REBUILDING FROM THE GROUND UP
During its first seven years in business, Service Coordination, Inc. had built solid business processes that kept the nonprofit running smoothly, providing quality case-management services to people in Maryland with disabilities. Then, in 2014, new government regulations completely upended how Service Coordination did business.
“It was almost literally redoing the complete operations in the organization from the ground up,” says executive director and CEO John Dumas. “Every team member in the organization had to relearn their job. Over the first year, we didn’t know if we were going to keep the company in business.”
The new regulations, which transferred funding in the sector from a per-capita model to one that used 15-minute billing increments, meant that Service Coordination had to transform itself, retraining its 250 case workers all while continuing to provide the services its nearly 12,000 clients depended on. “We developed all-new procedures, all-new databases, all-new personnel practices,” says program director John Whittle. “We had to deconstruct everything.”
Service Coordination invested heavily that first year to overhaul its organization. Before the changes went into effect, the nonprofit enlisted expertise from the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy to conduct a workload study to help transform the organization. The preparations necessitated taking on debt. “With the new model of service, we projected a five-year plan to get out of debt,” Dumas says. “In the third year, we were able to eliminate that structural deficit. I think we came out much stronger through the process.”
Service Coordination’s history of relying on data-driven processes and strategic planning prior to the changes laid the groundwork for a successful transition. The nonprofit uses a balanced scorecard system that tracks 24 metrics that cascade throughout the organization. “All of these support the team members’ ability to do their jobs,” Dumas says. Service Coordination has its own proprietary database that it has developed over the past four years. “It’s through that database, that information management system, that we’re able to look at the information that we need to make management or leadership decisions,” Dumas says.
This reliance on data as opposed to anecdotal evidence sets Service Coordination apart from other human service agencies, according to Whittle. “We can pull tons of data for the thousands of people that we support and hundreds of employees,” he says. “If there is a gap in performance, we develop a process and come up with a solution together.” Service Coordination is constantly refining its processes, which it consolidates in a manual for case managers in the field. “They open the manual to see what steps to follow,” Whittle says. “We update it all the time, and we keep adding new sections.”
Whittle credits the nonprofit’s philosophy of shared leadership for its survival. “It wasn’t just a couple of us in a room,” Whittle says. Instead, employees from every affected department — from case managers, to payroll, to reception — met in person to draft new procedures, which were then disseminated throughout the organization for further input. “It was a very elaborate process, but I think it made everybody feel like we’re in it together,” Whittle explains.
A retired Marine, Dumas says the concept of shared leadership evolved from a military approach of involving your team members to help solve problems. “You really want to get the right people at the table,” he says. “So we developed this concept of shared leadership, where staff at different levels sit on committees and they help us solve those problems.”
Service Coordination’s employees take great pride in connecting people with disabilities to the services and support they need, and then monitoring that progress. “They come out of a culture of humanitarianism and caring about people, and they see that we can have a real impact on people that need help,” Whittle says.
Service Coordination strives to provide the same care for its employees. “Customer service to the people we support has always been the key to us, but we found the other key was to be customer-service oriented to our case managers,” Whittle says. The nonprofit offers competitive pay and benefits, as well as flexible hours and work outside an office setting in the communities where clients live and work. Whittle says that if Service Coordination expects its employees to genuinely care about clients, the organization should mirror that level of concern for its people. “That’s our culture with our staff — that kind of congruence and that integrity,” he says.
Photos (L to R): Top row: John Dumas, Executive Director and CEO; Allan Sheahen, Central Regional Director; Tenneille Aleshire, Western Region Director. Bottom row: Pamela Stell, HR Director; Mindy Propst, Program Systems Director. Not pictured: Tom Evans, Finance Director; Charles Brehm, IT Director; John Whittle, Program Director