Dear Friends of ACT,

Mark Hassemer

Mark Hassemer

What does it take to make change? Really. How do you implement change at a place like ACT?

We’re all too familiar with the why of change. A new law gets passed. A court ruling is handed down. A vendor discontinues its service or product. A new administration takes a new approach. Been there. Done that.

The why is very clear to us. Then…we’re stuck with the how.

Jessica Mahon, ACT’s Director of Employment Services, and I are on our way to a Baltimore conference at which she’ll be presenting the story of how ACT changed when the Medicaid Waiver definition unceremoniously dropped like a rock a little over 2 years ago.

The whole conference is about how. It’s called “Reinventing Quality–Moving from the Why to the How”.

We now know that many others, including the Missouri-owned and -operated facilities, are facing change, too. Now they want to know how. How can they succeed when what they’ve been doing well for decades is bound to go away?

I’ll cut to the chase. You won’t need to go to Baltimore to hear about the secret in our sauce that, once tasted by State leaders in mental health, was heralded as informative, inspiring, confidence-building, and sure to be in high demand.

Our secret: communicate and train, rinse and repeat.

This may sound stunning to you, but not long ago Jessica took me out to the production floor, the heartbeat of ACT Works, a nationally known and celebrated recycling operation that took what people didn’t want (spent media) and turned it into reusable plastics and paying jobs for people with disabilities.

She smiled and said simply, “Look!”

No one was there. The place was empty. A major part of our transition was over. Those who once worked here were now either training for jobs in the community, retired, or receiving services elsewhere at ACT or from another agency.

It was a key moment of taking stock and celebrating because it was observable verifiable evidence that we had moved on. The change was really made. Not just half-baked.

How? We did it by employing an adaptable, multi-pronged, well-timed, complex communication strategy that involved persistent repetition, reinforcement, and a strong emphasis on our vision for positive results. The end, we knew, would be good.

We coupled this with training. We had to equip our staff with the tools and everything else they needed to do the new work of preparing the people we serve for jobs in the community at equal compensation rates.

That’s how.

Here’s a taste of what the communications piece looked like.

Individuals in the work program needed to hear from us about the change. It was challenging. Some thought they had failed because they were losing their recycling program jobs. They were concerned about losing contact with their friends and disrupting beneficial routines.

Parents and guardians also heard our messages. Some welcomed the innovation. Others mourned the loss of a familiar program that had provided safety and security for their family members.

Residential providers and support coordinators were also involved. We all needed to work together to help present options to the individuals they support. They needed to understand that in the future, schedules were likely to not be as rigid as before.

ACT’s Board of Directors initially expressed anger and frustration. Rightfully, they were proud of the recycling program. It’s been creating opportunities and accomplishing good work for over two decades. Naturally, they wanted to hold on to it. And there were real financial impacts to consider. Resources had to be reallocated.

Some of our staff were excited about changes to the work program. They embraced the new goal-directed training opportunities and moved forward with anticipation. Some chose to leave.

Our referral and funding entities were in this, too. They were supportive of the new direction and had high expectations for future outcomes. They saw too that there would be changes in what we measure and report.

It was important to communicate with our local community and customers about the future. The community would see an increased presence on work and volunteer sites. Our media customers would be directed to the new company that has taken over the recycling work.

It wasn’t simple. It wasn’t easy. But it was worth doing. And now it’s worth sharing.

Without doubt, we will face change again. We’ve learned. We’ll face what we don’t even know about yet better equipped to alter the course of our business and our services, so that people who need and choose our support can receive the service they seek.

Until next month,