Articles Archive

This page contains articles previously posted on Grayspeakstrategies.com.  They are provided from newest to oldest.


Attracting and Hiring Millennials as workers in Government Agencies

Maureen Leif, President, Grays Peak Strategies

What іѕ a mіllеnnіаl? The tеrm іѕ gеnеrаllу used tо dеѕсrіbе People born from about 1980 to 2004. Thіѕ gеnеrаtіоn is the grоuр that lives on their computers, the uѕеrѕ who mаdе Facebook a bіllіоn dоllаr соmраnу, еlеvаtеd Google to bе the king of ѕеаrсh, and hеlреd create a whole nеw way tо dаtе and interact with each other. Thеу аrе the Nоw generation and, like іt оr nоt, they аrе your potential реrѕоnnеl pool.

Hоw dо you hіrе mіllеnnіаlѕ tо work fоr government аgеnсіеѕ? Like any good huntеr, you nееd to go where the object of your search lives. Recruiting millennials does require some rethinking of old methods. This technology-dependent crowd are not only enticed by money but also a job with a purpose.  Here are some key strategies to attract this generation to your workforce.

  • Don't just mаkе the potential job about mоnеу оr your recognizable buѕіnеѕѕ nаmе. Thе reputation оf the company саn be аѕ much a negative аѕ it саn be a роѕіtіvе. The millennial will lооk past the sign on the building аt what the соmраnу іѕ rеаllу аll about.
  • Thе mіllеnnіаl іѕ more internet savvy and wants to use modern technology to accomplish buѕіnеѕѕ gоаlѕ. It'ѕ in our best interest to fасіlіtаtе that goal bесаuѕе іt wіll kеер us іn tоuсh with the marketplace.
  • Corporate culture іѕ аn important fасtоr fоr both recruiting and retaining gооd еmрlоуееѕ from this generation. Mіllеnіаlѕ are looking fоr a buѕіnеѕѕ сlіmаtе that іѕ сrеаtіvе, able to change when nеw things bесоmе available, highly ассеѕѕіblе uрреr management and responsive.
  • Cоrроrаtе values mean a lоt tо the millennial crowd. Thаt mеаnѕ that those high minded values printed on роѕtеrѕ and рlаѕtеrеd all over the Humаn Resource department hаvе tо actually mеаn something. Bу demonstrating that the buѕіnеѕѕ lіvеѕ uр to іtѕ ethics and values that will appeal the іdеаlіѕtіс side оf youthful workers.
  • Thе values that the buѕіnеѕѕ ѕuрроrtѕ must rеflесt a modern attitude toward dіvеrѕіtу and "going grееn". If you walk a millennial around the office during hіѕ or hеr interview, they wіll notice the recycling bіnѕ scattered about. They wіll nоtісе the dіvеrѕіtу оf culture and rасе іn the еmрlоуее mіx.
  • Be рrераrеd to recruit from vаrіоuѕ dіѕсірlіnеѕ. Even іf уоu аrе recruiting for a fіnаnсіаl services funсtіоn or some other ѕресіаlіzаtіоn, keep your mind open tо recruiting students with a fосuѕ on lіbеrаl аrtѕ оr teaching. Thеѕе mіllеnnіаlѕ саn be trаіnеd tо the ѕресіfіс jоb and they bring a frеѕh approach to the job description that соmеѕ frоm their соllеgе аrеа оf focus.

As you read this list, it probably occurs to you that these are ideas and values that anyone would likely care about, and in some ways, we are all becoming more “millennial” in how we approach work.  However, in government agencies, it can be difficult to make these qualities come through given the somewhat rigid nature of most government organizations.  In recruiting millennials to work for our state agencies we must work extra hard in ensuring that we are appealing to them in ways that will be meaningful, and we can actually use their presence and influence to shape and improve our organizations existing culture. This effort will pay dividends in recruitment but also in millennial retention.  It will also help you attract workers that can become long term leaders, and be an integral part of succession planning, and the future direction of your agency.  Doing some analysis and making changes to current recruiting practices, and meeting people where they are, will help improve your pool of candidates, and lead to a stronger organization in the long run.  Millennials have a lot to offer our workforce and making our process more attractive and accessible to them will enhance outcomes for everyone.  Need help with your approach to building your workforce for the future, Contact us, and we can help to develop a strategy that works for your agency.


