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Managing Change in our Prisons - Part II
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 12/03/2012

Chess 1

The psychology of “change management” suggests there are four (4) basic conditions are necessary before employees will change their behaviors:

  • Justification for change (reasons and current events)
  • Role modeling and embracement of new practices (leadership)
  • Reinforcing mechanisms to support proposed change with existing and new resources (support mechanisms)
  • Capability improvements e.g. training and skill abilities to make the desired changes (cultural diversity)

It has been said that most change programs are prone to failure. It is also said that if one takes the time to develop a sound concept that is well rounded and balances, a rational change in environment or operations can happen.

Change must have its own merits that can stand alone and withstand criticism and opposition to such a new concept. It is very important not to disregard the most important element of change management alas human beings involved in the change.

Justification for change (reasons and current events) – the justification for change must include:
  • Motivation – this change must motivate your employees as it must bring past shortcomings to the front and detail how change would turn this around to be most beneficial to the “good of all” rather than any individual within the organization.
  • Turnaround – this action must reflect short-comings of following standards on prison management and how these new changes would allow the organization to grow and survive external criticism [community growth) as well as provide career success opportunities (paycheck, promotions, benefits) for the workplace.
  • Ownership of the change – When we choose for ourselves, we are far more committed to the outcome and should be important for management to accept this for maximum impact of the proposed change.
  • Creating positive energy – take an approach that deflects blame and wrongful performance but rather embraces positive designs with a positive destiny and allow employees to take the risks of leaving the past behind with aspirations of gaining something more than they currently have.

Role modeling and embracement of new practices (leadership) - Leaders believe mistakenly that they already “are the change.”
  • Commit yourself to personally role modeling the desired behaviors
  • Change in behavior and role modeling should be based on external factors and not those within themselves. Being what others want to be or see is more effective than what you want to see.

Reinforcing mechanisms to support proposed change with existing and new resources (support mechanisms) –
  • Emphasize the importance of reinforcing and embedding desired outcome or changes in the organizational structure, systems, goals and objectives, and incentives. Incentives can be anything that includes money or better salaries, job survival and prolonged durations of successful delivery of benefits and performance motivational logic.
  • Competition can be used as a motivator but be careful as particular care should be taken where changes affect how employees interact with one another within the organization creating fragmentation rather than unification.

Capability improvements e.g. training and skill abilities to make the desired changes (cultural diversity) – Change-management outlines should emphasize the importance of building the skills and talent needed for the desired change.
  • Managers attempt to drive performance by changing the way employees behave; they all too often neglect the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that, in turn, drive behavior in the wrong direction causing failures.
  • Good skill-building programs usually take into account that people learn better by doing than by listening. These programs are replete with interactive simulations and role plays, and commitments are made by participants regarding what they will “practice” back in the workplace.
  • Make enhancements to traditional training approaches in order to hardwire day-to-day practice into capability-building processes.
  • Training should not be a one-off event. It should be ongoing with a “field and forum” approach should be taken, in which classroom training is spread over a series of learning forums and fieldwork is assigned in between.
  • Create real fieldwork assignments that link directly to the day jobs of participants, requiring them to put into practice new mind-sets and skills in ways that are hardwired into their responsibilities.
  • Assignments should have quantifiable, outcome-based measures that indicate levels of competence gained and certification that recognizes and rewards the skills attained.
  • These fieldwork assignments must be observed and evaluated by supervisors to allow growth and self-development based on feedback by those in the field.

Good intentions aren’t enough. This lack of follow-through from the tip of management to the lowest point in the workforce is usually not due to ill intent: it is because nothing formal has been done to lower the barriers to practicing new concepts, new behaviors and new skills.

The time and energy required to do something additional, or even to do something in a new way, simply don’t exist in the busy day-to-day schedules of most employees but should be included as part of the overall commitment to excellence it is this failure to create the space for practice back in the workplace dooms most training programs to deliver returns that are far below their potential or expectations.



Click here for Part I Coping with Poor Prison Management

Editor’s note: Carl ToersBijns (retired), worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

Other articles by ToersBijns:


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  3. Writing Prof on 12/06/2012:

    Excellent discussion. It would help us if you could now go back and take one section of this and offer concrete examples (even hypotheticals). Thanks for writing!

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