The Human Services Value Curve establishes a framework for leaders to improve outcomes and value. But every leader must tailor the Value Curve and related strategies to their unique operating environment. And understanding the convergence dynamics of that environment is, of course, vital to successful adoption.
Leaders in Dakota County, Minnesota, recognizing the Value Curve's potential, embarked on a journey of vision and strategic planning. The resulting transformation integrates services provided by the county as well as those provided by partnering nonprofits—like 360 Communities—to create a circle of programs and services that promotes community-wide self-sufficiency.
Dakota County's journey toward transformation in human services began with a desire to formulate an entirely new vision focused on moving more families out of generational poverty towards self-sufficiency. The county's population of nearly 400,000 is mostly suburban and generally well-to-do, with 4.6% of families living below the poverty line. The Community Services division consists of 815 full time employees and includes Social Services, Public Health, Corrections, Extension, Employment and Economic Assistance, and Veterans.
Director Kelly Harder noted that, at the outset, the various departments in Community Services reported on budget and outputs, but were unable to report on outcomes. Some leaders within the division had lost confidence in the impact they were having, despite all their hard work.
The first step in their new plan was to align the County Board, department heads, and staff around goals that addressed the county’s most pressing wellness needs and long-term objectives. Harder explained one example from this alignment phase, in which the division leadership noted that "Thriving People" was one of the key goals set by the County Board. Harder was confident the Board’s goal aligned with the developing vision at Community Services. "We have translated what we see as ‘improving self-sufficiency’… into 'thriving people.' It translates."
Harder also sat down individually with each new hire to describe the new direction the organization was going. Leaders in the division worked with staff to clarify roles and desired outcomes, and determine how to track those outcomes and understand the impact. The division takes special care in determining the best tracking methods, Harder said, "so we can build back our big data for doing those analytics."
After aligning the efforts of the division and the county to the new vision, they adapted the Human Services Value Curve into a highly visible, easily understood framework for integrated service delivery. Each business model in the Value Curve (Regulative, Collaborative, Integrative, and Generative) reflected, for their division, an increasing capacity to move their clients toward self-sufficiency, as opposed to serving clients only as long as they were at-risk or in crisis.
Division leaders also decided their Value Curve must represent the tendency of clients' needs to change as they age. They would develop a course of action for clients by first understanding their needs and then identifying services to address those needs, thereby increasing the likelihood that they would treat root causes, not symptoms.
This self-sufficiency Value Curve became a fixture at every town hall meeting, every staff meeting, and every discussion involving human services in the county. "Every one of my department heads, deputies and supervisors, has this visual hanging up in their office," Harder said.
An early success for the Value Curve came at a budget meeting. Harder spoke to his administrator for 45 minutes about their strategy and operational model, represented by the Value Curve, before addressing any budget needs. Harder grinned when he said to Summit participants, "Do you know how easy my budget conversation went?" They've had increases and growth every year since, he added, all because they established a business need for investing money tied to outcomes and accountability.
The division now possessed a model that every member of the division could look to and understand. The next step was using that model to form a detailed, strategic plan. For every service domain represented on the Value Curve, they needed a sophisticated work plan. What did "thriving" mean in each of these domains? What strategies and tactics did they need to implement to achieve it? And what money did they need in their budget to help them get there?
Harder met with his management team to engage them all in developing the definitions, strategies and tactics. "We had white papers all over the room," Harder said. They harvested the information for themes and voted on everything the organization would do. Harder also consulted his supervisors, he said, several of whom had worked in the division for over twenty years but had never been asked to contribute to the division's strategic plan or budget.
A key goal of integration would now be to open as many doors as possible and ensure clients had access to services that addressed root causes. Harder cited an example involving financial workers operating at the county jail. "We were the only county who had an Affordable Care Act (ACA) Outreach Grant," Harder said. "We’re running all over trying to find our under- and un-insured at the libraries, we’re looking under stones at the parks." Then, at a senior management meeting, Harder asked the County Sherriff whether he asked arrestees at booking if they were insured. The Sherriff pulled out his tablet, did a quick search, and told Harder that, yes, 50% of arrestees reported they had no insurance. Harder was stunned—there were more uninsured entering jail than he had in his financial intake office. "Those are our customers," Harder said, and the Sherriff worked with him to install a financial worker at the jail.