Compass Guiding Principles of Change Management

Maureen Leif, President, Grays Peak Strategies

Have you ever experienced a reorganization in your work environment? How did it make you feel? Unsettled, uneasy, anxious are all been words expressed by employees going through changes at work. A few years ago my wonderful high functioning team was being moved to a new division under a new Director. At some level everyone on the team felt anxious about what the changes meant for each of us personally and as a team. There were new members being added and some of our team were being moved elsewhere. Change is inevitable and everywhere, this we all know. We also know that change can be very productive and healthy. So how then do leaders ensure that they are managing change in a way that is accepted, increases productivity, reduces stress on staff, and creating an environment that embraces change rather than resist?

Good leaders understand that change and evolution in the way we do business, it creates efficiencies and the potential for better outcomes, however they also understand that change has to be managed strategically and with sensitively to ensure that the outcomes of the changes desired are fully realized.

One way organizations can reduce aversion or negative impact is to ensure that there is a clear and understandable process. The process will help ensure that the desired change is implemented fairly which is especially important when employees perceive an outcome as negative. Helping your team embrace change starts with the realization that it normal to resist and often consciously or subconsciously sabotage. Contemplate that even small changes to someone’s job functions or environment to big changes such as new leadership or a new system may require you to implement a plan to address change management.

Often times it can be beneficial to utilize a neutral party to assess the level to which the change may affect staff and provide guidance as to how best address potential obstacles.

Just as in our personal lives, change takes time and is a process not an event. Some people embrace and even thrive on change while others may need additional time to process. It is important to acknowledge this fact in the planning and not set unrealistic expectations or goals. As changes occur, it’s important to make sure all members of the team are supporting the new system, initiative or change and supporting the success. Implementing a structured process to change management aids the acceptance and support of the new initiative. Grays Peak Strategies works with you to set a course for success and to help your organization and to manage change to ensure success. Contact us and we can start the journey together.


Six Strategies to Ensure Implicit Bias Isn’t Impacting Your Outcomes

Brenidy Rice, Court Programs Analyst, Colorado Judicial Branch

Imagine this: you are late for a really important meeting.  You are approaching a red light.  There are three cars in each of the three lanes ahead of you:  a minivan, a red corvette and a 1979 Volkswagen bus.  Which lane do you choose?  The red corvette, right?  Surely, they will go fast.  Now imagine you are waiting for your 17 year olds daughter’s date to come and pick her up.  Of the three cars mentioned, which one would you prefer pull up in your driveway?  We can cross off the corvette, I mean, what teenager drives a corvette and if they do, I am even more worried.  But the minivan and bus?  Way too much room inside those vehicles.  You might ask if there is another option at this point, maybe a bicycle? 

You might also be asking yourself, how are these scenarios related to implicit bias?  Well, in both scenarios we take in the available information: we are late, the red light, the different types of cars.  Then we make assumptions about the behavior of the drivers based on this information.  Our brains are actually working at lightning speed taking in information and then sending transmitters to tell us how to respond.  It is efficient, it is human and it can be problematic.  This is the foundation for how implicit bias works.   

Implicit bias is really the most human expression of how our brains work.  We are wired to quickly and unconsciously assess situations and respond all the while our conscious brain is taking the scenic route.  Neuroscience, the study of the way our brains work, coupled with cultural and societal norms equals: we have bias.  This means a bias against people not like ourselves and, often times this means minorities and in particular black men.  The Kirwan Institute defines implicit bias as the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner[1].  We know through brain scans that implicit bias shows up in our amygdala, our fear center that is responsible for our flight or fight response.  When our amygdala is triggered in situations that aren’t actually life threatening we encounter the issue of implicit bias impacting how we behave unconsciously in our day to day decisions[2].     

So what do we do about it? Many of us working in the courts, child support offices and other human service agencies don’t have the luxury of choosing our clients.  They have a problem, they show up, they need help.  Additionally, many of us working in the courts have a duty to be neutral even when our brains are working against us.  Even if we don’t have a professional obligation of neutrality we still have to serve our clients to the best of our ability, and according to the laws and policies that are in place. 

While the research supporting implicit bias is over 20 years old, what we do about it is a little less clear.  Here is what we do know: topping the list is awareness.  A simple awareness of the existence of implicit bias can reduce its impact on our day to day decisions.  The second: ongoing training.  Training on implicit bias and cultural competency helps us understand how our brains work and also understand cultural differences and even bring to light our own biases (and this doesn’t have to be painful!).  Third: especially because our lives demand we multitask and work quickly, implicit bias is less likely to come into our decision making process if we take time.  That’s right, we have to take time to make decisions.  Think through potential options, pros and cons and then be able to articulate why we made a particular decision.  Fourth: this is the one I call “make new friends and keep the old”.  Research has shown that by expanding our personal and professional networks, getting to know people different from ourselves, we are less likely to rely on implicit bias.  Fifth:  We can borrow from the medical field by using a practice called the “post mortem”.  We aren’t necessarily dealing with life and death in a literal sense but we can use the practice of walking through a case or situation, decision by decision, with trusted colleagues, to learn from and evaluate each decision made and the outcome.  This has the added benefit of taking a bird’s eye view of each discreet decision and their culminating effects.  Now for the sixth strategy:  Data.  While data may be more difficult for some to access than others, an analysis of demographic data at different decision making points can help narrow in on potential issues and inform policy or practice changes.  This specific strategy is called a drop off analysis.  Below is an example from child welfare of the different points at which to look at the data.

