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Addiction, Treatment
Written by Steve Baldwin   
Friday, 03 March 1995 00:00

 

1995 VOL 6 NO 1

 

Copyright© IJDP Ltd. The following pages are produced in cooperation and with approval of the International Journal on Drug Policy Ltd.

CHAMELEONS OUT OF CONTROL

Steve Baldwin, Consultant Psychologist, Neighbourhood Evaluations, Edinburgh, UK

In recent years the shift of service provision to the, non-government sector has increased competition for scarce funding resources between agencies. 1 this new competitive 'contract culture', some agencies have redefined their core activities and functions to match external funding agendas. This chameleon-like behaviour has produced subsequent problems, both for staff and clients. This article describes the establishment, maintenance and evaluation of new services for young adult drinking offenders, both in the criminal justice system and h substance abuse services. A range of fieldwork methods was used; it describes the development of a project from conception through implementation. The organisational behaviour of host agencies in this competitive climate is discussed.

INTRODUCTION

In earlier work, the transformation of locally based organisations has been described (Grieco and Holmes, 1990;HolmesandGrieco, 1991).1nparticular, the modification of 'radical experiments' and local projects, towards diluted and buried goals, has been identified as a de-politicising activity. Using specific case examples, these authors have argued that deeper organisational agendas and the behaviour of senior managers have driven out core personnel, to achieve covert aims.

Drawing on experiences from two 'local community' London-based projects, several dynamic processes were exposed. Both examples shared common features of organisational change; moreover, in both cases the local initiatives were committed to training as a means of alleviating social disadvantage. Such accounts form the beginnings of an empirical investigation of other, similar projects in the non-government sector, under threat from similar external predatory forces.

One conclusion from these studies has been that host organisations have disguised their true goals and values, to obtain initial funds (Holmes and Grieco, 1991). Such 'chameleon' organisational behaviour has been well documented and has been endemic in some human services. In the substance abuse field, for example, the shifting ground of organisations, especially in service provision, has been acknowledged(Peyrot, 1991).

In the search for continued funds, some host

organisations have disguised (or falsely misrepresented) their true nature. Moreover, their 'mission statements' have been framed in very general terms, to allow multiple interpretations. It has been suggested that the tension between ( 1 ) overt goals (declared to the funding agency) and ( 2 ) covert goals (on which the agency was founded) have produced different personnel groupings within organisations (Holmes and Grieco, 1991).

Conflict from these different value systems has increased the probability of staff turnover. A spiral of change in organisations has been produced by this turnover, whereby the core founding activities and values have been eroded by a new organisational ideology. Personnel changes have spiralled under these setting conditions, with an increased probability of forced turnover (i.e. dismissal). In consequence, 'radical social experiments' have been distorted into conventional organisational structures.

TWO PREVIOUS STUDIES *

Holmes and Grieco ( 1991 ) have reported two similar London based projects, both of which claimed to deliver services to disadvantaged client groups. Such service delivery was to be delivered via training of staff from o their organisations.

The Stonebridge Project

This initiative was designed to tackle the drift towards criminal behaviour among young people living in Brent. The Project, opened in 1988, was funded mainly from the Manpower Services Commission. It provided work experiences for people with long-term unemployment problems.

The Charlton Training Centre

This project was established to form a consortium of agencies to provide training in Greenwich. A range of training projects was identified for possible inclusion, including women's employment schemes, black 'community' (sic) schemes and new technology networks. After 4 years' provision, it was discontinued in 1986.

Both projects were distorted by internal management manipulations, to the point that the original mission statements had been abandoned. A distinct sequence of organisational strategies was used, to establish control of directional change. These included: personnel turnover; concealment of turnover; and breaking information links. In addition, a range of personnel turnover strategies was employed to achieve these modifications, including: removing professional advisers, changing work hours, dismissal of co-ordinators, and disciplinary action.

A full account of the organisational transformations effected on both projects is available elsewhere (Holmes and Grieco, 1991). A similar analytical framework used to describe these two social experiments has been replicated in the present study.