In order to keep implementation on track, leaders for each service domain agreed to draw up a list of deliverables every three months. They also updated their work plan monthly, regardless of whether or not they were making progress.
To sustain a culture of transformation among leadership, the division also changed its pay-for-performance model to recognize a broader range of achievements, again using the Value Curve as a guide. Rather than simply meeting expectations (Regulative) to earn a three percent cost-of-living increase, executives and managers could now refer to a detailed, performance-management matrix to determine how they could exceed expectations (Collaborative), greatly exceed them (Integrative), or even perform exceptionally (Generative), and be compensated accordingly.
When Harder first came to Dakota County, he said, the nonprofits rarely sat at one table together, and would even find ways to capture each other’s market, "…of which I continue to say there’s more than enough work for all of us. We don’t need to fight about it."
Harder asked to meet with the nonprofits so he could introduce them to the Value Curve framework that was effectively guiding transformation within the division. He asked the nonprofits to identify where, within the Value Curve, their organizations fell in relation to the service domains. This exercise yielded an immediate benefit: creating an asset map that helped nonprofit leaders to identify gaps and redundancies. "We were just going to build a program that did that," one of them had said.
At the Summit, Harder gave the floor over to Sal Mondelli who offered a perspective from one of the county's nonprofit partners. Mondelli heads 360 Communities, an organization that engages communities to prevent violence, ensure school success, and promote long-term self-sufficiency. Operations consist of integrated “impact areas” that support over 17,000 individuals each year, employing 1,100 volunteers and 70 staff. They provide services in over 40 locations, including a network of five food shelves, two resource centers, two domestic violence shelters, and three programs supporting school success.
When Harder began meeting with service-delivery partners, it was apparent that Dakota County and 360 shared similar visions for human service delivery. 360's vision statement, for instance, calls for building "stable and thriving families." Mondelli's team had also developed a "Double Bottom Line" matrix, providing a framework that plots mission fit and impact against financial impact.
Mondelli described the first time he showed the Double Bottom Line to Kelly Harder, who practically leapt out of his chair. "You're speaking my language!" Harder said. 360 was even measuring success according to a "Self-Sufficiency Matrix" they had developed.
There was an explanation for this happy overlap—360 had been undergoing a transformation of its own, catalyzed by Mondelli's arrival at the helm two years prior. This journey toward ever-increasing integration positioned 360 to emerge as the leader in collaboration between nonprofits and the county. "It’s because of Sal and his leadership," Harder said, "that we and the executive directors… of the nonprofits, faith-based and others meet every couple months."
In using the Value Curve to guide organizational transformation, Harder emphasized the importance of both persistence and patience. "The Value Curve is like a new muscle," he said, "and it takes time. You’ve got to exercise it. You just can’t push it on your organization or your leadership."
Harder offered one final example of the transformation culture at work, opening new doors for service delivery. Once per month, roughly 300 low-level offenders on parole would gather into an auditorium for a regular meeting with their parole officer (PO), a process that had already proven more efficient than conducting parole meetings piecemeal over the course of the month. Parolees would arrive, check-in, and then wait in their chairs (often for a few hours) for their turn to meet with the PO. One day, Harder noted that these people were not mere parolees, but customers who potentially required other services, and the monthly auditorium meetings contained hundreds of them, under the same roof and with many hours of downtime. Harder asked his leadership team to accompany him to the next auditorium meeting. "What do you think?" he asked them.
Before long, and with no additional push from Harder, his team had installed staffers from virtually every service domain at the monthly parole meeting. At the Summit, Harder showed participants two photographs. The first showed a large meeting room, sparsely populated with a few PO's and parolees, plus a lot of empty tables and chairs. The second photo showed the same room, arranged into a U-shaped series of workstations, with dozens of customers and staffers around them. Harder pointed to various stations in the photo, listing them off, "Here is chemical health, and mental health. Here’s veteran services and here’s housing, here’s workforce," and so on. Not long after this change was implemented, a PO informed Harder that the number one question parolees now asked at check-in concerned Medicaid eligibility for themselves or their kids.
"I’m proud of them," Harder said of his team, "and it’s cultural." He reveled in the knowledge that he could simply "back away and get onto the next crazy idea," trusting that his team would seize the opportunity and implement a successful plan for change.