Implicit Bias is a fact of life, and indeed is how our brains are wired. We can’t take away our years of experience and observation, and in many instances it is this implicit bias that allows us to make quick decisions and to get behind the car at the light that gets us to work on time. However, as we make use of the six strategies and expand our experiences and sharpen our observations, we can lessen the impact of this kind of bias on the lives of the people we serve. 

[1] www.kirwaninstitute.osu.edu

[2] The Harvard Implicit Association test is a great way to see how your own implicit biases may be showing up and can be found at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html


Servant Leadership

Amy Kownack, Senior Partner, Grays Peak Strategies

When most people think of leadership they think of executives, people with fancy titles, the highest ranks or those with many degrees. For me it's more about the qualities of the individual or behaviors one conveys.  Leadership takes many forms and I've been as impressed with the leadership qualities of front line staff as I have of a CEO, it has more to do with their ability to motivate or inspire others to take action.  The qualities of a servant leadership resonate with me as a style that is most effective to drive meaningful results. 

 What is servant leadership? Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately create a more just and caring world. According to Robert Greenleaf, a servant leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the top, servant leadership is different. This style shares power, puts the needs of others and greater good first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.  What could be a better philosophy at this point in history? I look around at our nation's problems, the daily news stories, or issues with the upcoming election, and see the requisite for society to reflect on the greater good for all. We are at a pivotal moment where we need less definition of our differences and more alignment of being in this together. 

I spent several days at the national conference of child support directors (NCCSD) in mid-June and felt privileged to be in a room with leaders, many of which practice servant leadership qualities on a daily basis.  As a collective, we all have differing political affiliations, backgrounds, geographical upbringings and education, but our purpose and goals are clear which allows common purpose to prevail.  The program is not easy-there are often challenging policies, insufficient resources, and conflicting views on what is wanted by the parties involved, along with federal guidelines, time frames, and performance requirements, yet year-after-year, outcomes improve for families. 

Servant Leadership.PNG

Servant Leadership not only improves outcomes, it creates a culture of organizational success. If only our model of success and servant leadership could be the norm throughout society, what a better place it would be for all! Queen Elizabeth II, recently said "I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together."  I couldn't agree more and we at Grays Peak Strategies look forward to the opportunity to help support your team in developing great leaders.


An Ounce of Premortem is worth a Pound of Success

Maureen Leif, President and Founder of Grays Peak Strategies

It is always nerve wracking to be responsible as the manager of a big project knowing how many projects never succeed. A critical part of successful project management is to assess the risk at the beginning of the project. One way to do that is called a premortem analysis. This does not sound like something fun since mortem means death.  In a nutshell, the project team comes together at the beginning of a project and performs an interactive discussion assuming it’s the end of the project and that the project or organization has failed. The team then works backwards to figure out what lead to the failure and how to mitigate the danger.  There are many benefits to a premortem which include providing a safe environment in which threats to the project can be openly discussed without fear of the speaker being seen as negative. The reverse of a premortem is of course a post-mortem which means looking at the project at the end and analyzing which pieces of the project were successful and which were not.

Gary Klein developed the project premortem and published the process in the Harvard Review in 2007. The idea was based on a post-mortem on a patient, wherein an autopsy is performed to find the cause of death. A post-mortem certainly does not help that particular patient. Premortem analysis has been studied and shown to be successful in increasing the the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes by 30%.[1] As a project manager if you are 30% more informed about threats to the project success, you are well on your way to being able to mitigate those threats and be successful. 

The premortem approach has been successful on many of my projects with the Judicial Department. In my experience there are usually threats that people close to the project are aware of, however, they do not want to be perceived as a negative team member so they concentrate on the positives of the project.  A colleague and I performed a live mock premortem analysis at a Western Interstate Child Support Enforcement Council (WICSEC) Conference in 2015. The audience gave us a sample project that someone was getting ready to start and the participants walked through all the reasons her project could fail and then brainstormed, as a group, ways that she could mitigate against those threats. At the conclusion, the project manager indicated that people had thought of threats that she had not thought of and that having a brainstorming session was very helpful. Several people in attendance commented that they would like to take this approach back to their project teams.

