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Organizational transformation: a bold journey, not a guided tour.

For many years, the profile of the public vocational rehabilitation (VR) program has been that of an unassuming, almost invisible, service delivery system. We have seen greater value in promoting the consumers' achievements than our role in their success. Our resources have been key to the development of a multimillion dollar industry of vocational rehabilitation service providers. Yet, that very industry seems to be nipping at our heels as changes are contemplated in the Reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act. Often, in the eyes of the public, the successful employment of the disabled person that we have assisted is not linked to the public vocational rehabilitation program; instead, the success is linked to the private sector provider or other partner who made the direct link with the employer.

The current climate presents real and perceived threats. The public is skeptical about the need for government, and there are concerns about our outcomes. The very value of the public vocational rehabilitation is being called into question.

To meet this challenge, the Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation Division (OVRD) has embarked on a change initiative that will launch us into the 21st century. Our mission provides the necessary foundation for our efforts: to assist Oregonians with disabilities to achieve and maintain employment and independence. To better achieve that mission, we have embraced the need for significant change in the way we do business. Given the threats at hand, we recognize that our survival is at stake.

Organizational transformation is our goal. We are transforming the way we do business through a commitment to providing world class customer service, enhancing our utilization of technology, redefining our relationships with employers and other critical partners, creating more flexible personnel approaches, and evaluating our performance. We are challenging the system and ourselves to better demonstrate our value and worth.

We see organizational transformation as a bold journey. This article shares our experiences thus far and the lessons we have learned along the way.

Recognizing the Need for Change

Organizations that attempt this journey must grapple with a variety of issues. Clearly, leadership for any change strategy must be demonstrated by active commitment from the very top of the organization, and that commitment must spread throughout the organization. Organizational transformation represents a shift that calls for new ways of thinking: about staff roles, about resources, about service delivery, about every aspect of doing business.

OVRD's approach has been in building a strong foundation and weaving leadership skill development throughout the fabric of the organization and in taking advantage of multiple opportunities to develop the leadership skills of OVRD staff.

In the late 1980's, the University of Oklahoma launched an innovative Executive Leadership Program to enhance the leadership skills within the public VR program. Since the program's inception, our administrator, members of the OVRD executive staff, and key members of the management staff have successfully completed the 4-week course. The program has helped OVRD focus on and develop practices associated with exemplary leaders. These practices include the following.

Challenging the Process. We have searched for and found challenging opportunities to change, innovate, and improve our system and processes. We are promoting experimentation and the art of taking risks; and we are learning from our mistakes.

Inspiring a Shared Vision. In conjunction with the creation of a comprehensive business plan, OVRD executive staff has renewed the agency's mission statement and communicated an uplifting organizational vision and statement of shared values.

Enabling Others to Act. We are fostering collaboration by promoting the mission, vision, and values with our staff and other partners. We actively promote the expectation that staff make decisions locally and rely on their discretion in prudent decisionmaking and professional judgment.

Modeling the Way. We look for ways to set the example. Many of our people have been involved in leadership training and activities. This has helped to create an array of positive role models throughout the organization.

Encouraging the Heart. Recognition of individual and group contributions is being incorporated into our agency culture. A peer recognition program is a highlight of our statewide all-staff in-service session.

As an adjunct to the executive leadership development activities, OVRD staff have participated in the University of Oregon's Pacific Program, the University of Washington's Emerging Leaders Program, the State of Oregon's Leadership Oregon Program, and the Department of Human Resources Human Services Academy. Since 1990, more than 50 of our employees have participated in leadership training courses and related activities. This represents a significant human investment in change.

Like many other state VR agencies, we are seeing a shift in the profile of our workforce. Many of our long-term service delivery personnel are moving into retirement. Recruitment and selection of new staff has infused new blood and new life into local offices. We continue to have a consistently high percentage (December 1996:17.9 percent) of people with disabilities in our workforce (65 of 362 employees). We are actively seeking to increase our diversity by hiring and promoting more people from minority cultures.

