Common Implementation Roadblocks
Natural conflicts exist between strategy and culture. These conflicts—if left unaddressed— predict that significant change to any organization will not be a smooth, linear process, and that in times of crisis (or even even when one might think the change is achieved), organizations undergoing a change process that is not yet complete tend to “slide backward” into traditional ways of behaving. For this reason, a sustained level of vigilance, encouragement, and support by senior management is necessary for all levels of your organization as you undergo change.
Consider a youth-serving organization attempting to implement a child sexual abuse prevention program for the first time. The administration appoints several staff members to create new policies and procedures, new screening and hiring practices, and new training and awareness programs for staff. The Director also publishes a letter to all staff letting them know about the importance of protecting children and what’s coming next; periodically attends the planning meetings for updates; and talks about the effort at the quarterly “all hands” staff meetings. The strategy makes sense: It seems to be a logical way to approach the task, has a list of products, and has the Director’s attention and support. After several months of work, the framework is ready. The Director announces that the changes are in effect immediately, and even attends the first training class to set the example and emphasize that the new requirements apply to everyone.
In time, the training programs for all current staff are completed, training for new employees and volunteers happens in small groups as they’re hired, the new organizational processes are in place, and some anecdotal instances indicate that the safety framework appears to have facilitated children’s safety. There is a growing sense of accomplishment and confidence that the children/youth are now safer and, as that sense increases over time, the staff members who drafted the strategy resume their regular job responsibilities, and management turns its attention to other pressing matters. A year later, a child is harmed under circumstances that the strategy should have prevented. How could this happen?
Implementation vs. Sustainment
The answer is that a safety program may be adopted but not retained or sustained. After the initial activities to create and implement the safety structure fade, and communication about the issue becomes less frequent, organizations and people tend over time to view the policies, programs, and initiatives as having addressed the situation. This allows them to turn their attention to the many other tasks and activities that typically demand their attention. That’s when the “corporate memory” about why these programs exist begins to weaken, and vigilance can suffer. If your organization lets that happen, you’ll face a great deal of risk.
Turnover of staff and volunteers can also add to this effect, as each succeeding “generation” of managers, employees, and volunteers is further removed from the energy and enthusiasm of the initial effort. Unless there is regular, widespread communication to your organization about the importance of the abuse prevention programs, policies, and procedures, why they are in place, what they are intended to do, and how they are working, the practice of maintaining safe environments can weaken. In other words, you can invest significant time and effort to implement a new safety framework, but you must also pay attention to the longer-term processes of adapting, revising, evaluating, providing feedback, and sustaining the implementation over time as it becomes a new part of your organizational culture.
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