There are 5 simple steps to do a project premortem:

1.     Introduce Premortem

Explain what a premortem is and the goal of the exercise. Give your team members permission to be open and honest. Give some examples and describe the process. Hand out an instruction sheet with the questions you want answered at the top with room to take notes. (example: Imagine that we are at the end of this court and child support data exchange project and even though we are all amazing, our project has failed. We need to come together to figure out where we went wrong. Work individually and spend 10-15 minutes brainstorming the reasons our project has failed.

2.     Debrief Responses

Go around the room and have the team members describe the reasons that they came up with. Have someone scribe the responses on a flip chart or projector, so that everyone can see.

3.     Prioritize threats

The team should choose how they would like to prioritize. They can vote, or discuss until consensus is reached, turn in a paper ballot, voting sticker dots given to each member to place on the flip chart near their highest priority, etc.

4.     Brainstorm Mitigation Strategies

Go through the top 3-5 threats identified and brainstorm with the whole team items that can be done at the beginning of the project to ward off potential sources for failure. Indicate responsibilities and action items for identified mitigation strategies.

5.     Document and Follow UP

The project team should decide how the threats are incorporated into the Project Plan and who is responsible for tracking. The project team should all meet as a group post project kickoff and discuss the priority items identified.

If you are interested in more information or speaking with someone to facilitate a premortem for your project or agency, please contact us.

 

[1] Article, “Performing a Project Premortem” By: Gary Klein, Harvard Business Review, September 2007. https://hbr.org/2007/09/performing-a-project-premortem


Networking and Letting Go of Fear

Maureen Leif, President and Founder of Grays Peak Strategies

Recently I attended a function for my husband’s President’s Club trip. He had told me the number of C level Executives that were going to be there and he had mentioned a few names, but I had not really given it too much thought. He got me a drink, introduced me to a few people and then said he would be back shortly. I started talking to one group of woman and we just hit it off. We talked about our kids, our need to exercise more, the fashion of the night, and our plans for the week and before long it was like we had all known each other forever. We said goodbye at the end of the night and they invited me to get together the next day. That night my husband said that he could not believe the number of connections I had made in one night and was surprised at how I had managed to meet so many Executives and their spouses. I laughed and said I had no idea who was who. I didn’t know that I was talking to the CFO or the wife of the CEO or any other high level executive, I was just having fun getting to know people. It got me to thinking, would I have been so comfortable if I had known all their titles? Part of me acknowledges that I might have been a tad bit more guarded, but for the most part the titles did not scare me. They were just really smart and interesting people that I wanted to know more about. This lead me to my conclusion of the week on networking. We need to let go of the fear.

Networking brings about fear of being rejected, fear of not being smart enough, or not having anything to say or being awkward. There is a lot to be afraid of I do not deny it, but if you let that go and concentrate on just being interested in someone as a person that will all go away. If you are genuinely interested in someone and ask them questions about themselves you will make a personal connection. I am a working mom, she is a working mom, I went to a college in the Midwest and so did she, our spouses are both in telecom, we both are not dealing well with hair in the humidity…. and wholah there it is.

I am by nature an extroverted person so I get my energy from people and I find people interesting and I love to ask questions. However, even if you are not an extreme extrovert like me, if you come into any situation with the right mindset, and a few pre-determined questions you can use as backup, anyone can be successful. Just keep tabs on yourself how much you are talking and how much they are talking, often times when people are nervous they talk too much. Slow it down and ask some good questions. How did you get into telecom, it is something that you were always were interested in, did you have hobbies outside of work, are you a parent, how it is raising all boys, and so on and so forth, and you got it.

Are you saying it is not that easy? Is there always one person who is put off or difficult? Take it on as a challenge. What is the worst that can happen? I had some preconceived ideas about one of the high level executive wives. When I had a chance to meet her one on one I asked her if she could go on strike for one thing this summer what would it be? She laughed and said making lunches. She literally turned from at first glance an icy presence to a warm and genuine person. This fear that we need to let go of exist in others that we are networking with as well, so if we help them dispel their own fear we can move towards a personal connection and maybe even a friendship. In my story, she even accepted my Facebook friend request at the end of the trip.


