Administrative Practices


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.

  • Administrative leaders must make training available for administrative staff and provide funding for registration, travel and/or the time necessary to participate.
  • The focus of training for administrative staff should be in the development of technical expertise as well as updated learning related to the field of public child welfare.
  • Mentor relationships are an effective means for promoting a continuous learning environment. 
  • Administrative mentors for line staff should be chosen carefully and not simply for their technical expertise.
  • In contexts where career ladders can be established that are tied to greater levels of technical expertise, greater agency responsibility and commitment, such career ladders can provide powerful incentive and reward for continuous learning.

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:

  • Administrative practices must always support the people who are served by being focused not only on internal effectiveness but also on facilitating desired client outcomes.
  • Administrative practice changes, whenever possible, should reduce barriers for staff in all areas, especially those delivering services.
  • Administrative practice changes must be well thought out in terms of impact on workers’ efficiency and impact on families. When new processes are mandated, administrative leaders and staff must collaborate with program staff to determine the best methods of implementation to reach desired client outcomes.
  • New administrative procedures will be better executed by all staff if the context and rationale are positively communicated, training is offered and the new processes or expectations are well documented.
  • All new procedures should include early and ongoing feedback loops to ensure continuous quality improvement.

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 

recruitment strategy.


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?


Cost Effective

Is the balance of cost-benefit (including the cost of time as well as dollars) appropriate in 

regards to this function?


User Friendly

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?


Well Aligned

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.


Well Integrated

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.


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