ORGANISATIONAL TRANSFORMATIONS

The replacement of organisational goals after shifts in the power base of internal groups is well recognised (Priall and Baldwin, 1988). Moreover, organisations have simultaneously held dissimilar or conflicting

  • public and private goals; the natural processes of change over time has also modified these goals. The special relationship between the funding (or monitoring) agency and the host agency has, however, produced extra conflicts (Holmes and Grieco, 1991). This relationship of 'structural dependence' on the dominant sponsoring organisation has produced the setting conditions for duplication of traditional, conventional frameworks. Hence, although host organisations have claimed alternative, progressive approaches (e.g. shared decision-making, flexible communication links, distributed leadership), in reality, conventional structures have been maintained.

PUBLIC POLICY CONTEXT

One explanation for this lack of correspondence between the stated and actual goals of host organisations has been located within the external funding climate. Hence, although prevailing social conditions have set the climate for the initiation of projects, paradoxically they have also militated against continuation of such work. In the search for funds, therefore, host organisations have been required to preserve their own financial base, to the detriment of project work and contract staff.

In a wider context, such training projects, established during the 1980s and early 1990s, have been developed amid rising unemployment and increasing incidence of recorded crime. Both of these social problems have been framed in the context of an 'individual deficit' ideographic perspective; this viewpoint has located the problem within the person. This 'deficiency' explanation, however, has been criticised as oversimplistic ( Baldwin, 1991).

A further conflict has occurred for host organisations that have received government funds, either by direct or indirect routes. Frequently, such offers o resources have been contingent on acceptance o 'official' status quo explanations, and the rejection o radical perspectives. Hence, some organisation have experienced a conflict of interests between their public and private ideals; they have disguises their true goals to maintain a fabricated corporate image. In time, the original organisational value have been eroded or lost, as continuation of funding has become contingent on a wide range of auditing procedures required by the funding agency (Holmes and Grieco, 1991). (

. , ;..

PERSONNEL TURNOVER

Although personnel turnover is an intrinsic feature of all organisations, it also has been applied as a deliberate management strategy in the pursuit of cove goals. In these circumstances, the purposeful dislocation of personnel represents a moral turnover, base on a shift of norms in the organisation. The loss of knowledge and history about the organisation, or its projects, has thus been engineered as a deliberate attempt to subvert the future corporate direction.

Ironically, the progressive drift of staff from the organisation has both: ( 1 ) reduced the probabilities of new staff joining; and (2) increased the probabilities of staff with similar values leaving. This engineered staff turnover hence has been a high successful strategy to alter core organisation values.

Inside some organisations, external monitoring of funding agencies has exerted major influences c corporate functions. Thus, the core activities some non-government organisations have been directly affected by pernicious external influences.

Such influences have included: alteration of corporate policy, censorship of published statements; dilution of teaching or training materials; redistribution of funds; attenuation of staff behaviour (e.g. public speaking); shift of agency focus (e.g. from service systems to individuals).

Within this shifting climate, relationships between organisational staff and representatives of funding or monitoring agencies have started to dictate the future direction of the host organisation. The powerful veto function of both types of external agency has exerted considerable influence over the behaviour of management personnel host organisations. Typically, interactions between the hosts and external funding agencies have been stage-managed, at isolated venues (e.g. in English country hotels); more radical personnel have been segregated from these meetings.

This process of 'meshing' between the host organisation and external funding/monitoring agencies has defined a different corporate territory, with new, shared goals, which have not mirrored the traditional organisational ethos. As dissenters have been removed from this scenario, resistance to these insidious external influences has decreased.

Non-management staff who have remained in the organisation have been torn between two conflicting agendas. Attempts to meet both sets of goals have generated a heavier workload, with the eventual exhaustion of personnel. These 'conditions of uncertainty' have been maintained by managers as a deliberate control strategy; legitimate working practices have been proscribed, with a deliberate inversion of values and organisational behaviours.

In this situation, conditions of trust have been quickly eroded, and informal relationships threatened. Trust relationships frequently have been been actively undermined or destroyed by host organisation managers, via rumour transmission or selective filtering of salient information. Sometimes, inaccurate 'disinformation' has been manufactured to discredit staff. In this unstable climate, dissenters rapidly have become disenfranchised from external monitoring and funding agencies.

