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Implementing change in a correctional setting.

You've just been promoted to a mid-level supervisory position - more money, more responsibility, more satisfaction. With your promotion, your boss has labeled one column on the flip chart in her office "expected results." In the next column, she's written in ominous, bold letters: "Shake things up." Good luck, you think as you settle down to work.

Change is a part of life. It's also true that most of us dread it. Many of us do not understand that change is a process and that there are ways to make changes, from the mundane to the dramatic, more palatable. The following are six principles that correctional managers can follow when faced with making organizational changes.

Market the Idea

To start, a correctional manager must overcome his or her organization's resistance to change. Upsetting the status quo naturally leads to fear. Although staff may have complained bitterly about the old ways, the spread of rumors about job security will make change difficult. To combat this, you need to get the message about proposed changes out to employees through newsletters and on-site visits. You need to articulate why the old way of doing business didn't work and what you hope to accomplish by change.

In July 1993, the Missouri Department of Corrections formally announced the reorganization of its 6,000-plus employees in its monthly newsletter. In the newsletter, DOC Director Dora Schriro spelled out the reasons for the change. She explained that the department's goal was to empower staff to be more productive and to grow professionally to meet the challenge of increased inmate and supervised populations. It was made clear why change would be good for the department. Thus, the DOC successfully "sold" the change.

The best way to market a new policy or procedure is to get staff involved - to make them "stakeholders" - in the process. If your department is considering a four-day work week, start by having groups of staff meet and provide recommendations. Let field offices or work sites propose their new schedules and explain how client coverage or duties will not be adversely affected. In August 1994, the Missouri DOC approved a community release center and five district probation and parole field offices to start a trial period of four-day work weeks. The offices developed the proposals and scheduling, which became the basis for the policy that the DOC later adopted for the rest of the department.

Self-confidence, Not Hubris

As a manager, you have selected the team that will design the organizational change and take part in implementing it. Surrounded by the organization's best and brightest, you have embarked on a noble purpose governed only by reason and rationality. Graphs and tables are prepared that prove the need for the new way of doing business. Nevertheless, no matter how well you plan, you still may be wrong. Vice President Lyndon Johnson was awed by the men assembled at President Kennedy's first cabinet meeting. Sam Rayburn commented to Johnson, "Well, Lyndon, you may be right, and they may be every bit as intelligent as you say, but I'd feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once."

Remain open to suggestions from veterans in your organization. Although they may be the least receptive to change, their knowledge is invaluable. You also should pay attention to lone dissenters, especially if you are a new boss from outside the organization. Your staff likely will want to please you and be part of the new team, but dissenters may raise some valuable objections.

For instance, in the second year of the Kennedy administration, nearly all of Kennedy's cabinet and staff approved the decision to invade the Bay of Pigs. One of the few dissenters was the commandant of the Marine Corps, who placed a map of Cuba on the board and then placed a much smaller map on top. When asked what the smaller map was, he said it represented the island of Tarawa, which had taken three days and 18,000 Marines to secure during World War II. As history has taught us, Kennedy would have been better served taking this dissenter's advice.

Build a Track Record Of Successes

Try to implement the new policy or procedure beginning with those activities that can be accomplished quickly and successfully. Early failures can be doubly traumatic. They not only impede progress but also send staff a negative message.

If, for example, a department is implementing a new overtime policy, start with only one institution - the one with your best superintendent. Learn from the mistakes and good decisions made at each step. Keep the momentum of change going. When questioned about progress halfway through the implementation process, be able to report success and the benefits of the learning curve.

Managers responsible for making changes also need to recognize and acknowledge when some changes just aren't possible. Sometimes top management may try to achieve impossible performance or initiate ways of doing business that may be counterproductive. Many times such changes were never discussed with the rank and file. For instance, when asked to process greater numbers of inmates at a reception and diagnostic center, a correctional administrator ultimately may have to respond that it cannot be done, either because of limited resources or state law. When change is not possible, managers need to communicate this to their superiors.

Address Corrections Paradigms

Because of the nature of the work, corrections tends to produce middle-level staff who have a great deal of seniority. Mid-level staff are not paid particularly well, but because they are dedicated to their work and appreciate the security of a civil service position, they tend to remain in the system. Experience is a great asset, but it also has its price - the tendency to do the familiar. Correctional managers, therefore, must challenge their staff to take a new look, to begin with a new premise, to break patterns that no longer serve a purpose.