Like other state VR agencies, OVRD was bitten by the streamlining bug. We recognize now that streamlining is best viewed as a first step in the longer term journey of organizational transformation.

Here in Region X, the streamlining initiative was dynamically led by Keith Anderson, then administrator of the Alaska combined agency. With the technical assistance and support of the regional office, each state's rehabilitation services system was analyzed. Through self- and team assessment, we began to see that much of the excessive paperwork and duplication of effort was of our own making. It had become common to blame the requirements in the federal legislation for our unwieldy process. We soon found that we had created many of the obstacles and we could remove them.

Before proceeding with the Oregon streamlining process, we initiated communication with other state VR agencies, including Georgia, Wisconsin, New York, Texas, Maine, Idaho, and Washington. Similar to other states' approaches, OVRD started by assembling teams of staff, consumers, and other partners to look at the current steps in the rehabilitation process. An extensive series of recommendations were drafted and many implemented. A significant reduction in paperwork resulted, but minimal impact was realized directly on employment outcomes.

As OVRD pondered its next steps, all roads appeared to lead to automation of our case management system and a better utilization of technology. Additionally, we recognized that in order to achieve greater productivity and increase our success with employment outcomes we needed to change, not merely tweak, the existing system.

Development of the OVRD Business Plan

As is common with most state VR agencies, OVRD has historically used a variety of tools for planning. We have an approved 3-year state plan with annual updates. As required in the 1992 Rehabilitation Act Amendments, we have a strategic plan. We have a state plan for independent living. We have developed biennial goals and objectives. Given the dynamics of possible consolidation of workforce programs and the discussions associated with reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act, we saw an advantage in pulling these efforts together into one, coherent plan that would blend strategies, reflect our agency mission, vision, and values, and guide us into the future.

The OVRD business plan, introduced at the statewide all-staff inservice session and distributed electronically as well as in hard copy in 1996, is a tool that will help shape the way we perform our work and communicate with all those affected by our services.

The business plan activities are supported by fiscal resource management, personnel services, staff development, and a system of performance measurements. It includes detailed action plans, deliverables, and timelines that reach from 1996 to the year 2000. The OVRD Executive Leadership Team meets quarterly specifically to review our progress, negotiate midcourse corrections, and celebrate accomplishments.

While planning documents are good indicators of an organization's intentions, deliverables are essential. For this first year (1996-97), the major deliverables have been identified for each of the business plan components. The deliverables range from communication of the vision to providing customer service training for all staff to implementation of the automated case management system.

The business plan is a dynamic and evolving management tool that will be continuously evaluated and reviewed. Branch level business plans are being developed and revised to provide the "how to" and "hands on" component for our efforts to transform the organization.

World Class Customer Service

Building on our initial introduction to "world class customer service" in the University of Oklahoma's Executive Leadership Program, OVRD has embraced the concept of customer delight and designated improved customer service as a cornerstone in our transformation.

By the end of 1996, all OVRD staff, including Rehabilitation Services staff, central office administrative staff, and Disability Determination Services (DDS) staff, had attended inhouse training on world class customer service. We believed it was important for all staff to be introduced to the same concepts, to learn the same vocabulary, and to share in the same expectations. The concepts of cycles of service, moments of truth, and realigning systems of reward, compensation, and recognition have become imbedded in our emerging culture.

On a monthly basis, in conjunction with the distribution of the OVRD newsletter, we highlight examples of internal activities associated with world class customer service. One example is that field offices have significantly reduced the time from initial contact to first appointment with a counselor by scheduling walk-in contact time and appointments within 1 week at the customer's discretion.

In both DDS and Rehabilitation Services, staff at the local level are involved in redesigning the way they deliver services in order to provide more opportunities for customer delight. Striving to achieve excellence as a high performance work organization, such activity leads to greater local level decisionmaking in a participatory work environment.