Access to Justice; an issue that resonates from Hong Kong to Indiana and all points between

Maureen Leif, President and Founder of Grays Peak Strategies

I was fortunate enough to be able to present on the topic of collaboration at the Hague Convention in Hong Kong last November. I started off by asking an international crowd of attendees if they recognized the guy in the picture here on the left shaking hands. Do you recognize him? Probably not, but he a superstar to me, he is my dad. I grew up in a small town in Lafayette, IN and my dad was a judge for thirty years. At some point everyone met my dad and when we would go to the grocery store or movie theatre he would always have someone call him by name. When I was probably about twelve we ran into someone who said, “hey I know you, you are Judge Donat”. My dad of course smiled and said hello, but did not recall who he was. The man went on to say, “you heard my case Judge, and ruled against me”. Oh no, I thought this is going well. He followed up with a sincere smile and said, “but you heard my story and you listened and it was fair”. It was fair. Those words stuck have stuck with me through my legal career. Perception is reality right? If people feel that the system is fair, they buy into the system. The Judicial system is one of the three pillars of the entire democratic government. Without fairness, the judicial system fails. This idea of fairness impacts so many of the things we do in the courts. The term access to justice can be overused and the true meaning forgotten.

 The Honorable Gregory J. Donat shaking hands with a voter on Election Day in 2014.

The Honorable Gregory J. Donat shaking hands with a voter on Election Day in 2014.

The number of self-represented litigants seems to only be increasing and how the legal system handles the number of self-represented while maintaining the belief that everyone has access to the justice system and it is a “Justice For All” world has been difficult. In my home state of Colorado, for example, we have Self-Represented Litigant Coordinators (Nickname Sherlocks) who are housed in the Courthouses across the State. Their function is to assist self-represented people in the legal process, directing them to the correct forms, how to file, what legal terms mean, assistance to finding resources, etc.

In other areas, Bar Associations or other organizations hold seminars or clinics on how to get a restraining order or file for divorce, modify child support, etc. Ensuring that the courthouses are handicap accessible, forms are in Spanish and that interpreters can be accessed are all ways that the judicial department can ensure that the judicial system is accessible to all, whether someone can afford an attorney or not.

In the child support system, ensuring that self-represented parents have an opportunity to be heard and that appropriate and equitable orders are entered are the cornerstone of fairness. There are many innovative and cost-effective programs that can be implemented that will increase the perception of fairness which leads to overall higher satisfaction rates on customer service. Programs that assist parents in finding resources to address parenting time (even though it may be outside of the core function of the child support agency) are one way that the agency can assist. In California[1] and other states, there are agreements between the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Child Support Offices or Bar Associations for positions called Family Law Facilitators. These professionals assist the parents with courtroom procedures and protocols and finding resources if needed. These types of programs help the public not fear the judicial process and also speeds up a court hearing when parties understand how the process will run. Another innovation that is very cost effective for courts and child support offices are having forms electronic or online. In Colorado we have a very developed list of resources, instructions and forms on our website that assist parties in filling out the appropriate forms prior to making a trip to the courthouse[2].  If a small town judge can bring access to justice alive, so can Child Support Services. Child Support can play a vital role in collaborating with the Judicial Department to ensure that the public perceives that they have access when needed to the Judicial process and that the process is fair.   If your agency would like more information or resources on collaboration and Access to Justice please Contact Us.

[1] Office of Child Support Access to Justice Innovations: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css/resource/access-to-justice-innovations 

 

[2] https://www.courts.state.co.us/Self_Help/Index.cfm


Child Support Problem Solving Courts, The Colorado Experience

Maureen Leif, President and Founder of Grays Peak Strategies

Like so many other states, Colorado was looking to improve child support collections and yet be efficient and focused on what the best outcomes for the family could be. Child support workers and attorneys were seeing the same Obligors coming through the court contempt process repeatedly.

In May 2008, the State Court Administrator’s Office (SCAO) hosted a statewide exploratory phone conference on the issue of child support problem solving courts. This call helped garner support for the implementing child support courts in Colorado. In September the same year a group from Colorado, including Magistrates, a IV-D Administrator, a IV-D Attorney, a Federal OCSE Representative, Office of Dispute Resolution Projects Manager, and the Judicial Child Support Liaison visited a pioneering child support problem solving court in Raleigh, NC with the Honorable Judge Kristin Ruth.  Following the trip to North Carolina, SCAO hosted a follow-up statewide phone conference for interested partners to hear about what the group learned in NC. This exploratory process led to several of the larger metro districts began working in local teams to adopt some of the problem solving techniques in their daily handing of IV-D cases and explore further opportunities for more efficient handling of the IV-D Dockets and assist Obligors in overcoming barriers to compliance with their child support obligations.   