The Missouri DOC, for instance, is reexamining its delivery of information and computer services. For years, in-house staff and inmate programmers provided these services. The department now is considering breaking away from this established paradigm and exploring the possibility of contracting with private vendors to program and maintain the system. This internal review is spurred not only because of legislative concerns about staffing increases but also because the DOC has not been able to recruit and retain enough professional staff in this highly competitive field.

Monitor and Evaluate

After you have embarked on implementing change, you need to establish milestones to make sure the change is working. Managers must monitor the implementation, ensure that deadlines are met, make revisions and do whatever it takes to make the change successful. W. Edwards Deming proposed the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle for implementing improvements on work processes. According to Deming's model, an organization plans a change, makes it, checks the results, and then standardizes the change or begins the cycle of improvement again.

For example, evaluating and checking a new procedure for reducing overtime balances is crucial. In 1995, the Missouri DOC secured $1.7 million to reduce its overtime balances. The state implemented a policy for paying time and a half to those who worked on two November holidays and paying all accumulated balances over a set amount (240 hours). However, neither idea proved completely successful. The number of "essential" staff seemed to expand on the two paid holidays, and staff were reluctant to use any accumulated hours as their balances approached the 240-hour payout number.

These results ran counter to the department's goal of reducing overtime balances. The DOC revised its policy this year by paying up to 40 hours to everyone who had that minimum balance. The revised policy appears to be working.

Share Successes, Learn from Failure

If change is successful and the organization benefits, it is because staff embraced and worked on behalf of a new idea. Share the success by acknowledging all those involved. Correctional managers delegate and lead; staff carry out the new policy. For instance, correctional managers may change dietary menus, abandon hair length regulations and authorize sweat lodges, all in response to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, but correctional officers and chaplains are the ones responsible for successfully implementing change in response to the law. They need to be recognized for making the abstract concrete.

Winston Churchill cautioned that we learn more from failure than success. This is especially true in corrections. We are not working on assembly lines where we can calibrate machines to increase efficiency and enhance performance. Corrections is about people - it's about work cultures, offender subcultures and sub rosa rules peculiar to a specific institution or office. Even with the best intentions, the decisions we make do not always produce the results we want. Managers need to be able to identify what does not work and learn from these mistakes so they are better prepared to make the next change successful.


Correctional organizations are continually faced with new challenges: Studies by your department personnel office may show that correctional officers stay with the department an average of only two years. The state or county legislative body may pass a law limiting the use of force and the type of restraints authorized in your system while, at the same time, cutting funding for recreation officers. The possibilities seem endless. In the face of these challenges, it is imperative that correctional managers learn to implement change successfully.


Halberstam, David. 1969. The best and the brightest. New York: Random House.

Walters, Jonathan. 1993. The perils of imported management. Governing (July).

Walters, Jonathan. 1994. The fine art of firing the incompetent. Governing (June).

Walton, Mary. 1991. Deming management at work. New York: Perigee Books.

RELATED ARTICLE: Handling Opposition

There will be opposition to even the best proposed changes. Some staff will feel the proposal is not feasible but will support the decision to go forward. Unfortunately, other staff may oppose and even undermine change long after the decision is made. Motivational theory aside, it may be necessary to transfer, discipline or terminate the recalcitrant employee. Correctional staff generally hold civil service status. Terminating or disciplining civil service employees sometimes may appear impossible. In the private sector, the average discharge rate ranges from 2 percent for industrial workers to 10 percent for service workers. In the civil service sector, the annual number is less than 1 percent, with a majority of dismissals being probationary employees.

Court decisions over the last several years that have addressed employee relations consistently have granted more rights to employees who face termination. Correctional managers should be aware that an employee facing discharge today has a right to a hearing and that employee rights listed in handbooks must be strictly followed. Management must realize that the rights given staff in the labor relations arena are not impediments to accomplishing goals or implementing change, but benefits for good staff who choose to stay with the department. Bad employees can be disciplined and even discharged. It just takes work - the kind of effort that any change necessitates.

Stanley D. Brown is the deputy director of the Missouri Department of Corrections.
COPYRIGHT 1996 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Annual Security Issue and Buyer's Guide July 1996; includes related article on handling opposition to change
Author:Brown, Stanley D.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jul 1, 1996
Previous Article:Advances in technology and strategic thinking.
Next Article:ACA state chapter defines mission.

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