Four Principles of Management in Human Services

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Most for-profit business managers are familiar with the four principles of management: planning, organizing, directing and controlling or measuring. Recently, human services managers have felt pressure to implement these principles into their organizations to demonstrate program effectiveness for funds outlaid. These managers must adapt the principles to address the unique strengths and challenges they face as they serve individuals or groups through social services, physical or mental health, criminal justice or education services.

Set the Direction

The best laid plans include strategic, operational and financial preparation. Executives set the direction for the overall organization with strategic planning: why you exist, how you fit within the human services arena. Management lays out the operational planning, or the tactics to meet the executive strategy and, at times, develops or delineates the financial planning or the budget needed to execute the tasks. Human services organizations may find the process more effective through collaboration with professionals at all levels of the organization, particularly the ‘front line’ staff who interact with clients. Develop the plans less by ‘top down’ mandate and more by collaboration, and develop overall objectives by department or team rather than by individual.

Organize Logistics

Answer these three simple but interrelated questions to anticipate problems with the plan. First, what specific work tasks must be performed? Can your organization perform the tasks necessary to accomplish the plan? Second, who will be performing the tasks? Do you have the right people in the right places, or are your workers poorly placed (wrong skill sets, inadequate resources, lack of authority to execute the tasks)? Third, where will the tasks be performed? Does the work space create bottlenecks because people who need to be together are separated? Learn to "manage sideways" by taking advantage of professionals located in various departments to accomplish objectives, tapping the highly qualified professionals already in your organization and building a network by strategic aim rather than by department silo.

Direct the Plan into Motion

You’ve planned the work, now work the plan. Think of a movie director: you have the set (the workspace) and the script (the plan), now you guide the actors (the professionals) through the script within the set to complete a scene. Human service organizations find themselves in a unique position of directing two sets of actors, the professionals and the clients who are prone to "improvise." Anticipate resistance to the script from the players, particularly the clients, and develop a broad or outline-based script and built in "Plan B" of understudies (back-up policies or people to assist) into the operational phase of the plan to have contingencies in place when problems arise.

Keep Direction on Track

To use another business aphorism, measure to manage. Controlling the process as you direct the organization involves measurement, enables managers to gauge progress and identify obstacles in meeting goals or objectives. It also establishes an objective, consistent standard that removes real or perceived arbitrariness in decisions you must make as you direct your crew. In human services, balance the need for outcome (especially a desire to demonstrate ‘return on investment’) with the reality that human services works with humans, and by nature tends to be process driven. Items to measure may be more broad-based and less time-sensitive, to allow for some clients progressing faster than others.

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About the Author

Building on two decades of experience in market research and business writing, John T. Williams sorts through the mix of information, audience and channel, carving out concise, coherent content from raw intel to help clients overcome communications challenges.

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