Monthly Archives: April 2014

Change Management: New ways of working

I am working in a division that went through a restructure and is due to go through another, so there is, understandably, tension and anxiety wafting through. The first restructure saw the creation of the division and the introduction of a new way of working to incorporate a new national agenda. It didn’t take. I wasn’t here for the initiation of the changes so I can’t comment of what the work environment was like at that time but since my arrival, I get the feeling that staff were informed of the change, there was a tokenistic consultation (and I don’t see the purpose as the conclusion of the consultation was that none of the staff had any clue about how this new way of working works in practice – obvious, no?), and a shift in the way they do the way they do.

Granted, the organization paid for all the staff to be trained in this new way of working but there doesn’t appear to have been a clear practical demonstration of how it fits into their current way of working (this was particularly contentious as this new way of working was voluntary and some of the teams in the division case managed statutory cases). Practitioners even went so far as to voice the fact that they felt “forced” into undertaking the training. There was widespread resentment. There was widespread resistance to the point where, once I was hired (as a quality assurance person), there was nothing for me to do because no one was doing the work I was hired to quality assure. As you can imagine this caused widespread frustration amongst managers.

The organization even went so far as to put on training for the frontline managers as this new way of working on the frontline also meant a new way of supervising staff. Do you think the training actually covered what they might encounter in supervision as a result of this new way of working? Absolutely not. What came out of this training? Managers asking for support in order to support the workers with this new way of working. One manager even said outright that his expectation and understanding was that the training was going to provide just that. Uh, no. Sorry sir, that is way to practical and logical.

Much to my surprise, this wasn’t addressed directly with practitioners or managers. How about that?

How do you start a division with the view of working in a different way to benefit your client base but don’t address the fact that the work isn’t being done? I have no idea. Again, it goes back to the shoddy approach to change management.

Fast forward about 6 months. The work isn’t being done. The “clinical supervision” that was promised as part of the restructure has been rethought and is no longer going to be provided. “Practice meetings” provided to one of the teams doesn’t deal with practice issues but management issues. Workers are still resentful. Managers are still not receiving any support. There are still no cases for me to quality assure. There has been no direct discussions about any of the above although senior management sees fit to engage other projects, programs and bring on new teams. Did I miss something? Probably, but I digress.

So, how do we address all the above. BRAND NEW practice sessions that spend the entire division (as opposed to the ones that aren’t working properly in the one team that has them). Ok, I can get on board with this because the practitioners are asking for and want the opportunity to discuss their cases and management are keen for them to be taking on more professional responsibility and utilize the skills they learned on training. Now, I have been asked to help facilitate these sessions, which again I am fine with. My issue, we are introducing more things to practitioners (or re-introducing them) and again leaving out the managers. How do you make changes to practice without involving those that are doing the day to day management of that practice? Well, this would be my conundrum. I feel like by excluding the managers and not providing the support that has been requested initially and support around what we are doing now, we are missing a crucial step. We are setting ourselves up for issues down the line.

It is perfectly acceptable to want to enhance the skills of your frontline staff but what effect does this have if they are still being managed in the same way? Am I wrong? Am I missing something?

I am more than open to discussing this because I cannot fathom how this is going to play out. I am feeling a bit anxious. I will do what is asked of me and have voiced my concerns but there has to be a better way of getting and organization, or in this situation, a division of functioning better and more cohesively, no?

This makes me question the investment in this entire division. The initial investment is there, but as you can see from the picture there needs to be a cycle of continuous improvement. A cycle denotes a connection, not a disjointed approach – addressing issues that arise in isolation instead as part of continuous improvement.

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Posted by on April 28, 2014 in My Practice


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NEEDED: Social Workers – Idealism a MUST!

Much like many on my Social Work programs – both as an undergraduate and a graduate student – I started my career with wide eyed optimism that would stay with me even through confrontation from cynical Social Work lifers who’ve “been there, done that and saw it die a horrible death”.

As a Social Worker cynicism is always hot on your trail due to bureaucracy overload, horribly managed structural changes, legislative changes, changing political agendas and many other optimism crushing factors. However, none of it diminishes the need for optimism or the belief that change is not only needed, but indeed possible even in some of the most hopeless seeming situations. The moment you stop believing change is possible, as a Social Worker, is the moment it is time to leave Social Work because with that frame of mind you have already limited your ability to be as effective as you can be as a professional. It is a case of mind over matter. It is a case of seeing every client as an individual or as an individual system as it relates to work with families and groups. You may have seen a similar set of circumstances – almost mirrored in some instances; but while you should use that knowledge to help you understand what a particular client is going through, past experience should not taint your ability to work through similar circumstances with this client. Your past experience should enhance it.