The mission of Child Support Problem Solving Courts is to modify behavior of non-compliant Obligors and ensure the timely and consistent payment of child support for children.  Traditionally, the Court has focused its attention on one aspect of enforcement, and that is the ability of the Obligor to pay at a certain point in time.  In order to ensure the goal of compliance is achieved, the problem solving court believes it must in some way address the underlying problem(s) that are preventing the Obligor from paying. 

Adapted from the key components of drug court problem solving courts, the key components of Child Support Problem Solving Courts are:

  1. Child Support Problem Solving Courts integrate unemployment, substance abuse, access and visitation resources with the justice system case processing
  2. Using a non-adversarial approach team approach with Judge/Magistrate as the leader
  3. Frequent monitoring of child support order compliance with a balance of rewards and sanctions
  4. Child Support problem solving courts provide judicial interaction with the participants
  5. Strategic use of alternative sentencing
  6.  Continued interdisciplinary education and training
  7. Collaboration and partnerships with public agencies and communities-based organizations to facilitate the delivery of services

There are three different counties that have implemented problem solving courts

in Colorado and each of tailored the concepts to work for their individual District. Problem Solving Courts have been successful in Colorado. They require teamwork and collaboration between the Judicial Department and the Child Support Enforcement Agency. The community at large is the winner when a problem solving court is implemented. By addressing the underlying problems with Obligors, we are assisting in making them successful at paying child support and often times seeing their child(ren). If your area is interested in exploring a problem solving court contact us for a Planning Guide and additional information. 


Warning! Communication Challenges Ahead

Social Media and Texting in the Child Support Context

By Mike Moreno, Maureen Leif, and Kristin Slice

A communication plan that includes social media and text-messaging strategies is important to the overall success of a child support program.  Social media platforms are pervasive in our society, and it can be difficult to grasp the impact on our lives and business.  Likewise, text messaging has become commonplace and can be an effective and reliable communication tool. Incorporating these tools into an overall communication plan can be challenging, but building a strategy piece-by-piece can ensure that an organization uses them in consistent and productive ways. As the child support community nationwide continues to innovate and evolve toward family-centered approaches, many agencies are looking at social media and text messaging as tools to help them reach more families and have a greater impact in their communities. 

Human service and child support agencies have been slow in adopting official social media policies and approaches for various reasons.  Some have been concerned that social media would be used to convey negative messages and, potentially, to expose personal information. However, as those concerns are addressed, more child support agencies have integrated the use of social media, mostly as a tool to enhance their ability to locate parents for collection and enforcement purposes. While legal and privacy concerns do still exist, there are good examples and even legal precedent for the wider use of social media.

Part of the reason for adopting a broader social media and communication strategy is the changing population served by child support agencies. In a report issued in March, 2014, the Pew Research Center noted that "millennials in adulthood" are "detached from institutions and networked with friends.” Simply put, millennials expect a two-way communication style, similar to that of a friendship or other relationship. They have little interest or trust in dealing with institutions that demonstrate a lack of willingness to meet them where they are. A reflection of this change is the success experienced by institutions offering customer service through web-based chat. When compared with traditional methods used by customer service call centers, this type of customer service may seem more detached and lower in quality. However, the reality is that millennials have been raised in and are accustomed to a world where web chat and texting are more common than calling someone on the phone.

Many organizations use social media to create messages with greater impact and to shape or reshape public opinion. However, mastering the use of social media can be challenging for any organization. An implementation plan can help.  Below are four best practices child support programs should review and consider before implementing a social media communication strategy:

1.      Social media is a two-way street.  Social media platforms are two-way communication tools between agencies and customers. Traditionally, external communication flows one way, outward to clients, stakeholders, and strategic partners, but traditional communication makes receiving external feedback more difficult. Organizations that use social media convey a willingness to engage their customers and other external parties in two-way communication..  It is important that organizations look for user feedbackand have a process for vetting and responding to it, including incorporating  changes into organizational processes. Users will easily spot a failure to do this, and they will soon grow bored and disinterested.

2.      Social media use is not a megaphone. Again, utilizing social media is designed for conversation, not shouting out static information. Nonprofits and government agencies often have greater opportunities for engagement through dynamic information sharing. By design, they regularly communicate valuable information to their community. Learning how to communicate information in a way that sparks a conversation is key. Arguably, child support programs are one step ahead of other government agencies because they already know what the conversation needs to be; it just needs to take place in a different forum.  If done thoughtfully and strategically, social media can expand access to new audiences and communities that have traditionally been hard to reach, if not altogether out of reach.

