Leading Transformation

By Tracy Wareing Evans, Executive Director VIEWS 4

Simple. Linear. Predictable… Words that are not likely to resonate with health and human service leaders operating within our complex field today. Our issues do not fit neatly into electoral cycles or grant timelines. They involve many fluctuating actors, conditions and norms. So what does it really take to lead our field in transformation? 


At APHSA, I have the honor of working with transformative leaders every day. I am humbled by the stamina, spirit and smarts that our members and partners bring to the table. Here are just a few ways in which the talented leaders within this field are steering our collective work:


Framing Matters.  Framing is critical.  As APHSA Board President and Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, Dr. Raquel Hatter has noted: “How we speak about our work matters. We have to speak strategically and artfully, creating a degree of cognitive dissonance that gets people to think differently about something that they have believed in for a long time.”


Effective framing is not easy. Fortunately, the new research from Frameworks Institute offers tested values and metaphors that show great promise in changing mindsets but it will take our collective effort as a field to apply this research and resist our old ways of communicating. You can learn more about the latest Frameworks research here.


North Stars and Roadmaps. With Pathways continuing to set the desired future state for human services, our value proposition strategies have evolved in ways that strengthen how APHSA can support our members on their transformation journey. Most notably, the Human Services Value Curve is a viable frame that works as a developmental model, which can be built on without losing its underlying simplicity or meaning.


Our National Collaborative and Organizational Effectiveness teams continue to work closely with leaders who are applying the Human Services Value Curve in a multitude of ways. As the field applies the Value Curve, there is a growing appreciation that the “regulative stage” is one that must be intentionally planned and deployed. Just like a house requires a good foundation, the Value Curve’s regulative level must be strong in order to effectively progress to the other stages.


Check out our website to learn more about progressing through the stages of the Value Curve.


Pacing and Patience. Renowned leadership expert, Professor Ron Heifetz of Harvard’s Kennedy School, has taught us that there is a pacing to this work that requires a constant evaluation of the opportunities that are most ripe for action and those that need cultivation.  Heifetz explains that innovation takes patience and is, at its root, the result of creating differences. Too often we talk more than we listen. We must be willing to bring different voices and sources together to generate ideas. We must also be disciplined enough to fully embrace the diagnostic process so that we do not end up spending time in secondary repair processes. At the same time, we must be constantly scanning for windows of opportunity and be ready to take action on them before those windows close.


Learning Environments. Another common theme among health and human service leaders is the need to create an environment where it really is ok to learn. Heifetz stresses that developing new competencies actually requires that at some point in the process we feel incompetent. As leaders, one of our jobs is to help our staff “be able to stomach” that feeling of incompetence. Similarly, we need to create work environments where “failing” is a part of learning. 


Authenticity in Partnership. Most importantly, we must work in authentic partnership with families. Bobby Cagle, Commissioner of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, reminds us that: “Families are the CEOs of their lives.”  As human services leaders, we must shift from historically paternalistic approaches to ones that honor a families’ role in achieving their potential and giving fully to their community. To do so requires us to let go of past practices and recognize that well-being is built and strengthened by the opportunities human service organizations provide that allow families to tap into that potential.


In a pivotal year marked by a presidential election and national debate around the growing income divide, we are served well to keep the insights of these leaders at the forefront of our thinking. You can check in with us here throughout the year as we continue leveraging opportunities to shape our collective path forward!