No matter how familiar a situation or circumstance may seem to us a professionals, it will indelibly be slightly, if not drastically, different because you are dealing with a different client. They will bring their own experiences to the problem as well as their own strengths and resilience. By casting them off into our own predetermined groups we are not only doing them a disservice, we are doing ourselves a disservice because we are limiting our ability to help them.

Past experiences with social problems should give a practitioner an insight into some of the barriers they may encounter when working with a client experiencing something similar. It should have allowed a practitioner to build up his or her own resilience to the problem as well as resources to help address it. Social Workers need to believe in the possibility of social and individual change in order for our work to be relevant and effective. We cannot hope to improve society if we cannot believe in it on a basic level.

Social Workers become cynical for a variety of reasons whether these are related to the organisation or their own feelings of how effective their personal practice may or may not be. But one tool that we have to combat this is reflection. I know, I know; people, professionals, academics all go on about reflection. They do so because of its benefits to Social Work practice and Social Work practitioners. It is exactly this reflection that allows you to build the skills I discussed in the previous paragraph. It is constantly learning and revising practice that keeps us relevant, engaged and involved in the profession. It is understanding ourselves and the motivations of others that allow us to make the biggest impact on those with whom we work. It is our idealism that help us build resilience in our clients helping them to believe in themselves.

As Social Workers, we meet people where they are and in some small way, work to ensure they are better off when our work is complete. If we effect no other visible change in our clients, the most noble goals of Social Work is self determination and resilience. If we can teach those we are on a road that affords us the opportunity to make the most of what we know. Meeting people where they are sometimes means believing where they do not. It is difficult, emotionally draining and incredibly rewarding. You may not always meet the big goals, but one thing I have learned as a Social Worker is that the small wins are sometimes just as powerful as meeting those big goals.

I think as Social Workers we fail ourselves by seeing the picture a little too big. For example, for a professional, getting a job may seem like a very small goal. However, for someone who cannot read and has gone their entire lives able to hide that fact from the majority it is a daunting task. Not only that, it is an unfair one and we would be setting that person up to fail repeatedly. What happens then? They begin to distrust the profession and they no longer believe in us. When they no longer believe in us, we can no longer be as effective as we once were. We cannot have the same impact.

Idealism in Social Work is a must. We hear all the time that we need to be accountable for the work we do. We must also be accountable for our own professional development. Research is constantly being undertaken. New theories are always being introduced. If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten. We need to change the way we approach problems and a great way of doing this is engaging with other professionals, through training, through workshops, through consultation, through volunteering and being part of Social Work organisations. You can build your professional resilience by staying current. You can pull yourself out of a professional rut by stepping outside of that which you know. It can be scary but find a manager or a colleague who is willing to support you through the process of change. We don’t expect our clients to change on their own do we???? NO! We believe they need our help. So how can we expect ourselves to change without support. Social Work is a proud and ever developing profession. We owe it to ourselves to bring our best to it.

Believe you can. Know that you make a difference. Vow to be as good to yourself as you are to others. Seek support when you need it and keep your hand outstretched. Not only will you find people will take it to allow you to help pull them up, you will find someone will grab it to pull you up as well.


Posted by on April 25, 2014 in The Social World


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Free Speech

loud speakerAn article in the Guardian suggests that Social  Workers should be free to talk to the press. It suggests that Councils need to allow Social Workers the freedom to talk to the press. I agree with the assertion that Social Workers need to engage more with the media (and the College of Social Work offers training as Media Spokeperson) but when it is in relation to a specific issue to do with the organization or clients of an organization, I don’t think this is appropriate.

First, I know some Social Workers, albeit a small majority, who would misuse the opportunity. It would be their opportunity to flag up every issue within the local authority, and even though this may not be done maliciously – and might even be done with the best of intentions – it would be to the detriment of an organization to allow free speech to the press. There is no large scale organization that doesn’t have a public relations office or officer. It is there for a reason. It is to contain a situation not exacerbate it. It is also to filter out the “human” element of reaction as opposed to responding. The difference? Reactions are usually quick and emotionally driven. Responses require more thought and reflection as to the best way to provide an answer while containing the situation. In addition to this, there is no way to manage a response from an individual Social Worker without it appearing that the organization is “coaching” Social Workers which appears even worse to the general public.

I believe that Social Workers should be more involved in policy making, media representation of the profession, legislative bodies, work groups on Social Work education and pretty much anything to do with the profession and it’s development. I think this should be done as a matter of course as we are the best ones to be able to grant insight into the workings and I think they should be involved in drafting responses to the media regarding specific issues. But I think the responses themselves should be given by objective parties, such as a public relations officer or someone similar to avoid prejudices of internal investigations and, as I mentioned, to ensure thoughtful responses that appropriately represents the organizations position and how they are managing the issue.

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Posted by on April 23, 2014 in The Social World


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