Sometimes, staff who have continued to challenge or question this process of organisational transformation have been threatened with dismissal or dismissed. In the non-government sector, where short-term contracting is commonplace, staff have been especially vulnerable to this chauvinistic practice. 'Dismissal probabilities' peak between 12 and 24 months' employment. After 2 years of continuous employment, the rights of employees are better protected in UK law from dismissal attempts by managers. Hence, many attempts to remove staff from non-government agencies have occurred after 6, but before 18, months' employment.

Typically, however, dismissal proceedings have been ignored by funding or monitoring agencies, who have preferred to disown such conflict. In the wider context, the constant changing of organisational work rules has created an employment environment perceived as unsafe or uncertain, especially for contract staff. Dismissal proceedings therefore have shaped the new working climate for such evolving organisations .

Employees who have continued to challenge the status quo, in the face of the reforming organisation, often have been perceived as disloyal, disruptive or deviant. Such 'perceptions' (sic) inevitably have increased the probabilities of eventual bifurcation of the employee from the organisation. The ritualistic parading of management stereotypes,(difference emphasis, blaming the victim, out-grouping) has fuelled this disenfranchisement of staff.

CONCEALMENT OF TURNOVER

In spite of the high turnover of staff in host organisations, funding or monitoring agencies typically have concealed (or ignored) this process. Thus, although staff turnover has clear organisational implications (i.e. project or contract work may be suspended or halted), often no action has been taken by external agencies. Several explanations are possible, including the deliberate attempt to remove key staff 'troublemakers' (sic), or the desire to maintain the image of a non-problematic service.

The removal of key staff has produced a clear dilemma for host organisations: the economic benefits of removing dissenters are counterbalanced by the intellectual costs of loss of technical expertise, information, knowledge and skills. To rationalise this dissonance, some host organisation managers have

attempted to devalue the work and/or activities of dissenters. Thus, organisation managers have reconstructed and revalued the activities of dissenters as non-productive or worthless, to de-emphasise their organisational importance. From this management perspective, subsequent dismissal of project staff sometimes has been a logical consequence.

BREAKING OF INFORMATION LINKS

The success of much project or contract work in organisations has rested on the employment continuity of its staff. Given the start-up time lines of many projects, the first S12 months maybe spent on skills acquisition or in-service training. These experiences equip staff to complete the project, within a 2- or 3-year funding cycle.

Organisational decisions to dismiss staff, whether or not they have been replaced, have therefore been cynical attempts to destroy the work of contracted personnel. When staff have left voluntarily, a hand over period has been usual between the incumbent and the replacement. Frequently, however, posts have been left vacant, or 'frozen' indefinitely. This has created gaps in the organisational history, whereby discontinuity has disrupted or halted staff activities. In the case of service provision, it has produced the end of some projects, when remaining staff have not been able to meet their commitments to clients. In the context of new services, this (engineered) break in provision sometimes has been sufficient to sabotage the credibility of the project among clients and service users.

Staff turnover also has been used frequently by employers to alter job specifications and responsibilities. Subsequent appointment of new staff into these unfilled posts has also been used by employers to recruit different types of personnel; usually these new recruits have had more consonant organisational values. The changing shape of job specifications has reflected the internal changes of these organisations.

In the extreme, such appointments have been opportunities for employers to break existing information links, and disrupt the transmission of core values and knowledge. This process has been exacerbated when personnel have been recruited deliberately by managers from remote, external work sites.

Thus, although a 'new broom' (sic) maybe an attractive prospect for organisation managers, it may indicate the death of a project.

'DOWNSIZING' IN NON-GOVERNMENT DRUG AND ALCOHOL AGENCIES

Since the beginning of 1990, several key individuals and organisations have been removed from the spectrum of UK non government drug/alcohol (D&A) agencies. Two key organisations, 'Triple A' (formerly the leading government watchdog agency) and 'DAWN' (formerly the leading agency for women's D&A services) were deconstructed, after funding had been discontinued. In summer 1990, the Grants Director of one of the leading charities involved in substance abuse was removed from the post. similarly, the Deputy Director of a national alcohol agency was removed, and also the Director of a leading treatment agency in August. In November, the Senior Officer of a training agency was dismissed, followed soon after by the Grants Director of a leading charity involved in substance abuse.

