Government Agency Adopts Business Approach

Can government really become responsive to the needs of business? Yes…but they must develop new skills.

Can a government agency, steeped in bureaucracy, actually transition into an organization that resembles a private-sector service business?

The role of the Yuba Sutter One-Stop (YSOS) role was to increase the local workforce by training unemployed and under-employed people to go to work. Success meant helping these people find meaningful employment in the region. Not an easy feat in any circumstance, much less serving the needs of a traditionally depressed, seasonal agricultural economy.

The Problem.

The criteria for funds distribution to the agency was being changed. The state had been distributing operating funds based on the number of people they were able to find jobs for. Going forward, their funding was going to be based on the number of new jobs they helped local businesses create.

Since most small business-owners would rather have multiple root canals than have to deal with a government agency (much less government employees), this northern California job training agency had to undergo a drastic transformation to accomplish their mission.

The challenges YSOS faced were threefold:

  • A shift in funding that required transitioning social workers from helping people find jobs to helping businesses create them;
  • Convincing local business owners that YSOS had a solid understanding of their businesses and valuable services that could help them grow their businesses; and,
  • Actually helping the local businesses create new, permanent jobs required by profitable growth.

In approaching these challenges, we recognized that most of the staff were being asked to go well beyond their comfort zones. In fact, in cultivating the belief that the new approach would work, we determined 83% of staff was resistant – either paralyzed by fear of new job duties (and accountability for results) or hoping to wait for the inertia of bureaucracy to slow down the process to the point where there would be no reason to respond or react to their new assignments.

Our Approach

The first step in transforming YSOS was to recognize the cultural constraints imposed by the previous mission and managing staff anxiety about the transition from helping workers find jobs to helping business owners create them.

A critical success factor in alleviating the anxiety and fear of this radical transformation was honest and direct discussion. A top-down directive would only have led to the slow grind of bureaucratic inertia…all staff members had to be an active part of the process. Thus, a critical step in alleviating the fear and anxiety of implementing such a radical transformation was the inclusion of all staff in pertinent discussions.

Staff talked openly about the new mission and how they would leverage their training and development of new skills into their daily routines. Staff members learned how to support one another and experience positive results doing something completely new and foreign to them.

Because a new team-oriented culture was integrated into their new practices, staff members were able to hold one another more accountable for results, while also being accountable to the agency leadership.

To minimize disruption and make the trainings most effective, the schedule was integral to success. Spread out over three months, employees experienced:

  • An effective learning process that did not interfere with work getting done;
  • The time necessary to absorb new information and complete homework; and,
  • The opportunity to develop comfort with their new skills through mentoring and practicing in a penalty-free environment.

Through hands-on training in the use of the Mandelberg Vitality Index, active facilitation, mentoring and teamwork, YSOS’s staff was able to embrace a sense of value and empathy for their new mission. They, developed new attitudes and knowledge that lead to effective skills development and individual growth while working through the anxiety about their new purpose, job requirements, and funding mandate.

Results

In a rural community of 90,000 people, this team of heretofore social workers met with 100+ business owners in the first 30 days. They developed new relationships, educated the business community about their new services, and built credibility within their market.

The businesses they met with were excited about the new services, the prospect of growing their businesses, and creating new jobs for the community.

The client learned they had much to offer the employer and the job seeker in the rapidly changing world of business services. This shift in thinking about their vital role has led to new levels of success and effectiveness.

YSOS reports that the specialized training and coaching was valuable and unique:

“Larry took the time to understand our environment, our lingo, and challenged us to think differently. Our number of business customers has increased consistently since the training. Not only did Mandelberg provide us with a hands-on tool to help our business customers evaluate their practices, but they walked our staff through the applying of the results.  The response from our business community has been very positive.  Our number of business customers has increased consistently since the training.” Bob Ginther, Assistant Superintendent, Sutter County School District