In my travels, I’ve heard a lot of complaints from clinicians about the imposition of new productivity measures in their workplace. In one example, each clinician was required to meet quotas in face-to-face (billable) contacts with each client, at a certain number of hours per month. It seemed to be working; the folks at Corporate were mighty pleased. Revenue was up, and there was no increase in expenses. You know what that means: they were getting more production from the existing staff.

But those staff were complaining. The program manager shrugged if off. “The consultants told us to expect that. People have to work harder. They don’t like change.”

“Did you ask them?”

“Ask who?”

“Your counselors. Did you ask them how they felt about the new system?”

“It was required by Corporate,” she stated. Meaning it wasn’t optional. Meaning the folks who would actually have to implement the changes had no voice in them.

But change doesn’t happen without a certain amount of buy-in from the workforce. Management needs to answer questions, listen to complaints, incorporate suggestions. Fail to do that and you pay a price. Under the surface you’ll find growing discontent of the sort that leads to turnover– perhaps among your very best people.

It’s a curious way to de-motivate your employees.

I’ve noticed that managers who had success in other industries have a tendency to view treatment as a form of manufacturing. You hire clinicians who have the appropriate credential, slot them into your schedule, and begin funneling clients. After a time, the client emerges, ostensibly ‘fixed’. If that doesn’t occur often enough, it reflects poorly on the clinician.

The model might work if clinicians were robots and clients were widgets, but they’re not. In a weird way, focusing on productivity can actually be counter-productive to overall outcomes.

I see a treatment program, and the staff at its heart, as being much closer to a basketball team than an assembly line. It has to be greater than the sum of its parts. It requires a sense of common purpose and a feeling of interdependence. It’s not you the counselor trying to convince someone to quit drinking or doing drugs. It’s all of you, the team, working to fulfill a mission that ultimately saves lives.

Get the difference? Lots of people don’t. Including some who are in positions of authority in big, financially successful businesses.

I asked that program manager what the employees got from the new system. It took her a moment. “We have a wonderful annual picnic. And an employee of the month program. There’s a special parking spot for the winner.”

“I see,” I told her. And I did.