In recognition of our activities, the State Management Association presented the 1996 Customer Service Award to OVRD. In an effort to pass this honor along to all involved, OVRD has developed recognition plaques to be displayed in each field office and work unit throughout the organization.

In OVRD, we are implementing computer systems for each of the two major program components based on their unique needs. In Rehabilitation Services, we are capitalizing on the development work done by the Washington general agency. We have acquired the Washington case management automated system known as STARS. Recognizing that system acceptance can be enhanced when people are involved in its design and selection of a catchy name, we created a statewide contest to "name the system." The winning entries recommended ORCA (Oregon Rehabilitation Case Automation), which has been accepted as the title of our case management automation project in Rehabilitation Services.

As OVRD underwent an indepth self-assessment through its streamlining efforts, the problems associated with excessive paperwork, duplication of effort, and documentation errors presented a significant management challenge. Automated case documentation, utilizing a system such as ORCA, became the recognized solution.

Given the complexity of developing, implementing, and maintaining an automated case management system that interfaces with our fiscal system, OVRD is choosing to implement ORCA in phases. During the initial phase, which was completed in July 1997, we installed the Washington STARS system with minimal customization.

With our focus on customer service (both for internal and external customers), we continue to focus on meeting the needs of staff. Our existing management reports system is untimely and cumbersome and will be substantially revised with ORCA. To address our immediate needs, a budget staff person designed a system of online "Flash Figures." Staff can now use a tool that visually depicts monthly actuals, 12-month rolling averages, and the trend line for production (caseload, plans, rehabilitations). This same process of displaying data is being developed throughout the Oregon Department of Human Resources to depict outcomes from services delivered. Indeed, our transformation is netting results on a much broader scale than originally envisioned.

Transforming the Service Delivery Process

Doing business differently is not an easy process, and achieving change in a bureaucracy is a daunting task. There are inherent limitations associated with the existing system and the status quo. Some of the limitations are linked to agency culture, while others are the result of legislative constraints.

An organizational development work group provided an early focus on changing the way we do business. The work group crafted a set of vision statements, principles, and recommendations. These provided the framework for the development of a Demonstration Project in Rehabilitation Services. The Demonstration Project became the vehicle through which OVRD has reconfigured its rehabilitation services management structure into districts, supported the development of a variety of teamwork approaches, and created advisory committees at the district and branch levels.

The stated goal of the Demonstration Project is to develop and implement strategies for increasing employment outcomes and personal independence for people with disabilities through community partnerships. One of the deliverables is to demonstrate the use of technology to improve organizational effectiveness. The role of the advisory committees is to review project plans, assess customer delight, and evaluate the effectiveness of the district's service delivery.

The launching of the Demonstration Project was aided by the decentralization of staff resources from the central office Quality Assurance/Program Management staff. Additionally, the transformation efforts have been augmented by learning from the early work done with teams in the Portland area. Benefiting from grant funded assistance from the University of Oregon, staff received indepth training on continuous improvement, building and maintaining teams, and support for change. Early indicators reveal that there have been only limited improvements attributable to teams that can be correlated to staff productivity gains, increased employment outcomes, or enhanced customer satisfaction.

Given the reality of the state civil service system and union contracts, there is a perception that not much can be done to positively reinforce our commitment to world class customer service. We have ample negative reinforcement from the press and the public at large with their perceptions of state workers. However, a commitment to organizational transformation is also a commitment to changing our focus from what we cannot do to what we can do.

Here are examples of practical actions we can take to reward, compensate, and recognize staff as they delight our customers:

* Regularly assess customer satisfaction.

* Assess workplace morale and measure staff satisfaction.

* Act on staff and customer recommendations.

* Recognize staff contributions with celebrations at the state and local levels.

* Seek alternative resources, such as a state productivity fund, for rewarding or compensating staff.

* Explore the limits of the state compensation system to "pay for performance" for both management and represented staff.

* Display articles, thank you notes, and photographs of staff and delighted customers in field offices, in agency publications, professional journals, and local newspapers.

