Tag Archives: Change

Adapting to the cycle of change

Old fashioned carMy great-grandfather had a 6th-grade education. He started off his career making wagon wheels in a wagon shop. In 1907, when he was 32 years old, my great-grandfather got in on the ground floor at the Kissel Motor Car Company in Hartford, WI. The company produced handcrafted luxury cars driven by movie stars in the emerging Hollywood film industry.

He made the “artillery wheels,” made of wood spokes, rims and hubs. He was a master of wooden wheels.

Around 1925, the company began using metal disc wheels, and my 50-year-old great-grandfather was out of a job. He could not adjust to the new manufacturing process. Kissel Motor Company went out of business during the depression in the 1930s. The company could not adjust to the new economic conditions.

“Creative destruction” is an old term in economic theory that is in current vogue. It describes the incessant cycle of business innovation that destroys and transforms the current way of doing business and establishes the new way.

Change is disruptive. No sooner do you get things humming along, when stresses and forces set in. Things work well—until they don’t. The first impulse is to try harder using the strategies that worked before. But these efforts no longer seem to pay off in the same way that they used to.

Change is foggy, too. The path forward is inevitable only in hindsight. Change doesn’t come with consensus, and it sure doesn’t come with new resources. Change is hard on people. It’s hard on organizations.

To meet changing circumstances, the child support program has evolved in the past five years, and will evolve some more in the next five years. But it’s not just child support. The same forces that are compelling our program to adapt are transforming business models, governance structures, work life, and family life. Our program needs to adapt so that we can continue to be effective in today’s world.

Here in the U.S., to take one example, criminal justice agencies—prisons, jails, community corrections, prosecutors, sheriffs, police, courts, community-based organizations—are having almost the same discussion as we are, and they are making parallel changes to the criminal justice system. In both systems, policy and practice discussions center around the:

  • impact of aggressive law enforcement practices on work and family
  • role of accountability, and the opportunity to turn a life around
  • role of services in an enforcement setting
  • role of court guidelines
  • structure of court hearings, and movement toward problem-solving courts
  • impact of reimbursing government costs on compliance and debt
  • very nature of justice and fairness

Our automated enforcement tools collect billions of dollars for children and their families—$32 billion, to be exact. But there is profound instability in family structure and low-wage employment in our country. Our automated tools don’t work very well for about one-quarter of the families in our caseload. Our challenge is to increase child support collections by responding to the changes in modern families. And that means adapting and expanding program strategies to effectively serve all of the families in our caseload. That’s why we are in business.

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Change management in the child support program

Road sign "Change Ahead"“Managing change in the workplace” is a catchphrase in today’s government and business worlds. Within our child support community, we, too, are exploring ways to manage change in our program.

In many ways, the child support program exemplifies a “culture of change.” Child support has steadily evolved over the decades from a welfare cost-recovery model to a major family support program in a technologically savvy environment. We are combining traditional and automated child support tools with innovative, family-focused approaches to promote parental responsibility, to move more nonpaying cases to paying status, and to increase the reliability of child support payment. The “bubble chart” illustrates this approach.

At the same time, the child support program in a number of states and counties has been grappling with another set of changes related to staff reductions, limited resources, and reorganization. While our bubble chart helps us envision the program’s culture change, our challenge is to create an environment that stimulates this new approach in the context of more constrained program resources.

Managing change in the child support world means creating a workplace where all staff understand and value the program’s increased emphasis on obtaining regular support payments for children, rather than its traditional focus on debt threshold-based enforcement. Quite simply, we know that programs can collect child support more reliably when a noncustodial parent receives a regular paycheck and when an income withholding order is in place. The program collects 70 percent of payments through income withholding.

Managing this shift in emphasis requires a more complex case management environment—one where the computer helps caseworkers stratify caseloads and select the right tool for the right person at the right time to increase the likelihood of reliable support. The shift means implementing early intervention strategies, sensible policies and practices, and service delivery approaches to address barriers to payment. It means more collaboration with other programs and agencies. It means accepting both parents as our customers in the best interest of their child and finding the right balance of enforcement and engagement to get the results families need. It means believing that what we all do—as individuals and together—makes a profound difference in the well-being of the children and families we serve.

Our child support colleagues across the country are managing change in many ways. Some are implementing strategies, continuous process improvement tools, and performance assessments to increase program efficiencies and the potential for positive outcomes. Others are creating strategic collaborations that respond to specific challenges of our diverse customer population, such as poverty, poor health, incarceration and joblessness. Programs are making organizational changes throughout, adopting new agency names and new ways of working together, in order to promote a more family-centered and effective approach to obtaining reliable support. Many programs are effecting change, from program administrators to line staff, through cross-agency discussions, strategic planning, and employee training and mentoring.

The October-November 2012 Child Support Report newsletter begins a series of articles about managing child support program change. Illinois Director Pam Lowry explains how she and other leaders encouraged staff to think about how to rebalance the program through dialogue. They held conversations throughout the agency as a logical next step in a progression of service delivery improvements and spurred by the recent Turner v. Rogers decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. On page 4, Oklahoma Director Gary Dart tells us about the driving force behind his state’s overarching, strategic goal—healthy families. On page 5, former Georgia Director Keith Horton explains streamlined processes to give their customers faster, friendlier and easier services.

Change management is key to helping us move toward a family-centered child support services model that recognizes that parents pay child support more reliably when they have a job and stay connected to their children. I hope you consider some of the ideas in our series of articles in the coming year. Let me know how your agency is managing change by sharing your thoughts on this Commissioner’s Voice blog.




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