3.      Get the entire team on board. Many mission-based organizations, like child support agencies, limit social media use to a single department. Unfortunately, such limitations often result in a failure to generate effective campaigns that truly engage their communities or target audiences. Social media is designed for people to connect with each other and communicate valuable information. The information that is valuable to the community usually exists within several departments or agencies, so an effective social media campaign must involve the entire organization and partner agencies. In addition, information must be communicated in a manner that does not overwhelm an audience, and there must also be a clear call-to-action. Which brings us to the final point.

4.      Employing social media requires strategic thinking and training. Effectively integrating the use of social media into any initiative, such as comprehensive family-centered approaches, will take time and, more important, a clear and tangible strategy. A good starting point is developing your team’s social media skills. Every day, people post on social media, but an organization that wants to use social media needs to implement a unified strategy and proper training to ensure that it utilizes social media effectively and consistently.  Many organizations waste a lot of time and money by jumping into a social media communication strategy without any real focus or training. Giving individuals responsible for the organization’s social media the proper training and a targeted strategy can save time and resources in the long run. Cross communication and training with the legal team is important so that social media practices are in compliance with rules of ethics.

 A strong social media strategy can play a vital role in supporting the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement’s six core elements to promote child well-being and family self-sufficiency.  Even outreach on local laws and new legislation can be boiled down, communicated in small digestible bits, and delivered directly to devices people are checking every minute of every day. Social media, as well as other online communication technologies, have the ability to break through the barriers of time and resources created when communication is limited solely to face-to-face interaction. For example, California’s Contra Costa and Ventura Counties use Facebook to highlight job opportunities, community updates, resource fairs, free education, and training events.  Orange County California’s Child Support Services Division has an active Twitter account providing followers with updated information and outreach.

While not defined as social media, the use of text messaging is also a key component of a comprehensive and modern communication plan, and could be incorporated into an overall social media and communication strategy. Social media and texting are great ways to use technology to reach a younger demographic, but the two are very different. In contrast to social media, text messaging often takes the form of personalized messages to clients reminding them about payments or updates on their cases. This is significantly different from the use of text message marketing in the for-profit realm, which often uses text messaging to alert people of flash sales and upcoming events. Text message marketing has many legal complications, and it requires specialized technology to send mass text messages.

Many government agencies have begun to implement text-messaging strategies as a way to reach customers with simple reminders, or to provide updates on a case status.  In February, 2016 the Colorado Division of Child Support implemented a text-messaging and email plan for specific case situations to address the often difficult and expensive task of keeping parties informed of important dates. The program instituted new policies to capture and store valid cell phone numbers. Additionally, the program offers four ways parties may opt-in to receive the messages: through the child support services website, the Support Disbursement Unit (SDU) customer service line, the SDU Interactive Voice Response system, or a local child support technician. Parties have the ability to choose their method of receiving messages, which include information for their case regarding payments missed or received, upcoming due dates for payments, or information regarding newly available services and programs.

Child support programs serve approximately one in four children in the United States. This is a big responsibility and an exciting undertaking that requires many innovative communication tools and the development of integrated strategies.  At its core, a family-centered approach requires organizations to integrate themselves closely into the lives of the populations they serve. Having a comprehensive strategy and defined standards for the use of social media and texting, which are already integrated in most people’s daily lives, could be the key to unlocking success.


So you want to start a Problem Solving Court...

Andrea Koppenhofer, JD

Over the past 25 years, we have seen the development of problem-solving courts in the justice system across the Nation.   The emergence of this approach has been aimed at addressing the barriers to the issues that brought the parties before the court. Problem-solving courts are designed to use the power of the court to promote positive outcomes that benefit the offender, the victim and society through system change and collaboration. As one might expect, there are concerns with this approach.  Do these specialized courts service only a small group? Is this a drain on resources which would otherwise be used for those litigants or defendants who do not qualify for problem-solving court participation? Those issues will likely continue to be debated until enough data is gathered to answer them. In the meantime, many jurisdictions are convinced by the demonstrated evidence-based success in jurisdictions in Georgia, New York, Minnesota and many others. Courts in these jurisdictions have reduced recidivism, reduced prison costs, increased child support collection and generally resulted in safer communities and stronger families. If you are already convinced this is a path for your or are interested in seeing these improvements in your jurisdiction here is a skeletal plan to get you started.

