If you retire tomorrow, will there be someone to step in and continue your work as a leader? The Southern Area Consortium of Human Services (SACHS) pondered this question shortly after they organized their coalition. SACHS was established in 2001 and consists of human service Directors from the Southern California Counties of Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. In addition, the Directors from California State University San Bernardino’s Department of Social Work and San Diego State University’s School of Social Work are also members. SACHS is facilitated by the Academy for Professional Excellence (Academy), a project of the SDSU Research Foundation.
Due to the lack of a pool of leadership successors, SACHS requested the Academy design a leadership development training program.
The Academy researched successful models for leadership development across the nation. Models assessed: National Network of Social Work Managers; National Child Welfare Workforce Leadership Institute; USC Marshal School of Business (Leadership Institute); UC Berkeley’s Bay Area Social Service Consortium; UC Davis Executive Program and California counties’ manager training models. As a result of this research and in consultation with SACHS Directors, the following goals were identified:
- Provide relevant executive level leadership training to SACHS counties
- Ensure the curriculum would be flexible, to meet the changing public human services environment
- Provide training in a multi-county cohort (SACHS counties) to enhance networking
“Your network is your net worth” (Tim Sanders, former Yahoo Director)
- Utilize professional trainers, subject matter experts and existing directors/executives as presenters and trainers.
Curriculum and Training Components
360⁰ Assessment Tool and Individual Development Plan
A 360⁰ leadership assessment tool was identified that incorporated all the competencies needed to be a Human Services Director. (NOTE: to date a 360⁰ assessment tool for public service executives has not been identified.)
In conjunction with the assessment tool, a 2 hour face-to-face debrief session is conducted to facilitate the development of an Individual Development Plan (IDP).
Each trainee receives 1-hour telephone coaching sessions every month for 4 months. The results of this are evident in the evaluations. Using the Likert scale, following are results from the LIA 10 (10th year) class on the coaching component:
- 4.87 (out of 5 pt. scale)=Coaching provided effective feedback
- 4.87 = Coaching made me a more effective leader
The goal of the LIA coaching component is to be relevant, respectful and engaging. To that end, it has been successful to have a coach who has career experience working within a county system.
Few books are published that speak to the public service leader. However, leadership is largely a set of skills and competencies that can generally be applied in any industry. To expand the trainee’s awareness of leadership competencies, a Book Club is conducted each year. To receive a copy of the Book Club list, please contact Patti Rahiser at email@example.com.
Action Learning Projects
Action learning projects facilitate learning by using an actual work problem as the foundation for practicing skills. All California counties have a Board of Supervisors (BOS) who oversee the Human Services agency in their county. Directors often have to appear before their BOS with requests requiring approval (funds, hiring, contracting, etc.).
The action learning project in LIA is a draft Board Letter that each county team writes and ‘presents’ to a mock Board of Supervisor panel (consisting of their human services Directors).
Following are the individual courses provided: Leadership (Vision, Values, Mission); Critical Thinking; Strategic Planning; Political Savvy; Media Relations; Presentation Skills; Organizational Change; Diversity in the Workplace; Fiscal Essentials; Coaching for Results; Ethics and Your Career.
Transfer of Learning (TOL)
Critical to all adult learning is the emphasis on transferring what they learn into the workplace. The supervisors of LIA participants are provided monthly emails outlining what their employee will be learning and potential post-training questions for the supervisor to discuss/identify ways to incorporate the knowledge into skills.
Spectrum of Learning
Spectrum of learning refers to utilization of all the following modalities to assist in training and TOL: eLearning, classroom, webinar and mobile apps. All these elements are incorporated into one or more classes in LIA.
A very strong component of LIA is the evaluation process. Evaluation feedback is obtained at the end of each training week, end of the program, at 3 months and 12 months (the latter two include supervisor feedback). 79% of the supervisors indicated the graduates exhibited improved work performance. Detailed data elements have been tracked/analyzed for 10 years (see research article published: Coloma, J., Gibson, C., & Packard, T. (2012). Participant outcomes of a leadership development initiative in eight human service organizations. Administration in Social Work, 36(1), 4-22).
Another indicator of the success of Leaders In Action executive development program is that two of the existing 8 SACHS County Directors are LIA graduates.
Patti Rahiser is a Program Manager at the Academy for Professional Excellence, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org