriented management.
Two other aspects of systems have been identified as dealing with intentionality or directiveness towards a common goal. First, is the target of the directive activity, or mission of the system? As a community of interest, there must be a common goal. People get together in systems to reach goals. Where the goals are clearly identified and agreed upon and where each subordinate subsystem is focused upon achieving these goals, a system may be described as whole. Where people have “turf” within the system it is an indication that the common goal is not commonly held. The degree of wholeness is related to the strength of unity in a given system.
The manager’s responsibility is to “steer” the system, to provide a common direction towards a specific goal where it does not exist or to exploit and support the common direction where it does. Clearly, if wholeness exists, management can become more technical than charismatic since the management task is to organize the processes of the hierarchical elements in a manner that supports the mission and maintains or strengthens “wholeness”.
Creation of a mission, where there is none or where there is a distortion (turf conflict) among participants, demands a different type of leadership. Turf conflict demands a change of culture. Culture may be described as the integrated pattern of knowledge, belief and behavior that creates the norms of the organization. A change in culture demands that knowledge, belief and behavior be affected in that order. It is the people and their culture (or ways of thinking, feeling and acting) which are at the focus of mission oriented management. Management needs to affect how people behave or expend their energy. The weakness of a system may be identified by the level of motivation as expressed in the available energy of people in the system with which to strive for achievement of the mission or, in either a lack of a set of appropriate patterns of behavior or in patterns of behavior which are not mission enhancing.
The task of management is concerned with how to motivate employees to use their energies in the most organizationally efficacious (effective and efficient) manner. Commitment to organizational efficacy can best be sustained by the integration of personal and organizational goals. Where the vested interest of the individual and the system meet, there is the best potential for successful implementation of system wholeness. People who seek their own personal goals that are contrary to organizational goals are considered to be “self-serving” in their behavior; people whose personal goals are the same as the organizational goals are considered to be “dedicated”. All people seek reward (love, attention, recognition, money) and behave in ways that they believe will maximize this outcome, and to the extent that they do this, all people have self-serving behavior.
The management issue is, of course, to get the self-serving behavior to also be organization serving. The difficulty, of course, is that when dealing with people, there is an inherent principle of uncertainty. While we know that people will respond to reward, we cannot always be sure that we know to what reward they will respond. Or even what they would consider a reward. It is often problematic even to ask, as the uncertainty about what we want, beyond what we need, is often uncertain, even to us. The manager’s desire for intentionality in staff to actively use their energies towards reaching the goals of the organization therefore seems to be only implementable through trial and error or reward/punishment activities.
But management success is not only the expression of energies, which may be enhanced by meeting personal needs, but also through the mastery of that energy or the personal skill competency to meet the needs (mission) of the organization. Management must improve both the ability and the motivation of people to perform at optimal levels of organizational efficacy.
The ability to identify those areas of activity in which variation from scheduled performance occurs, is critical to the ability to reward the use of personal energies of the people in the system towards organizational ends. This remedial response supplies the system support for organizational efficacious processes. The development of formal ways of carrying out organizationally efficacious processes provides the competency (knowledge and behavior) to achieve excellence and, therefore, reward.
At the heart of the issue are the concepts of intrinsic/extrinsic motivation. If the personal goals of the individual match the organizational goals, the individual is intrinsically motivated to improve. They will want to find ways to do their work more efficiently and effectively, and this desire will stem as much from the pride they take in what they do as from any positive (or negative) reinforcements they may receive. If motivation is solely extrinsic, the drive toward continuing improvement will disappear as soon as the external reinforcement mechanisms cease to exist or be effective.
The best way to sustain commitment is to add extrinsic reinforcement to the mix of personal goal/organizational goal correlation. “Enfranchisement equals empowerment plus rewards and recognition: This is the real ‘power equation’ for continuous improvement.” (Dubnicki & Williams – 1992)
The major elements of system change are 1) people and their personal agendas (needs & goals) which need to be identified and, if at all possible met within the system; 2) procedures or formal ways of doing things which identify and articulate organizational efficacy and provide the potential for personal competence; and finally, 3) the extrinsic reinforcement which supports the personal and organizational efficacy.