In none of these instances was competence or ability cited by the organisation managers; rather, 'policy differences' (sic) were used to explain 'breakdown' between employer and employee. In several of these cases, the methods used to exert pressure on individuals to resign was extreme. In one instance, the individual was given a dismissal notice in a motorway cafe at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, having agreed to attend an ordinary review meeting. Another individual was issued with dismissal proceedings via motorcycle courier, delivered to his private address at 10 p.m. Other workers described the use of gagging clauses, 'black-bagging' and attempted theft of copyright materials. These 'new business management' methods, already familiar in industry have been an important feature of organisational attempts at downsizing in the non-government sector. Moreover, these events are consonant with the 'restructuring and privatisation' scenario in the criminal justice system (Ryanand Ward, 1991).

THE PRESENT STUDY

  • Background

The present account is about a UK project established

in January 1990. The project, funded for 3 years, was located in the north-west. This report has been based on 22 months' employment with the project as Director, as well as analysis of reports, personal records, interviews with key personnel and project data .

In summer 1989 a grant application was conceived, written and submitted by the present author for £414 000. In consultation with one of the largest charities in the UK, 3 years' funding was requested to employ five staff on a national project in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to work with young offenders with substance abuse problems. The main aim of the project was to establish new services for young adult offenders with drink or other drug problems. The project would involve collaboration between the non government sector (e.g. D&A intervention/counselling services) and local magistrates' courts. This application was submitted in July 1989.

The grant was awarded in November 1989. Following extensive consultations with the identified host agency, the Project Director was appointed to manage the project from 1 January 1990. The first 6 months were spent establishing the national context X of the project in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Four project staff were appointed in July 1990, when service development work was started in six local sites.

By the end of 1990, the first two sites had been developed to the point of service delivery. At the 0 start of 1991, the project was well established in its national context. Six other potential sites had been identified as possible locations for new services. Unfortunately, however, this service development L was coincidental with a series of corporate raids in both the host and funding organisations. In the host organisation, staff turnover had reached 2 5 % during 1990; in the funding organisation, key support individuals had been removed during autumn 1990, including the Grants Director. At a meeting of host, funders and project during January 1991, the possible withdrawal of funding support was threatened. This meeting was chaired by an external adviser from a major UK management consultant.

During February all Project personnel were threatened with dismissal, and a range of 'new business management' methods was introduced to destabilise the Project and its staff. Nevertheless, the Project was further developed during 1991 to start working four more local sites. By the end of August, the Project was ahead of schedule, with new services developed in a total of six different sites throughout the UK; two other potential sites had also been identified.

In 1991, 14 meetings were called by the host organisation managers about the Project. Four of these meetings involved the funders and hosts; three others involved the Board of Directors of the host organisation and the Project Director. Ten other meetings were completed with another external 'adviser' (sic), appointed by the host organisation. By mid-point of the Project, at the end of June 1991, the Project had been run over budget for the first time, with more Project funds redirected to support the host organisation. This was to the financial detriment of local sites, which received no further funding support for staff or resources; this occurred in spite of previous written agreements between host managers and Project staff about such release of funds. At this point, more than 50% of the 20 p3y rolled staff of the host organisation was funded via the Project budget.

A combination of unusual business practices finally broke Project staff morale. Between September and December 1991, three Project staff resigned, and one was given notice by the hosts; at the beginning of 1992, only one Project staff member remained in post. All Project staff except one were advised by a Regional Officer of a trade union. This proved to be an invaluable asset in a hostile working climate of provocation and intimidation. Company lawyers were also contracted by some Project staff, following their resignation, to negotiate terms and conditions for a settlement. One Project Worker accepted a five-figure out-of court settlement in December 1991 for breach of contract, and a further out-of-court settlement for defamation in 1994.

The present

The decision to appoint an external 'adviser' (sic) by the host organisation and funding agency was a deliberate strategy to alter the primary aim of the Project. The original proposal was funded with the contingency that a training package would be made available to local site personnel to provide new services for young adult offenders with substance abuse problems. The package had already been piloted and evaluated in a previous national Project; ownership of these materials, however, belonged to another agency.

