You know what corrections professionals hate? Change, and the way things are! Whether it’s a new policy, a new law, new technology or new leadership, it’s human nature for officers to feel vulnerable and uncomfortable when what they are familiar with is altered. Still, change is inevitable, and moving forward as individuals and agencies requires us to learn, grow and adapt to new practices and procedures.
For the corrections community, a driving force of change right now is the transition to digital tracking. In prisons, there are logs for everything – from headcounts, security checks and inmate activity to visitors, blanket exchanges, meals and more. All of this documentation is essential for auditing, accreditation, meeting jail standards, and reducing risk and liability for the agency. “If it’s not documented, it never happened!” – and not being able to prove in court that procedures were followed due to the inability to present the necessary data from manually processed paper logs is a harsh reality that corrections agencies face every day.Whether required by state law or a proactive move toward modernization, digital technology is revolutionizing inmate tracking by streamlining processes, improving documentation and reducing liability for agencies and facilities across the country. But this type of major transformation does not come without its challenges. Innovation affects everyone in an organization. It can make people nervous and uncomfortable, even when they know the short-term disruption will be worth the long-term benefits. Strategic change management is the key to creating an inclusive environment where employees feel empowered, where operational disruption is minimal and where productivity is optimized.
Leading Change Management
Change management is about how we prepare, furnish and support individuals to adopt a change in a productive way to drive organizational success. As a jail administrator, you are also a change manager. In fact, the American Jail Association has identified Change Management as one of the 22 Core Competencies for Jail Leaders.
Effectively leading change begins with adopting the right mindset and creating an environment where staff are empowered to be the driving force of change. Officers who trust the process will engage and play an active role. They will also be more secure in their positions and not fear that they may be replaced by technology.
Communication is key to fostering the right environment for change and should be holistic. Involve officers from the outset. Ask questions, encourage input and allow staff to embrace change on their own playing fields. This process is known as motivational interviewing. By allowing staff to be a meaningful part of the conversation, you enable them to identify and define their own reasons for the change. This two-way dialogue builds trust and increases adoption. Team members no longer see the change as a threat but as a benefit and, in turn, become advocates and ambassadors.
Motivational interviewing is scalable and is critical to achieving buy-in across the organization. One person cannot talk to all staff that will be affected by a change. As the backbone of the organization, Sergeants are ideally positioned to serve as change agents. They have the authority and platforms (e.g., squad town hall meetings) to inform, share and communicate the change.
When seeking out agents for change within your organization, keep in mind the following:
- The work of a change manager is setting staff up for a mindset change – transitioning from the past to a future vision.
- Rely on the people you have hired and promoted.
- Each officer brings something valuable to the table. Recognize them for their input, no matter how resistant or supportive.
- Listen to and make use of input and constructive feedback. Remember there are lessons to be learned from past experience.
- Be decisive. Make policy decisions that mitigate risk and balance workload.
- Always keep in mind the reason(s) for innovation. Ultimately, technological advances should increase efficiency and ease workloads.
- Recognize that true transformations are few and far between in the corrections field. Promote the opportunity for leaders to leave a legacy.
Two Paths to Implementing Change
When removing a bandage, there are two basic approaches – rip it off quickly or remove it slowly. Both are effective but use different approaches. The same can be said for implementing new technologies.
- Approach #1: Grip It and Rip It! (Recommended)
Once classroom training is complete, officers have their marching orders and are equipped with new knowledge, policies and tools. With the “Grip It and Rip It” approach, they immediately implement the entirety of the new skills and information learned during training. A major benefit of this method is that issues are typically identified quickly and while service providers are still onsite and available to troubleshoot and train. This is the most popular approach for agencies implementing GUARDIAN RFID digital technology. It leads to faster adoption by staff and results in less duplication of work.
- Approach #2: The Slow Peel.
