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Are we revolving or evolving?

February 1, 2010
by Lori Ashcraft, PHD and William A. Anthony, PHD
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Resolve to stop your organization from running in circles by investing in change

In behavioral health “circles” (pun intended) we often talk about “revolving doors.” This is a disparaging term we apply to distressing situations of unresolved treatment efforts. If a program doesn't adequately meet a person's needs, causing them to return numerous times for further services, we say, “That program has a revolving door.”

We also use this term to describe the comings and goings of people who are frequent visitors to our programs, voluntarily or otherwise. Sometimes we blame them for this and say that it's their fault they are stuck in the revolving door, but we know better. It's tempting and convenient to blame and it's certainly a lot easier than fixing the problem. It's not an easy problem to solve.

We believe a holographic force is at play within systems and organizations. So when we see a problem such as the “revolving door syndrome” happening, we look to see where else it crops up. Usually there are other reflections of the same dynamic that show up throughout a system. Sure enough, we have found it lurking in places that might surprise you (but probably not).

In this article we are going to disclose the location of one of the deadliest manifestations of the pesky “revolving door syndrome” and give you some ideas about how to stop going in circles. Basically, we're going to show you how it crops up during the change process programs go through when they try to transform their services to reflect recovery values. You may be surprised (but again, probably not) to see the holographic similarities in revolving doors.

Through our research, which includes the observation of actual revolving doors in action, we have discovered a fatal flaw in the program transformation process! Before we start describing the gory details, humor us for a minute as we take a closer look at what happens when people go through a revolving door.

Those entering the door always exit on the same level they entered. They can exit on the opposite side, or come around full circle; they can go through the door hundreds of times, slowly or speedily, but they always come out at the same level. Since the elevation doesn't change, “going in circles” is the natural consequence.

When we apply our research findings to program transformation, we find organizations and systems getting stuck just like the people that get stuck in the revolving doors of our services. They never get any closer to reaching their aspirations because they keep coming out of the “circular experience” at the same level they entered. The solution, whether you're a person seeking services or a program seeking transformation, is not to re-volve, but to e-volve!

So how can we set in motion a plan for transformation that will keep us evolving in the direction of our goals and aspirations and reduce the number of times we-or our customers-just run in circles? Here are some broad conceptual areas to build on that create a foundation for transformation to occur:

Transform the organism to t ransform the organization. Keep in mind that organizations are essentially a group of organisms. While we may like to think of them as important and complex structures, they are basically a bunch of people (organisms) all hopefully trying to accomplish something. While it's tempting to fall back on trying to regulate transformation through policies and procedures, we can assure you that this won't work. Check out how much dust has accumulated on your policy and procedure manuals. Ask a few people what's in them, and you'll see what we mean.

The shortest route to transforming the spirit of the organization is to transform the spirit of each organism. This is the kind of transformation we ask our customers to do, so let's role-model it in our organizational practices. Since the spirit of the organization resides within the organisms, there is really no other place to start. Focus on the personal and professional growth of the organisms, bringing their strengths and abilities into alignment with recovery and wellness values.

Document transformation after it happens. Once the organisms are on board and aligned in the spirit of transformation, revise your policy and procedures to reflect the changes you are making (or have made) so that they now support the transformational experience. With them, you have a written map that reinforces the organisms as they strive to head in the same direction. Use recovery language and be inspirational when you write policies. Make them fun to read and relevant instead of being a boring rule book. Maybe then, more people will read and actually use them.

Resolve to reinforce change, again and again. Transforming an organizational culture takes a lot of resolve-but you probably know that by now. It also requires constant reinforcement. But why? How come we can't just fix it and move on? Why is it that the changes we put into place don't stick?

We look back over our shoulders and see them falling apart, or worse, disappearing as though they were the tree falling in the forest that no one heard. This is just the way it is; don't take it personally. That's where resolve comes in: Change demands constant fortification. Here's how we think of it: Resolve to change; solve the problems that interfere with change; then re-solve and re-solve and re-solve. This seems to be the way it works so we might as well plan for it instead of being surprised or disappointed by it.

Use funding to reflect change. Be smart and courageous about the use of funds. Add funds to programs that reflect transformation and recovery values, but refuse to fund programs that refuse to change.