Within 3 months of the appointment of the new external adviser, three established services had been discontinued. In one site, a new court-based service for drinking offenders was withdrawn; in another, a walk-in drink/drug counselling service was withdrawn; in a third, the agency withdrew their support from the proposed project. In each case, the decision to abandon the service commitment occurred within 2 months of the first site visit by the external adviser

These developments were contiguous with a shift of Project emphasis by the organisation managers. The original proposal had identified the main aim as service provision to disadvantaged clients. By the end of 1991, however, the aim of the Project had been shifted to focus on production and dissemination of training materials. Service provision had been abandoned as an aim of the Project. This diversi6rl of function into production of training materials, at the expense of service provision, produced many undesirable consequences. First, public funds, previously ear-marked for direct service provision, had been hi-jacked, so that clients with problematic drinking/offending did not receive direct assistance with their behaviour.

Second, the redirection of money and staff from service provision to 'product development', although ensuring the financial future of the host organisation for another fiscal year, was a cynical deprivation of resources from an already disadvantaged client population. Although this may have assisted organisational survival (via adaptation) in an uncertain external business climate (Williamson, 1991), it represented a specific distortion of the project mission. This also produced major uncertainties about the capacity of host managers to adhere to even the most fundamental principles of ethical service provision (Barker and Baldwin, 1991 ).

Third, the development of new, untested and unevaluated materials was a retrogressive step in the field of UK drug and alcohol education, already awash with impotent, ineffective and unreliable materials.

Fourth, staff in the contracted site agencies (previously enlisted to support the Project) reported multiple negative reactions, including suspicion, rejection, victim-blaming, feelings of failure and sensitisation to future involvement.

THE PROJECT IN REVIEW

Organisational transformation

The start of the Project was coincidental with a major reorganisation within the host agency. Thus, although the managers had claimed radical perspectives on drug and alcohol education in the UK, external forces from funding and government agencies had attenuated the corporate function. In addition, a small, united, elite management group within the organisation had leeched into the two senior executive positions.

These factors, in conjunction with the importation of 'new business management' techniques (sic), exerted a major impact throughout the organisation. As in many small non-government organisations, original core values had been replaced by new agendas, propelled by an autonomous self-serving elite.

Hence, in the climate of a series of redundancies of junior office staff and Project Workers, management executives were dining out in restaurants, flying premium class to stay in continental hotels and buying themselves new lease cars. This unethical behaviour raised serious questions about whether these staff were fit for public office. In the context of an organisation with public accountability, these behaviours were inappropriate and unacceptable. Such unprofessional behaviour is not, however, subject to monitoring in the non-government sector, where personal codes of conduct and standards oscillate around individuals.

Moreover, although the host managers maintained a laissez-faire corporate image, actual policy reflected an acute dysfunctional need for control. Such demands for control are inherent in such myopic organisations, where dysfunctional outcomes are commonplace (Williamson, 1981). In reality, staff behaviour was shaped via systematic threats, punishments and fear. A fast-changing set of work rules ensured a climate of uncertainty; when allowed, managers ritualistically humiliated staff in public, via

criticisms about work standards or performance.

In sum, the organisation was involved in an attempted transition from a non government training agency to a for-profit business venture.

Public policy context

The host agency had claimed expertise in the province of teenage drug and alcohol education. Thus, although they had no service provision back ground within the criminal justice system, a pragmatic decision was made to locate the grant with this organisation, as a result of their national remit.

Unfortunately, the start of the Project was coincidental with an organisational restructuring. At corporate level, the host organisation had moved from payrolled staffing to the use of contracted consultants. At a time when the Project start-up required five new salaried staff, existing host staff were being dismissed.

The Project was based on the development of new services for young adults with substance abuse problems. This required collaboration between local non-government agencies (e.g. alcohol counselling) and the magistrates' court. The service was based on provision of non-custodial sentencing options for court-referred offenders. Referral and subsequent intervention with the young person required the initial co-operation of court officials, including the Clerk of Court and Magistrates.

