Meeting Professional Standards
Technical competence among administrative staff at all levels should be a non-negotiable
requirement for continued employment. While professional development should be expected and
provided, basic technical skills appropriate to the level of role should be expected. When
administrative staff members are technically competent, they serve an invaluable role in helping
leadership to effectively lead in the present and strategize for the future.
An effective learning environment for all administrative staff is essential if tactical competence
is to be maintained, as best practices in all professions evolve and develop. A learning
environment for administrative staff must be part of an overall agency commitment to learning.
There must be the expectation that continuous learning is required and supported at all levels and
in all functions.
Education not only advances best practices but also keeps staff energized and renewed in their
commitment to the agency mission. Frontline administrative staff members as well as administrative
supervisors need this type of learning expectation and support. Too often, front line and
supervisory administrative staff observe support for learning as a high priority for service staff
and a low priority for themselves.
Understanding and Respect for Daily Realities
Demands on all fronts are often tremendous and the ability of any staff person to respond in a
timely manner or with the needed accuracy can sometimes be compromised. An effective agency finds
the right level of tolerance for these realities while still maintaining a high level of excellence
in administrative practices. In addition, while client service is paramount, administrative
processes do take time and those timeframes and the daily demands of administrative staff should be
Vignette: In one agency, it was routinely acceptable for service staff to request a “quick
check” from the accounting staff. This mechanism, which was originally designed to
facilitate responding to urgent situations with expedited paperwork and no wait time ,
was so abused that the accounting line staff believed a half time position should be created
to solely handle quick checks!
Creating a Predictable and Nimble Administration
When there is a change in executive leadership, staff can expect the introduction of new mandates,
policies and procedures. Many of these changes will affect administrative practices. It can be
daunting for administrative managers and leaders, who do not arrive and depart with the top
political appointment or executive hire, to sustain support of solid administrative practices and
philosophies through the changes in leadership.
A key challenge for these middle managers is to honor and support new initiatives while serving as
guardian to the solid principles that have sustained the agency over time. The response of managers
to mandated changes should never be “here we go again.” Such a response subverts the effective
action needed, which is to negotiate to preserve what is important and implement the non- negotiable changes in a way that best supports the mission.
The general principles below should guide administrative managers and leaders when responding to a
change in Executive Leadership:
While preservation of what works is important, so is a willingness and skills for change.
Administrative processes can and do outlive their usefulness or effectiveness at times due to the
change in services or service demand. Feedback loops and good change management practices are
essential if administrative functions are to remain most relevant and receive the necessary
compliance from program staff. Too often, the “official procedure” becomes outdated and is handled
by variations of “unofficial procedures” devised by staff involved rather than by thoughtful and
deliberate change or adjustment.
Sometimes the impetus for staff to create these “unofficial procedures” is the degree of complexity
or level of burden that are inherent in a process. It is important that the agency and its entire
staff have a commitment to simplify work processes. Steps in processes that do not add value can
often be eliminated. Value Stream Mapping, Lean and other process simplification methods have been
developed and can be applied.
Vignette: The State of Maine has been successfully using Value Stream Mapping to stream
line its processes. Value Stream Mapping (VSM ) is a visual mapping too l that outlines all the steps in a process and
helps to identify ineffective procedures and waste, as well as to develop implementation
action plans for making continuous improvements. In Maine , the time of initial inquiry
to licensure for a person interested in becoming a foster parent has been reduced by 50% .
The increased responsiveness to applicants came about by reducing handoffs, completing licensing components concurrently, developing various approved methods of meeting training
requirements, reducing home study requirements to only those issues necessary, and adopting practices that are customer friendly and customer focused. The licensing process moved to
recognizing that foster home applicants are a rare commodity and if the process is made simple, convenient and timely that an agency will not lose 90% of applicants, as is the case in most parts of the country. If you lose only 85% of applicants, over time the number of
foster parents will increase by 50% which is a much better result that nearly any known
In all agencies, responsiveness is key to both internal and external stakeholder perception. While
responsiveness in areas of service delivery (e.g. producing court reports in a timely manner) might
be seen as a program staff responsibility, administrative practices, in fact, can be established to
enable improved responsiveness.
For example, paperless exchange of information is now possible due to technology. In
collaboration with stakeholders, administrative initiative to explore and possibly implement this option could significantly improve responsiveness to important externals takeholders such as the courts.
Within the agency, administrative responsiveness includes the proactive development of resources
that support and enable improved outcomes. Program staff and supervisors are often not aware of
technological advances or other tools that can increase their daily efficiency and effectiveness.
Administrative responsiveness is displayed in timely response to requests and feedback but also by
proactively suggesting improvements as a result of being “in tune” with service delivery
Vignette: In the mid 1990s, Maricopa County faced staffing shortages and attrition rates of over 20 percent, a long with a cumbersome hiring process. A combination of the staffing crisis and changes in leadership became the driving force behind the reform of the county human resources office. One of the strategies to improve responsiveness in operations was to expedite the time it took to hire new staff and stream line the hiring process. This was accomplished through building a partnership between the personnel department with the line managers. The
personnel analysts work with specific agencies to help them fo recast vacancies. Rather than
til a position is vacant before they initiate the hiring process, the Office of Human Resources (OHR) anticipates
expected vacancies and begins the search accordingly.
Creating a method to track response time both to public inquiries and to internal feedback is
necessary to establish and reinforce the importance of responsiveness. Tracking mechanisms need not
be onerous or complex. Technology has the potential to make tracking systems routine. An effective
tracking system does, however, require the designation of responsible parties and regularly
scheduled feedback to leadership.
Increasing Shared Ownership
In order for any organization to work well, there must be a low incidence of guarding “turf” and
responding to need with an “it’s not my job” mentality. When “it’s not my job” is prominent among
administrative functions, it can become difficult to execute daily tasks and staff outside of these
particular administrative areas can become confused about how to operate. Turf battles between
functions such as budget and human resources are notorious in many organizations, not just public
child welfare. And those involved in functions that may have overlapping responsibilities, both
leaders and line staff, must develop a mindset of shared ownership to anticipate and resolve these
potential conflicts. While joint planning or attendance at meetings across functions may initially
seem like a poor use of time, often these are the forums necessary to increase shared ownership and
can save time and confusion in the long run. Administrative leadership within an agency has the
responsibility to due diligence around having the right people at the table, internal or external
to the agency, when issues are addressed or planning occurs.
Evaluating Operational Effectiveness
The quality of administrative practices should be rigorously evaluated just as the quality of
service delivery is. The following benchmarks are suggested for this evaluation:
Is the function consistently delivered in a timely fashion? Are the functions streamlined
sufficiently so that unnecessary steps that cause delays are eliminated?
Is the function done accurately? This involves not only basic accuracy, but also accurate
interpretation. For example, if data are involved, are they collected in a way that accurately
reflects what they claim to measure?
Is the balance of cost-benefit (including the cost of time as well as dollars) appropriate in
regards to this function?
Is this function implemented in such a way that end users can easily understand and follow
necessary steps. Does the function assist more than it causes burden?
Is this function well aligned with the agency’s current goals? Since strategy and goals shift as
needs change, administrative practices may need to change accordingly.
Is this function well integrated with other administrative functions? That is, are the competing
needs of administrative functions such as budget and human resources worked out within the
administrative division so that requirements and instructions to end users are not competing or
Administrative functions should also be continuously evaluated on the degree to which they support
the practice model.