Agency staff play a key role in implementing MTW activities and engaging residents and the broader community. Getting staff buy-in is critical to the success of the MTW program. Building staff buy-in ensures agency staff can effectively support MTW activities and are prepared to give residents and community members the information they need and build support for the program.
While there is no one ‘right’ way to engage staff, successful strategies might include:
- Address staff's concerns
- Focus on the mission
- Know your audience
- Promote inclusion within the agency
- Find your MTW champion
Change can be difficult. Denise Pratt (Keene Housing), Jeff Davis (San Diego Housing Commission), and Nicole Beydler (Housing Authority of the County of San Bernardino) discuss the importance of creating a culture that engages agency staff in the process of embarking on MTW activities and helping them become comfortable with the changes taking place.
Address Staff's Concerns
When an agency implements any major organizational change, it is normal for staff to have many questions and concerns. MTW will change the way the agency thinks about how to use its resources. Hearing agency leadership discuss streamlining and administrative savings may raise job security concerns. Some staff may be anxious about changes in their roles and responsibilities, wondering whether their workloads will increase, or whether they will be required to perform duties they feel unprepared for. If these concerns go unaddressed, leadership may find that staff remain resistant to the changes.
Be proactive and strategic when addressing these concerns. Take time to thoroughly educate staff and reconnect with staff often throughout the process. A ‘one and done’ approach is not enough to socialize new ideas and generate a sense of ownership and support!
Make sure that staff understand both why the agency is implementing MTW and how the program works. The more staff participate in the development of the program the more connected they will feel to the process.
Empowering staff throughout MTW efforts can help reduce resistance to change.
- Recognize the importance of the role staff will play in making MTW a success, and how the changes that MTW will allow can help staff make meaningful contributions to the residents, the agency, and the mission.
- Acknowledge that, while staff’s roles may change, their contributions will continue to be vital to the agency. Highlight and explain why the aspects of their new roles that are particularly important.
- Encourage staff to have open and honest conversations about concerns.
- Address concerns with concrete examples of changes that may take place and how the agency will ensure that staff concerns are addressed.
- Show what other MTW agencies have done and the value they have seen as a result of their MTW efforts.
Focus on the Mission
Ultimately, MTW is designed to benefit families and the community. Remind staff that MTW is there to support the mission they are passionate about and make sure they see how each MTW activity fits into the big picture.
Keep in mind that if staff do not have a clear understanding of an initiative’s goals or how success will be evaluated, they may jump to conclusions about whether an MTW activity is or is not working. To avoid misunderstandings, be sure to establish mechanisms for sharing data about the effects the activity is having, making clear the likely timeframe required before seeing positive results, and soliciting feedback from staff to help interpret the data.
Ensure staff feel welcomed and encouraged to share their feedback about the effects of an activity, as they observe them in their daily work.
- Don’t make staff wait for an “ask” from leadership in order to share their impressions, comments, or observations.
- Create an “open door” by designating a person or process for sharing feedback in an ongoing way, as it comes up.
Know your Audience
While you can’t predict how individual staff members will react to changes resulting from your agency’s MTW designation, experience and skill level can sometimes influence staff attitudes about change. For example, newer staff may find transitioning to new processes or programs confusing after recently learning the existing program. Alternatively, newer staff may also be very willing to learn a new process and see it as a means of being on a similar level with longer-tenured staff. Staff who have performed the same or similar duties for years and feel confident that they can perform well may be hesitant about having to adapt to new day-to-day operations. Conversely, staff who have been doing a job in the same way for a long time may be excited by opportunities to take on new assignments and develop their skills. It is important that agency leaders be mindful of how these factors can affect expectations and plan accordingly.
When adjusting assignments to implement MTW activities, think broadly about ways to use each employee's skills and abilities most effectively. Don’t be afraid to consider options such as:
- Moving staff into new roles.
- Surveying staff about their interests or skills that leadership may not be aware of.
- Providing additional training to equip staff to take on new challenges.
Even if you see some initial resistance to change, remember that staff perceptions can evolve as MTW activities begin to take effect and produce results. Be careful not to assume that staff are unwilling to adapt, or to box your employees into a single role. Even a staff member who resists MTW in its early stages will learn to embrace it!
Promote Inclusion within the Agency
Utilize your staff’s expertise by engaging them in every stage of the MTW activity, from design through implementation. Staff have valuable, first-hand knowledge, that comes from working directly with residents and the community. They can provide useful insights regarding resident concerns, community partnerships, and best practices. Their in-depth knowledge makes them an excellent source of ideas for new initiatives.
Creating an environment where staff at all levels feel comfortable voicing their opinions and giving input about potential MTW activities is a crucial piece of successful change management. Allow staff to take part in conceptualizing and implementing activities to promote inclusion and a sense of ownership of the process. Even if your agency already has an idea of what activities it will undertake, staff can still help hone the agency’s approach to implementing the ideas.
Find Your MTW Champion
A designated point person for the MTW program can be key to effectively educating staff about the new ideas that MTW brings. Ensuring someone is available to dedicate time and energy to spearheading and championing the program will help bring the staff along on the journey from idea formation to implementation.
David A. Northern, Sr. (Housing Authority of Champaign County), Jennifer Rainwater (Formerly, Housing Authority of the County of San Mateo), and Karen Kreutzberg (Boulder Housing Partners) discuss the importance of designating a point person to champion the agency’s MTW efforts.