While you cannot always motivate the energies of people to act in specific ways; you can specify the manner in which they should act. As Confucius has suggested, “if you want a polite man; first have him act politely”. The second step of management (after creation of a mission) then is to develop the procedures or ways of acting and doing things that are specifically oriented towards supporting activities that promote the goal or mission.
This development of procedures is a method of standardizing performance and is for that very reason often eschewed by human service managers. There is the feeling that the “art” of human service delivery exceeds the science and that therefore people should be free to act in “artful” ways; with freedom of constraints. This is, of course, a misunderstanding of “art” which is invariably a highly standardized process. It is the standardization of art that allows for the “innovative” movement to take place. Without such standardization there is no measure of excellence.
Perhaps, even more important is the fact that we cannot assume that the people who provide the direct services know how to successfully implement activities to enhance the mission. The development of best practice procedures provides a minimum base upon which even the most naive can operate with some measure of safety. The “master artists” will exceed this minimum performance and by constantly reviewing the process and improving it, we can incorporate the master practices into our standard. Thus, continuous quality improvement of each discrete practice is possible.
The creation of procedures, however, is not sufficient to assure that the activities are taking place (or that something finer is happening) since there must also be a measure of excellence. While in art this measurement takes place with the critics and the consumers; human service systems rarely have such automatic feedback mechanisms. There must be two further applications that take place, if assurance of organizational efficacy is to be maximized. First, there must be the ability to identify variation from expected outcome and second, there must be a remedial response.
The ability to identify variation from performance is contingent upon the ability to develop performance standards of implementation and outcome in a manner that can be counted. Once counted the variations from the norm can be computed and the manager can create hypothesis about why the deviation has occurred. Once having developed and determined the validity of the hypothesis, the manager can develop a remedial response of reward/punishment or retraining which is appropriate to support the expected behavior.
In summary, managers manage systems. Systems are groups of people who organize themselves and develop ways of behaving to achieve goals. When the commonality (correlation of the personal and organizational) of goals is sufficiently precise the system can be described as whole, and people will, of their own volition, act appropriately to achieve the mission purposes, or operate efficaciously for the organization. The development, articulation, discussion, reiteration, of a clear, concise mission is the primary directive of management since it clearly sets the target for seeking personal and organizational correlation.
When the commonality of interest is not sufficiently precise, meaning that the personal and organizational goals do not correlate (which is most often the case or at least we should be reasonably uncertain that this is the case) specific written protocols about how to act provide people with best practice exercises to help them reap extrinsic reinforcement. These protocols need to be developed in a method that makes the activities (or at least the outcome of these activities) measurable. Projections about expectations on the numbers and types of activities (or outcomes) need to be stated so that standards of expectation can be developed and exceptions to the expectations can be defined.
Finally, the exceptions (or variations) need to be responded to in a remedial manner. This will require reward (recognition or financial remuneration) for positive variation and/or training (empowerment through competence) or punishment (lack of reward, termination, etc.) for negative variation. While it is at best uncertain whether the response mechanism will work, it is assured that failure to respond will defeat the purposes by condoning bad practices. Failure to punish or remedy nonefficacious behaviors, or worse, rewarding nonefficacious behaviors, condone such behavior, creating a cultural confusion leading to the establishment of “turf”.
It may be that remedial responses only offset this negative. But it is also true that we are talking about thinking people, not just behavioral animals. The process of remedial response brings to everyone’s attention that the mission intent is clear and gives them additional reasons to own a part of it. People do not tend to deliberately be out of step. Given clear enough guidelines with appropriate attention given to exceptions, they will normally choose to conform and perform.
Again, the most ideal condition is to have all of the people oriented and owning the mission. Unfortunately this ideal is seldom met because of the nature of human beings and their hierarchy of needs. A mission to protect oneself from danger will usually bring an immediate camaraderie of activity. Self-preservation is a very strong hierarchical need. Profit, which can be seen as a method of self-preservation is also a very strong goal that can often bring people together in common activity.
Altruism, despite the idealistic nature of human beings (particularly those drawn to human service) is not a primal need and is easily of f set by the need to personally survive and gain. This is particularly so when the people involved in the delivery of human services are often less than self sufficient themselves in the areas of self -protection and gain. The additional benefit of mission oriented management is that it gives a concrete measure to these people about their contributions and failures with the potential reward for strong performance. This gives better definition to their own lives as a buffer against losing sight of the altruistic goals in order to service their own needs.