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Leading from the inside out

November 1, 2009
by Jon Day, LIMHP, LCSW
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During the past year, funding limitations have forced behavioral health organizations to think hard about every aspect of budgeting and services. And, while funding can do a lot of good, it's neither the source of nor the solution to every organizational problem.

At some time, all of us learn that changes in perspective from within ourselves and our organizations-rather than changes from without, such as changes in funding or income-hold the key to taking control, altering our direction, and finding greater success, stability, and contentment.

By changing focus and searching within, organizations can seek out opportunities that have always been there but never have been pursued. Often, these overlooked opportunities will not only increase an organization's resiliency, but also contribute to its growth and expansion.

Our organization, Blue Valley Behavioral Health (BVBH), has grown significantly during the past few years because of seizing these overlooked opportunities and changing our focus. And your organization can achieve this same growth and success simply by focusing your operations on four specific areas. These four focus areas are:

Keep it simple. This concept needs to be applied to the expectations that exist regarding the policies and protocols that drive the business. These expectations (of all staff and operations) need to be clear, widely understood, and accepted. When staff can take the guess work out of their jobs and establish a greater sense of predictability, not only will they be more successful, but they will also have a better attitude in handling difficulties when they arise.

Get rid of assumptions. As administrators, we often think that if something makes perfect sense to us, everyone will embrace and understand it as well. Get assumptions out of the workplace through improved communication. Let people know what you expect from them, what priorities are in place, and which things come first.

When we assume certain things are being done, it's an escape mechanism that prevents us from dealing with difficult problems. It's like establishing new policies at an office meeting and not asking for questions. When you actively work to reduce assumptions, you not only make yourself more available to staff, but show greater respect for them as you help them to reduce frustrations and experience greater success. Ending the delusions that occur from having too many assumptions is one more step in your efforts to create a better workplace.

Eliminate complacency. The third focus area involves removing complacency. Complacency exists when you feel that improvements are no longer necessary, at least for a while. Complacency may not show itself immediately, but will start affecting one area at a time until it has totally engulfed your organization.

The antidote to complacency is forward movement. It requires you to constantly analyze your organization and identify areas for improvement. Even if you don't see the need for improvement, it's there. That is why you need to have a great staff and to welcome their feedback. They know where improvements are needed.

Encourage ownership. The last focus area involves encouraging staff ownership. Administrators have to understand that their organization belongs to the staff that delivers services and the clients who need and use them. Staff will be more motivated when they feel they have a stake in the business. If all decisions are made by you, a dull environment and unmotivated staff will result. If you challenge your staff, give them the power to implement effective decisions, and support them, a stronger work environment will develop.

When you actively work to reduce assumptions, you not only make yourself more available to staff, but show greater respect for them as you help them to reduce frustrations and experience greater success.

Although these are only four basic areas, they can be instrumental in establishing a strong inner core for your organization. These concepts can be used in any size or type of behavioral health organization. As you focus on these areas, your internal organization structure will become stronger. You can expect your organization to experience a certain lift which is indicative of new growth. This new growth will not only help ensure your presence as a quality provider of treatment services in your community, it will also be an indicator that greater things are soon to come.

Jon Day, LIMHP, LCSW, has worked as a mental health provider for 18 years. He is the Executive Director of Blue Valley Behavioral Health, a nonprofit organization serving 15 rural counties in Southeast Nebraska.

For more information, contact Jon at jday@bvbh.net.

Behavioral Healthcare 2009 November-December;29(10):18