Another approach for transitioning to a new digital tracking platform is staged implementation. This is a slower process that breaks the training and rollout into smaller modules executed over the course of several weeks. For example, a 4-week staged implementation of GUARDIAN RFID might look like this:
o Training – 4-hour Blocks of Cascaded Learning
o Week 1 – Cell Checks and Security Checks, Compliance Monitor
o Week 2 – Headcounts and Meals
o Week 3 – Inmate Movement, Recreation and Supplies
o Week 4 – Medications, Facility Checks and Custom Modules
The length of time required for this process can cause frustration among staff who may forget some of the classroom training by the time it comes to implement latter parts of the process. It is important to allow for mistakes during this type of transition and to take time for counseling and corrective action.
5 Best Practices For a Successful Digital Transition
Once you’ve committed to transitioning to digital tracking, engage staff in the process through effective communication. Share the project roadmap and timeline and provide regular updates highlighting benchmarking goals to celebrate successes and ensure things stay on track. In addition, consider these best practices:
- Implement a “sunset” period of dual logging: To ensure there are no gaps in information as you transition from manual to digital tracking, run a dual logging system for a period of time. This will give staff time to adjust to the new practices and to ensure that the new system is fully functioning before discontinuing any previous methods. A sunset period of 48 hours is typically recommended, but more time may be needed depending on staffing and shifts.
- Reinforce the promise of “making the job easier and more efficient”: Find opportunities to highlight and reinforce the benefits of the transition and the positive impacts on people’s jobs. Report back to staff about efficiency increases and risk reduction resulting from the new technology.
- Talk to staff: Observe how the new technology is working. Use your intuition. Ask questions that help you recognize how staff are adapting. If employees are struggling, seek their input by asking questions like, “If things worked exactly the way you’d want, what would be different?”
- Do not be afraid to make policy changes post-implementation: Use feedback from staff to guide continuous system improvements. Listen with intent and be open to suggestions from all levels and ranks. You never know where or when the next great idea may emerge.
- Recognition: If staff are embracing the change, recognize them for their hard work and thank them for being a meaningful part of the successful transition.
Successfully Sustaining Change
It would be a shame to see all of your team’s hard work go to waste if the change you’ve implemented doesn’t take hold long-term. Therefore, an important element of sustainable change management is continuous evaluation and adjustment. By assessing what works and recognizing things that may need to be monitored or improved, you will become more tactically proficient and be able to modify processes as needed.
Following are some steps to effectively sustain change:
- Enlist SMEs: Identify staff who have become subject matter experts (SMEs) in areas related to the new digital system. These people will be your go-to resources for training new employees. In addition to being knowledgeable and proficient, they should be skilled in promoting the “whys” of the process and helping others to feel confident about the systems that have been put into place. These team members also will have the insight and influence to address potential issues as they arise.
- Instill accountability: Put Sergeants in positions to use the system every day and hold officers individually accountable for any late or missed checks.
- Standardize reporting: Make sure staff are reporting meaningful information in shift briefings. If it is important to the Sergeant, it will be perceived as important by others.
- Celebrate victories: Share the success of the transition beyond your organization. Ask local media to develop a story on the great things that are happening at your facility and how the switch to digital tracking has enhanced the safety and security of inmates, visitors, personnel and the community. As an example, Fox 28 News in Savannah, GA, covered the implementation of a mobile inmate tracking system at the Chatham Co. Detention Center: Chatham County jail to get new digital inmate tracking system.
Change May Seem Hard at First; Good Leaders Can Make it Easy
Implementing change in a place that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a critical mission of keeping inmates safe from each other and keeping staff and the community safe from inmates, is not an easy task. To effectively manage change in these environments, we need to recruit motivators and champions from within. Rely on your Sergeants and hold them accountable for delivering strong leadership, unified messaging and mentorship. Create a good roadmap that is well communicated to help employees understand why change is needed and what is expected of them. Pick a method that works for your facility and circumstances. After all you know your team better than anyone else.
For those interested in learning more about the science behind change management, below is a list of informative resources:
- Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion – Noah Goldstein PhD.
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. – Carol S. Dweck
- Thinking, Fast and Slow. – Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner
- 22 Core Competencies for Jail Leaders – American Jail Association and Innovative Center for Public Policy.