The public policy context for this Project was the eleventh and twelfth years of an administration committed to 'law and order'. Hence, attempts to establish non-custodial sentencing alternatives in courts working within a tough penal code were likely to meet with resistance.

In addition, there were other conflicts for the host organisation, clearly the radical roots of the Project did not mesh with the corporate status quo values. Moreover, core activities of the Project (e.g. radical critique of criminal justice system, decriminalisation perspectives, resource investment in disadvantaged individuals) were unlikely to improve the probabilities of host funding from government sources. Rather, the Project and its staff risked a backlash from official sources. In sum, in spite of possible intellectual gains from the development of new technologies and materials, net economic costs tional values to match the external requirements of monitoring and funding agencies.

Concealment of turnover

Both the host and funding organisations were indifferent to the high rates of turnover. Hence, although representation was made to the funding agency about the inappropriate treatment of Project personnel by the host managers, the only response given was to: 'take it up with [the organisation].'

In spite of the initial close working relationship between the Project and the funding agency, this relationship had been subverted by the host managers, via disinformation, sabotage and rumour transmission. Also, by the end of the first year of the Project, key support staff had been removed from the funding agency. Moreover, the host managers had manufactured a fictitious Project 'crisis', based on an alleged failure to meet deadlines about service delivery. The real crisis, however, was about the ongoing financial uncertainties of the host organisation.

From this wider perspective, the closing of ranks between host organisation managers and the funding agency representatives was understandable. Any criticisms of the host agency would reflect badly on the funders, who had invested £414 000 of public money.

A systems view of the triangulation of hosts, funders and Project illustrates that, under conditions of threat or uncertainty, the funders would always support the hosts. Also, they would have a similar interest in the minimisation of problems such as dismissal. The policy of deliberate Project staff turnover was a strategy to reduce the political threat to the core organisation.

Breaking information links

The host managers did not replace any of the four posts vacated by Project staff. In addition to the economic savings, this discontinuity also served to change the direction of the Project from service provision to 'product development'. This process was enhanced by the appointment of an external 'adviser' (sic) to the Project, with questionable previous experience.

Hence the organisation managers used the opportunity to freeze posts, to bury the history of the

Project. This helped to set the conditions for the Project to change direction. The non-replacement of 80% of the Project personnel, together with the importation of staff singularly unqualified to work in key specialist areas (e.g. magistrates' courts), were markers of the wider organisational transformation.

The replacement of key personnel, with new recruits from dissonant backgrounds, occurred in both the host and funding agencies. This organisational behaviour was an attempt both to disrupt the flow of information and to establish conditions of discontinuity. The subsequent appointment of business and marketing personnel, after the dismissal of D&A specialists, confirmed the fundamental shift of direction in both organisations.

CONCLUSIONS

The recent changes in the form and function of non government organisations has been documented (Arlheier and Knapp, 1990). The transition of not for profit organisations into profitable business-oriented systems has been a source of concern for external monitoring agencies (e.g. the Charity Commission) as well as for the general public. Transformations in UK non-government D&A agencies have mirrored previous events in UK mental health services (Finch, 1984; Chapman et al., 1991 ) especially with regard to so-called 'community' services.

In the climate of 'new business management' methods, non-government agencies inevitably have been required to shift focus, to promote their survival. Arguably, the introduction of management techniques has improved the efficiency of several leading national organisations in the UK.

Nevertheless, the manipulation of organisational goals, from service provision to product development, represents a major distortion of agency mission and function. Close inspection of the mechanisms that achieved this shift has revealed that many of the forces met self-serving functions. Furthermore, the organisational failure to implement the original aim of the Project ( i.e. to provide services to offenders with substance abuse problems) may decrease the probabilities of public funding for future similar work, in other agencies.

At this level, the host agency management

behaviour represents a cynical deprivation of resources for a disadvantaged group, to meet self serving needs. Further public funding for this agency should be discontinued.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thanks to Rob BuntonandJane MacMillanfor their comments on an earlier version of this paper.

Steve Baldwin, Consultant Psychologist, Neigh bourhood Evaluatiorls. Edinbureh. UK.

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