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Issue Paper

American Probation and Parole Association
c/o The Council of State Governments
P.O. Box 11910
Lexington, KY 40578-1910
Phone:(859) 244-8203
Fax: (859) 244-8001


Organizational Response to Change
Enacted: Jan 2001

APPA's committees will be targeting their actions toward helping the Association accomplish its Vision. Many of our committees have already begun that work as evidenced by the Issues Committee's report on change. Implementing the Vision in our agencies will require considerable change. This paper describes the process that agencies will have to undertake to bring about change.

Change is a constant fact of life for community correction organizations. It arises as a result of both external and internal factors. External factors include the legislature, regulatory agencies, funding sources and citizens. Internal factors include shifts in offender populations, variations in staff abilities and qualifications, the need to create different programs and a desire of organizations to "keep up with the Joneses" by implementing the most recent fads.

In recent years there has been a significant transformation in the forces demanding change in community corrections. These new forces march under the banners of reinventing, reengineering or restructuring government or the flags of total quality management. Together they represent a demand for governmental organizations that can clearly articulate their mission in life, identify the goals they intend to achieve, and define the methods required to produce effective and measurable results. Government organizations, including community corrections, can no longer lay claim to shrinking public resources by simply claiming success; they must be able to demonstrate that they add value to the commonweal in a fashion desired by its citizenry.

The problem with this new challenge for community corrections is that our organizations are neither amenable to change, nor are they structured to produce change whose outcomes can be measured and evaluated. Our response in the past to legitimate demands for effective change have been to ignore them, construct an ad hoc response in the form of "new and improved" programs or assume the posture of a victim--agencies incapable of taking their own future in their own hands and constantly being pressured from the outside to do distasteful acts. These responses have created a relatively safe and comfortable environment for most professionals. It has provided us with a thousand excuses for not articulating our mission, our goals and our expectations of ourselves. More than that, it has provided a convenient alibi for our failure to demonstrate to the public that we can actually improve their real and perceived safety on the streets and in their homes.

In order to meet such challenges to our very existence and purpose, community corrections' organizations must be willing to recreate the way in which they do business. We need to consider internal changes that will be qualitative in nature, difficult to imagine, and even tougher to implement. Our reinvented organizations must abandon the old bureaucratic model which focuses on accomplishing processes and counting beans (contacts) in favor of organizations that are learning-based, outcome-drive and customer-oriented. We must become willing to define goals that make sense to the political forces which are our stakeholders and that are desired by the persons who receive or use our product and services. We must challenge ourselves as professionals to achieve at long last the prior promises about public safety which we are so prone to make.

Change is not generally welcomed by either human beings or organizations. Change on the scale being demanded in today's public arena is to many of us almost unimaginable. But, it can and must be achieved in order for the profession to cease being a victim and to become a real, respected player on the field or criminal justice. Several steps can be undertaken by community corrections organizations which want to master rather than be victimized by change. These steps have already been undertaken extensively in the private sector, in the face of international competition and by numerous governmental agencies and organizations, including some in community corrections, which have become weary of the same old treadmill of "smoke and mirrors" in response to the demands for change.

Community corrections organizations can best manage and direct change in today's fast-paced and demanding world by:

  • becoming mission-driven. As the APPA Issues Committee observed in its paper on mission statements, those organizations that are most successful, indeed those organizations that survive, are ones with not only a clear statement of mission but are dedicated to preserving, protecting and improving that mission at all costs;
  • focusing on outcomes rather than processes. The goals that we establish on the basis of our mission must relate to the outcomes that we hope to produce. Our organizational history has accustomed us to define success mostly in terms of process--simply counting the number of contacts achieved, referrals made or warrants executed. It has not imbued us with the desire to achieve measurable outcomes, to demonstrate that we are actually capable of changing offender behavior and attitudes, reducing criminogenic needs or having a positive impact on recidivism;
  • engaging customers. For community corrections, the notion of a customer is a foreign concept. We have immersed ourselves, especially in the 1980s, in the belief that coercion and control will produce the behavioral changes in offenders that we so desperately desire. We resist the idea that, although control will always be a part of community corrections, offenders are customers of our "services" and have choices in other markets. They can buy our product--be it group interventions, individual case management, intensive supervision programs--or they can continue to buy the products offered on the streets where they live. No amount of coercion, short of institutional incapacitation, will deny those markets to offenders in the community, unless they are willing to be engaged in the "purchase" of our alternative products that address their criminogenic needs. Similarly, citizens in our communities also constitute markets for the services that we offer. Whether we speak in terms of protecting public safety or reducing recidivism, we are providing a product that can be accepted or rejected in this arena of citizen needs, real and perceived.
  • assuming a positive, dynamic and even aggressive leadership role. Each of us in community corrections organizations must become keepers of the flame. We must be the defenders of the mission, the protectors of the goals and the preservers of organizational integrity. We must insure that the organization clearly articulates its purpose internally and externally. We must act as role models who, by our actions and attitudes, engage others in the process of change by being tolerant of failure and enthusiastic about success. We must each walk the walk as well as talk the talk, and cannot depend on our colleagues to bear the burden for us.
  • becoming sharers of information. Leadership cannot be exercised and qualitative change cannot be implemented with gaining the trust, cooperation and dedication of staff. The organization must open itself to the constant flow of information from whatever direction. It must be willing to allow staff to participate in, if not direct, the development of mission and goals and the new business processes required for their implementation. Respect for information and the desire to learn how to be effective cannot be achieved in a bureaucratic organization where authority and decisions simply flow from the top;
  • by evaluating what we do. Organizations cannot learn from and build on success unless they constantly evaluate and analyze what they do. Bureaucratic organizations assume that change is the exception and tradition is the rule, that what has always been done is inevitably the best way. From such a perspective, change is disruptive--if not catastrophic--and must be avoided or resisted at all costs. "Reinvented" organizations assume the opposite, that change is normal and welcome, not in and of itself, but because it is the only way constantly to improve effectiveness. In such an environment, evaluation is an indispensable tool. It not only informs us about what we have done, but it provides an incentive for doing it better.

As part of the world of government, community corrections will never completely escape the exigencies of political necessity. It will always have to respond to pressures from the legislature and the executive for "programs of the day" and quick hits to reap short-term partisan gains. Bureaucratic organizations have transformed such contingencies into ends in themselves, establishing one process or program after another with little concern for their effectiveness or integration with the mission of the agency. Community corrections no longer needs to follow such a model for dealing with change. By turning to the principles for managing and directing change outlined above, it can establish itself as a clear-sighted, valuable player in criminal justice and demonstrate to stakeholders and customers alike that it can achieve what it promises, that it can make a difference to public safety. It can indeed fulfill a professional dream of decades and become the master of its own fate.