* Include the expectations related to customer service in the employee's position description, training plan, and annual performance appraisal.

As Rehabilitation Services implements the automated case management system and redesigns its business practices, there will continue to be changes in the roles of staff. Many clerical staff are moving into casework support roles. Counselors are learning to use their computers and inputting more of their own case documentation. Counselor-clerical staff teams are developing. First line supervisors are shifting their focus to mentoring and coaching.

All these changes require much greater flexibility from all. At the same time, there is a continuing need to assure that accountability is intrinsically linked to responsibility, wherever that responsibility may reside. Staff need to be provided with adequate opportunities for open discussions, peer support, and training in order to be successful in navigating the change process.

Within OVRD, we believe that our success in the future is linked to having a diverse work force and managing it well. We seek to attract, challenge, and reward our staff and develop them for the future. We recognize the value, in fact, the necessity, of building a team of diverse professionals to help us meet the challenges ahead. Diversity in our work force will be the competitive advantage that we put to work every day on behalf of the Oregonians with disabilities that we serve.

One of our core vision statements incorporates our focus: our staff, consumers, and providers must reflect the diversity of the community we serve. We have considerable work ahead to accomplish this aspect of our vision. As a beginning step, we have developed a Cultural Diversity Strategic Action Plan. In conjunction with the State Rehabilitation Advisory Council, OVRD conducted an agencywide diversity self-assessment. The results of this assessment will help to define the agency's practices and the training needed and assist in developing culturally sensitive, responsive services and other essential activities.

Seeing Employers as Our Customer

Given that our services are designed to yield valued employment outcomes for people with disabilities, we have focused our attention on the needs of the employer as our customer. We are pleased that job placements have increased 17 percent (from 2,145 to 2,509) during 1995-96.

In 1995, Oregon was selected by the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities to develop a business-to-business leadership network. Asserting a lead role, OVRD has worked together with the Oregon Commission for the Blind and the Oregon Disabilities Commission to establish business networks in the Portland and Eugene areas. With a core group of committed business representatives in each of these communities, the Business Leadership Network is increasing the participation of people with disabilities in the workplace and in the marketplace.

Oregon's vision is "to have the best educated and prepared workforce in the nation by the year 2000, and a workforce equal to any in the world by 2010." OVRD acknowledged early on that developing and sharing our accountability measures and outcomes was potentially risky but necessary. Our current key measures include: customer surveys (consumers, employers, and staff), average wage at closure, job retention rate, and cost per successful closure. Results reported for January-March 1997 indicate a client satisfaction rate of 81.1 percent; employer satisfaction, 77 percent; staff satisfaction, 79.5 percent; average wage at closure, $7.69 per hour (this is 79 percent of the average job order registered with the Employment Department); and 66 percent of our successfully closed clients are employed 18 months following closure. Cost per closure is a revised measure for 1997-99 and we have not set targets or reported results thus far.

Summary of Challenges: Lessons Learned

Organizational transformation demands three basic commitments of us. First, we must be committed to our customers (staff, clients, employers) and obsessed with providing services of such quality that we delight them. Second, we must blend statistical data with the logic of planning and continuous improvement. Finally, we must be committed to teamwork and partnership. These basic commitments, when woven together, create the fabric of our organization. We are challenged by the simplicity and the complexity of these commitments. We recognize that the survival of the public vocational rehabilitation program may well depend on our ability to be more flexible and responsive to the needs of our customers.

A "can do" attitude goes a long way towards encouraging risks and the results are worthy of celebration.

This is truly a remarkable journey.


Ms. Ruttledge is the Assistant Administrator for Planning and Policy with the Oregon Department of Human Resources, Vocational Rehabilitation Division.
COPYRIGHT 1997 U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Streamlining Service Delivery; improving vocational rehabilitation services for the disabled
Author:Ruttledge, Lynnae M.
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Date:Jun 22, 1997
Previous Article:Streamlining in Vermont and New Hampshire.
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