The Professional Package: One Agency's Journey to Developing More Effective Supervisors
By William Atkinson
The Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services (JBFCS) began a process to improve the effectiveness of its residential milieu line supervisors through two 18-hour effective supervisory practice courses. What began as two courses geared to one targeted discipline has blossomed into a 60-hour certificate in supervision, with 30 more elective hours, now used by supervisors throughout the agency. JBFCS staff discussed how their agency's targeted efforts to address a single issue became a significant transformational project for the entire agency during CWLA's 2006 Competence on Call teleconference series. This article is based on that teleconference.
JBFCS in Hawthorne, New York, is one of the largest nonprofit, nonsectarian mental health and social service agencies in the United States. In existence since the 1890s, it offers 185 community-based, residential, and day treatment programs throughout New York City and Westchester County, and serves more than 10,000 clients. The organization has a staff of 3,200, plus 2,000 trained volunteers.
In 1999, JBFCS created the Institute for Child Care Professionalism and Training for its nonresidential programs, and the following year added a program designed to improve the effectiveness of its residential line supervisors. "Participants reported that, when they returned to their work, their supervisors weren't always tuned in or engaging in consistent supervision," explains Institute Director Frank Delano. "We realized we needed to create a parallel process for supervisors."
Today, the institute offers four programs: a 50-hour child care worker certificate, a 60-hour supervision certificate, additional workshop training on a variety of topics for outside participants, and involvement and participation in training on national and international levels.
The supervisory training program began with two 18-hour courses developed by CWLA called Effective Supervisory Practice. The first course covers the role of the middle manager, managing problems, constructive confrontation, supervisory relationships, behaviors of competent supervisors, effective communication, structuring the supervisory session, team building, conducting effective meetings, stress management, and time management.
The second course covers recruiting and screening, interviewing and hiring, orientation and training, personnel evaluations, progressive discipline, managing conflict, termination of employment, managing change, and agencywide crisis management.
"As we conducted these sessions, we [received] consistent feedback from peopleOethat they needed more depth," Delano says. This led JBFCS to expand the program in 2003, culminating with a certificate in supervision. The 60-hour certificate program includes
Course content was a result of feedback from the first two courses, as well as program requests. The institute has had three graduating classes, in 2003, 2004, and 2006. Even with 60 hours, participants said they still wanted more. As a result, the program now also offers 30 additional elective hours, consisting of various related supervisory courses.
- Effective Supervisory Practice 1 (18 hours),
- Effective Supervisory Practice 2 (18 hours),
- Establishing Yourself as a Supervisor/Director (6 hours),
- Professionally Packaging Your Meetings (4 hours),
- The Art of Delegation for Supervisors (4 hours),
- Interviewing Skills to Hire: Developing a Professionally Packaged Interview (4 hours),
- Building a Professional Package: The Art of Constructive Confrontation (4 hours), and
- Power in the Supervisory Relationship (2 hours).
The program's expansion has not been without growing pains. Some residential program administrators resisted the training early on, which Delano attributes to agency politics and administrative changes within JBFCS. The agency addressed these internal issues, he says, and staff acceptance of the training program has improved.
The institute created a "training cabinet," comprising all the milieu directors of the residential programs. The cabinet meets twice a year to measure satisfaction levels for the training institute's programs and to plan programs for the following year. The institute has also expanded training to different programs and disciplines in JBFCS and to integrate these different groups.
The institute also spent $8,000 to certify Delano to train staff. "Once we made the investmentOeit legitimized the process," Delano says. "Once the agency agreed to spend the money, more ears tuned into the program."
The institute has also focused on participant retention rates in the program, especially for the three-day courses. "During the first six months of the three-day program, the dropout rate was about 50%," Delano recalls. "Now, it's down to 15%, the result of improved program credibility."
Some supervisors still have difficulty admitting they need supervisory training. "We explain to them that what they don't know isn't a problem," Delano says, "however, we still face this reluctance at different levels."
Some participants have been concerned about confidentiality during the training. "Some of them worried what they said would be shared outside," Delano explains. JBFCS has moved to address these concerns, however. For example, the institute conducts a four-month follow-up after training, either by bringing people together or by conducting phone surveys; one of the questions relates to confidentiality. Delano says, "The results of the last survey found that 90% of the participants were happy with the level of confidentiality."
The institute occasionally has found that training philosophies were in conflict with program activities or philosophies. "The solution was to get higher-level supervisors into the training," Delano explains. Trainers also allow participants to say, "That's not how we do it."
"We allow different philosophies to merge," Delano says, "or we explain they can be different and still be good practice."
Key Developments and Strategies
In addition to the improvements the institute has made along the way, it has adopted additional changes that have helped the training programs flourish. For example:
Since the institute opened the course to those being groomed as supervisors, for example, three participants have become supervisors, four are still being groomed, and two decided not to become supervisors because the course helped them realize they didn't want to become supervisors after all. "We think this is actually a good result," Delano says. "We didn't end up promoting people who shouldn't be promoted."
- The institute hired a highly qualified administrative assistant.
- The institute seeks feedback about the need for additional training and ideas for new courses; these participant evaluations are a primary vehicle for moving the institute forward.
