Disparity and Disproportionality

Change Management

As agencies continuously improve their effectiveness in managing change, they will, as a matter of 

course, experience opportunities for improvements in eliminating disparity and addressing 

disproportionality. This is because the underlying factors that support effective change management 

and effectiveness in general positively impact the root causes of disparity. While agencies may 

identify opportunities for improvement through discovery, they must follow up with action. Here are 

some primary examples of how effective change management supports the elimination of disparate 



Agency leaders who are effective change agents establish specific plans and techniques for setting 

strategy and driving high-level changes. They model values that are spelled out to staff and 

embedded in performance management and other agency programs. From the top of the agency through 

front line practice, these leaders promote relationships that are strengths-based, solution- 

focused, collaborative and empowering. They establish a shared purpose and meaning for the agency’s 

work based on a clearly articulated vision and direction that exist outside of them as an 

individual leader. This approach to leadership is the opposite of highly idiosyncratic leadership, 

a form of leadership that typically creates dynamics within the agency that are highly personalized 

and subjective, mainly based on winning favor with those in power and therefore likely to result in 

favoritism and unfair treatment.


Agencies that become more adept at understanding and improving their cultures find that the 

healthiest culture is one that balances various cultural priorities with the mission to best serve 

children, youth and families. For example, a cultural priority to “treat staff right” is 

effectively realized when staff are engaged in constructive and collaborative problem-solving, 

empowered within specific boundaries to perform at a high level, held accountable in a reasonable 

and consistent manner, and developed in alignment with strategic priorities. Achieving this 

cultural effectiveness requires a balanced and nuanced approach, avoiding a culture where staff 

members are happy and comfortable but clients are no better served or even served poorly. In a 

balanced and nuanced approach to culture, staff members are by definition engaged more 

constructively, collaboratively, developmentally, reasonably and consistently.


Every agency has a set of “unspoken rules” by which its members learn how to get things done and 

reasonably fit in. In an environment where change management is effectively practiced, these rules 

are designed to fill in the gaps where written rules -- policies, formal goals, objectives and 

measures, specific guidance conveyed in memos or formal training programs -- cannot and should not 

be fully comprehensive. An example of such unwritten rules would be those that anchor an agency’s 

principles and values in daily practice, or those coming from the constructive coaching of a 

dedicated and experienced supervisor. In an environment where disparate treatment is most likely, 

unwritten rules typically serve as codes and passwords by which the “in crowd” maintains its 

control. These unspoken rules are experienced as land mines and stigmatizing factors for those not 

“in the in crowd.”


Effective change management approaches serve to improve situations where a particular department of 

function within the organization has felt inequitably treated. Well-planned road maps for change, 

broad-based projects driven by systematic continuous improvement techniques, and a culture where 

collaboration and teamwork is a major priority all result in breaking down departmental and 

functional silos and reinforcing the value that each role, function and perspective brings to the 

table. In the absence of such effectiveness, departments and functions that are treated as “second 

class” typically react by either withdrawing and reducing their value to the whole, or by attacking 

the status quo in non-constructive and cynical ways. As a parallel process, this is also what 

typically happens when individuals and typecast groups are treated as second class.


Finally, the ultimate aim of effective change management practices is to create a “learning 

organization,” one that not only performs well today in the service of its clients but also 

acquires new information, knowledge, insight and innovation each step of the way. Learning by doing 

at the strategic, major project and daily operating levels of the agency leads to a continuous 

reshaping of perception and perspective along a developmental, evolutionary path. Learning is 

arguably the opposite of disparate treatment, as disparity is based on perceptions and perspectives 

that are too static -- narrowly typing situations and others in a simplistic, black and white, and 

close-minded fashion. While an overly static orientation to unfolding experiences tends to best 

serve the short-ter  interests of those “in the in crowd,” a learning orientation will more likely 

serve long-term interests of the community as

a whole.


Change & Innovation Agency
FEi Systems
PCG Human Services
Governing Magazine
Conference Edge