Experts agree that there is no cookie-cutter court model and in fact it is discouraged. However, looking at other models and developing a plan is integral to success. The plan must be developed through collaboration. Successful problem-solving courts are broader than just the judiciary. A cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work because the agencies involved and the resources available vary significantly from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The first critical step is identifying the stakeholders. Understanding who will be impacted by the establishment of the court and who can offer resources or guidance is critical to setting up a program that truly addresses the needs of the community. Within the identified Stakeholder group, a steering board or “Champions” should be identified.  These are the representatives of the stakeholder community who can provide guidance, resources and leadership to the process. Once this key group is identified the next step is a first meeting. At this meeting the champions will collaborate and develop a vision for the problem-solving court. Subsequent meetings will be used to develop the program. Resources will need to be defined, examining questions such as: What resources are currently available? Will additional funding be needed? What funding resources are available? The stakeholders will need to develop program phases for implementation and plan for education and training of the stakeholders and the program staff throughout the program. Finally a plan for periodic program evaluation will need to be developed.

It takes a leader to plant the seed or get the ball rolling, but it takes the community to engage, create and implement the plan.

If your court or jurisdiction would like to start a problem-solving court, need help in strengthening an existing problem solving court, or collaborate to improve outcomes for parties, the experienced professionals at Grays Peak Strategies can help you achieve your vision. Use the contact link on this page and we will be happy to reach out for a consultation.


Project Management: Where Common Sense Goes to Die

Joe Mamlin, PMP

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is a collection of information full of common sense ideas and methods, but it’s very easy to focus on process and methods and lose sight of the goal of the project.  Project Management (PM) as a discipline is only as effective as the project manager, the project management team, and the common sense with which they approach the work at hand. 

Project Management tools can help in all areas of our work.  They help to move us from being reactive to being proactive.  Using these techniques we can define the scope of anything we want to accomplish and identify resource needs and resource gaps.  A common sense PM approach can help to identify and define workable sets of tasks, assign responsibility and accountability, address the need for timeliness and meet deadlines.  Yes… I said deadlines. 

According to the PMBOK, a project is “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result”.  You can build a project around virtually anything you hope or need to achieve in your agency. Certainly this can and will include information technology (IT) related projects, but it can also be applied when you want to create a result such as a better paternity establishment process, or passing legislation, devising a budget, reorganizing your office, raising your children.  (Well, I don’t really think you should apply this to raising your children… but maybe you can use it to guide your children in raising your grandchildren.)  So everyone get a project in mind… ready?

For whatever project you have in mind, you will need to go through the following phases:  Initiation, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Control (which is concurrent with planning) and Closing.  Like a 12 step program (with only 5 steps), you cannot and should not try to skip any of these phases.  You might not know me personally, but you just have to trust me: bad things will happen if you do.

Phase 1: Initiation – This includes the processes and activities performed to define a new project or a new phase of a project, and this is where authorization is given.  The most important item to come out of this phase is the Project Charter.  The Charter is the document that defines what the project outcomes will be and provides authority and resources to complete the project.

Phase 2: Planning – This phase includes the processes that establish the scope, refine the objectives, and define the course of action.  The most important artifact to come from this phase is the Project Management Plan.  This plan defines the approach and identifies staffing and other resources needed to complete the tasks and activities in order to meet the milestones and maintain the schedule. 

Phase 3: Executing – This includes the processes and activities that complete the work of the project.  These are defined in the Project Management Plan, detailed in the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), and tracked in the Project Schedule.  This is where the work of the project is actually completed, and the objectives or products are produced. 

Phase 4: Monitoring and Control – Running concurrently with the Executing phase, this includes the processes required to track, review, and regulate progress and performance of the project.  This is also where the need for changes in the plan are identified and initiated.  

Phase 5: Closing – Often neglected, but very important, this phase includes the processes performed to finalize all activities and close out the project or phase.  While this is the final phase – hence the name “closing” – you should be thinking about this on day one.  It starts with defining what constitutes success and completion in your project, and it is supported every day that you don’t let the scope move your finish line more than absolutely necessary.  Draw the proverbial line in the sand where one project ends and where “new” requirements or needs become the next project.  Too much of the work we do seems to be never ending.  When you have a defined project with a defined finish, celebrate it and it will encourage people to get moving on the next project with a belief that it, too, can get done.

Final words of wisdom

This is only a small taste of what is available to help manage projects. Project Management is a discipline and a set of tools.  No one size fits all.  Spend some time exploring what’s out there, and try to mold your approach to what works for you.  For example, a project schedule should be a tool that supports the goals of your project.  It can be as detailed as you need it, but it can also be high level if that meets your needs.  Allow yourself some leeway to experiment and adjust your approach.  Once you get started, try to follow through with your approach, but keep track of what works and what doesn’t work and every project will get the benefit of the ones that came before.

Don’t do process for process sake… let common sense live!

If your agency needs support with project management, needs help in strengthening an existing project management techniques, or would like to explore other ways of managing work, the experienced professionals at Grays Peak Strategies can help. Use the contact link at the bottom of this page and we will be happy to reach out for a consultation.