- When the institute created its residential training cabinet, getting program directors involved was challenging because of their lack of availability. "As a result, we decided to staff the cabinet with milieu directors," Delano explains, "because they're the ones sending people to training."
- The institute decided to deliver courses at a local hotel to remove supervisors from their everyday work environments.
- An element of the program asks that participants create action plans. At the end of each three-day course, participants must announce two action plans they will work on during the next four months, such as redoing a manual or a meeting structure. Over the last three years, 88% of participants report they have implemented their action plans, and 73% say they have seen significant positives coming from them.
- To provide better customer service, the institute began scheduling more courses on weekends and evenings. This opened the door to larger audiences since many supervisors can't get away from work during the day.
- JBFCS has moved to expand the program's availability to more supervisors. The original audience was residential milieu supervisors, but now the program has expanded to clinical supervisors, supervisors of nonresidential programs, support service supervisors, shift supervisors, human resource specialists, art therapists, intern supervisors, and even employees being groomed to be supervisors. "Widening the audience enriches the training because of different backgrounds, levels, and experiences," Delano reports.
In establishing the institute, JBFCS has learned the importance of organizational structural autonomy. "The training programs aren't linked to a particular program department, which allows the training to progress without a lot of red tape," Delano explains.
- Participants now receive a $1,000 bonus for completing the certificate program.
- The institute has developed a "professional package" concept that links the themes and key ideas.
JBFCS also has learned the importance of evaluations. Delano emphasizes, "We receive evaluations on every course." One question, for example, asks whether the trainer showed respect for the knowledge of participants, on which the institute places particular emphasis.
Delano says the emphasis on confidentiality is also important. "We want to make sure no content leaves the room; however, we explain that themes can leave the room."
Finally, the institute has found that advertising the programs directly to the targeted audiences leads to more participation. Instead of the institute advertising to targeted participants' bosses and asking them to find someone to cover a shift before allowing an employee to attend training, targeted participants contact their supervisors to ask permission once they receive notification about the available training.
Results and Benefits
Although the program's initial purpose was to bring supervisors from different levels and functions together to receive training, an additional benefit has been a dynamic synthesis resulting from the interaction of supervisors. Sharing their different professional experiences has helped improve understanding of different roles and led to an increased blending of clinical and milieu philosophies.
Another significant benefit is that participants have come away with a lot of information and strategies that help them deal with workplace confrontation.
As mentioned earlier, the institute incorporates a professional package concept, which JBFCS defines as a cohesive concept that logically articulates a commonly accepted professional standard that depersonalizes an issue and stimulates a professional process. Consistent use of the package cultivates an organizational culture that promotes a standard of excellence, cultural competence, and highest quality services.
One of the topics the program reviews is the "professionally packaged confrontation," defined as "using assessment skills to frame the confrontation in order to depersonalize the issue and explain the problem in a way that reflects an acceptable professional standard that is unquestionable to most."
Brice Moss, Assistant Director of Continuous Performance Improvement at JBFCS's Linden Hill Residential Treatment Facility, participated in the institute's training when he was a team leader. "One thing I learned was that being direct during a confrontation with someone who isn't meeting expectations doesn't just set the stage for progressive discipline," he says. "It also offers the supervisee the best chance of recognizing there is a problem and making a needed correction." Rather than focusing on the conflict, according to Moss, the training helped him see direct confrontation as an effort to be helpful to a staff person.
He used this approach with two of his staff--individuals who didn't want to play by the rules and didn't see anything wrong with that. "They were hard to supervise and were also unkind to the children," he says. "I undertook the confrontations, and the results were good." One individual moved to another job, the other agreed to accept an overnight staff position, which was helpful in its own way.
"Since that time, I have moved on to my current position," Moss says. "With the confidence I gained from the training, I felt ready to take on this position in senior management."
Deborah Mondello, Clinical Supervisor and Intake Coordinator for JBFCS's Goldsmith Center for Adolescent Treatment, was hired as a clinical supervisor in 2003 and signed up for the 60-hour course. She too learned a great deal related to confrontation issues. "Although I had experience as a supervisor before, I became much more comfortable with constructive confrontation, supervisory interaction, evaluation writing, and disciplinary action," she says. "Supervisees also began to appreciate my ability to create personal corrective plans when needed. I was able to evolve into a supervisor who was able to teach rather than point out flaws."
The institute has a number of goals. One is to continue to develop ways to link training back to "the floor" and to the programs. "We want to link action plans back to supervisors, so they sign off on them and send the results back to us," Delano says. A second goal is to develop the certificate program into a competency-based model, which may involve tests and a more formalized structure for how the certificate is earned.
A third goal is to attract more senior-level supervisors and directors to the training. "We want to structure the courses in such a way that we can attract these people," Delano explains.
Two additional goals are to create a strategy for conducting formal research on the program and process, as well as to identify ways to involve more staff as trainers.
For more information about JBFCS and the Institute for Child Care Professionalism and Training, visit www.jbfcs.org. For more information about CWLA's Effective Supervisory Practice program, visit CWLA's webstore.
William Atkinson is a full-time business writer and former regional reporter for TIME, and a regular contributor to Children's Voice.
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