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Control of standards through appraisal, formal supervision, informal supervision and coaching
The primary continuing role of a care service manager is the creation, championing and maintenance of high standards in all aspects of the service. How can this be consistently achieved? Certainly not by hectoring, bullying, exhortation, criticising, or any other of the short-term techniques sometimes used by managers lacking an understanding of a systematised approach to discharging their responsibilities.
A systematised approach to management of standards is proven to combine consistent positive results with high staff morale and low conflict levels. The approach consists of a related group of techniques: appraisal, formal supervision, informal supervision and coaching. Appraisal and supervision are often mixed up and merged, which markedly reduce their positive effect, and can even reverse the positive and produce negative results. It is therefore worth visiting the detailed definition of each element of the approach.
The purpose of appraisal is to inform the individual employee of the proposed development of the employer in the near future, their personal part in that development, and a discussion of what personal development the employee requires in order to achieve that development. Appraisal is not based on criticism of the employee. Any pre-conceived lack of skill or knowledge on the part of the employee is discussed in terms of what training and development is required to meet the lack and allow them to perform at the required standard.
The first step in appraisal rests with the employer, not the employee. The employer must formulate a goal or goals for the short term, usually the following year. In a care setting, this action requires that the provider has formulated their own goals, and broken these down into those which are to be carried out by each manager. Therefore, the first appraisal to take place in any appraisal round will be the provider’s appraisal of each manager reporting to them. A survey of quality assessments in the sector reveals that the appraisal round usually starts with the care manager, and continues with their subordinates. It is difficult to understand how such a system could be expected to succeed. Without the manager having being briefed within the same framework, they cannot possess the information which they require to carry the process forward. A second observation is that appraisal is often confined to the care department, and not used in other operational areas. This happens at organisations that carry out appraisals simply because it appears to be required by the regulations, rather than because it will positively enhance the organisations performance.
If appraisal takes place in the correct sequence, for the right reasons, is based on tangible and achievable goals, and is performed according to the QCS Policy and Procedure, then it will achieve the result of informing all employees of the organisation’s plans and goals, their part in that process and ensure that the organisation supports the employee in achieving their own goals.
Because any competent organisational plan will be formulated in synch with the culture of the organisation, including the norms of standards of behaviour, skills and knowledge, the goals set throughout the organisation will also be consistent with the required standards. This is the first step in the management of standards in the organisation. Given the complexity of the exercise, and the usual timescale of organisational planning, appraisal normally takes place on an annual cycle. Obviously, to ensure that all employees are working to a consistent plan, the appraisal exercise should take place over the shortest possible time period.
Supervision is the manager’s methods of ensuring that each employee is continuing to achieve the standards of performance and moving towards the personal goals which have been identified in the appraisal. According to the QCS Policy and Procedure, this process is carried out on a regular cycle, more frequently than appraisal, often bi-monthly or quarterly. If appraisal can be characterised as a collaborative process, where the manager and employee discuss issues with the emphasis on positive development, supervision by contrast is firmly controlled by the manager and focusses on identifying lack of performance and how to make changes to improve. Supervision is the primary means by which the manager imposes discipline in the workforce, ensuring that employees are working consistently and effectively to achieve the employer’s goals. The manner in which the interview is conducted will therefore be markedly different, and less collaborative, than the appraisal meeting.
In order to provide tracked records, so that intractable issues can be revisited and dealt with in a consistent way, formal supervisions are recorded, and also signed by the employee. If the performance of the employee results in disciplinary action, the tracked record of the issue being raised, discussed and escalated will be an essential defence in the event of a legal challenge.
In between formal supervisions there may be a need for informal supervision. A competent manager will not allow their observation of inadequate performance to be unremarked and stored for dealing with only by formal meeting. Inadequate performance should be confronted immediately if it is observed, informally but firmly. While a full record will not be kept of the informal supervisions, it is recommended that diary entries are kept in order to provide information for the next formal supervision. That formal interview may be called forward in time in the event of a serious lack of performance, or a persistent lack of a less serious nature.
The linking of informal and formal supervisions by simple recording techniques goes a long way to improving standards. Inconsistent standards de-motivate the employees and produce negative results. Recording all supervision, however briefly, exercises some control over the human propensity for inconsistency by making the manager think about the context of their comments.
External quality standards often require a “360 degree appraisal”. This is a form of appraisal where feedback is obtained from all of the other persons who have contact with the appraised employee, for instance customers and other employees. Sensitivity is required in the deployment of a 360 degree system. Carried out in the wrong way, such a system can reduce collaborative behaviour and breed suspicion and back-biting.
Similarly to appraisal, quality assessors often find that supervision is only carried out in the care department, in an obvious reaction to the regulations in the sector, and in ignorance of the positive effects of supervision on all employees, in all service areas. Good practice is that all employees receive formal and informal
Linked to and intertwined with informal supervision is the technique of coaching. Internal coaching is proven to be the most effective method of employee development. It ensures that learning activities are closely related to the organisation’s goals rather than an external trainer's priorities. It also promotes collaborative service improvement behaviour within the workforce. This is because the coachee will clearly understand the superior expertise of the coach, and subsequently refer to them whenever a related problem occurs. In the event of the need for informal or formal supervision, the discussion of a lack of performance will, by necessity, often move on to the positive process of coaching to transfer the skills and/or knowledge required. Conversely, failure to do so will place the organisation at risk of legal challenge in an employment tribunal, because it did not take the reasonable steps required by law to support and develop an employee whose performance is found to be wanting.
Carried out as a coherent, linked set of processes, appraisal, formal supervision, informal supervision and coaching are the means by which a manager can control standards of performance, and begin a transition from the fire-fighting which characterises a low performing organisation to one where performance is in line with that required to achieve identified goals, and the manager is in control.