Professional Performance Development Plan: A Strengths-Based Model of Supervision

The PPDP, is a model of supervision that is consistent with the principles of a Relationship Based Strengths Approach to practice. It is an approach to supervision, that I have developed over the last 5 years, which offers employers an opportunity to provide supervision and systematic professional performance development simultaneously. While the PPDP is portable and adaptable to various social services organizations, it seems to work best with teams of staff that work together in relatively close proximity. The feedback gathered from supervisors, managers and staff so far, indicate that this approach to supervision is more positive, productive, meaningful, relevant, motivating and effective than previous approaches to supervision or performance appraisal.

The following sample of the PPDP was developed for an organization that I am currently working with. It is a program within an organization that offers a variety of supportive and treatment services as well as programming for youth. The name of the program, HCO, represents a pseudonym and is not the actual name of the program or the agency.

Rationale for a Professional Performance Development Plan within the Human Caring Organization (HCO)

The Need for a Strengths-based Model of Supervision

Given the recent philosophical, theoretical and practical shift within HCO to a *strengths-based approach, traditional evaluations and current models of supervision, which tend to be deficit-focused, are no longer congruent with the program’s ideology. Therefore, there was a need to develop a model of supervision that was consistent philosophically and technically with the latest paradigm shift.

A great deal of time and energy is dedicated, at all levels within HCO, to promote, develop and sustain a strengths-based approach to Child and Youth Care. Among such efforts is the development of an environment that encourages openness and acceptance for a model of supervision that advances both the best interests of youth and the performance of the workers that support them. Operating concurrently in such an environment, among many elements of a comprehensive strengths-based approach, are values and guiding principles which:

  • Acknowledge Youth Care Workers’ (YCWs’) capacity for growth
  • Create an environment for positive change
  • Promote self-determination and empowerment
  • Facilitate opportunities for success
  • Endorse greater YCW confidence and competence

*For a comprehensive description of the Relationship Based StrengthsApproach, see the HCO Strengths-Based Process Manual.

Concerns with Traditional Evaluations and Models of Supervision

Traditional employee evaluations and models of supervision are often structured so those being evaluated are judged in terms of their performance deficits and weaknesses, which are among areas that require changing. In many cases areas identified for changing are defined in global or vague terms or, if they are specified, they are among a long list of items that require attention. This be can be intimidating and overwhelming and can result in a couple of scenarios: 1) The overwhelming list of items may seem insurmountable and the deficit focus could leave an employee feeling incompetent and unable to measure up; 2) The vast number of items may make developing a plan to work on the identified areas too difficult a task.

Either scenario or a combination of the two may seriously and negatively impact an employee’s motivation to change, especially if they are left feeling inadequate, overwhelmed, or frustrated with unclear direction and a lack of necessary support to make changes.

Traditional staff evaluations and models of supervision often place the greatest emphasis on and effort into reaching conclusions about the effectiveness of a particular employee. While clearly identifying areas that need changing (what), they seldom describe a clear avenue to bring about such changes (how). Little attention is paid to assisting and supporting employees to develop a plan to meet goals necessary to bring about required changes. When an element for planning and goal setting does exist, this area is often given little importance, or it is left up to the employee to carry this out on his/her own. This is true even more so in the current era of fiscal restraints and increased workloads for supervisors and their teams. This reality further burdens the evaluation/supervision process which in many cases is already quite demanding and time consuming.

Finally, a serious critique of most employee evaluation processes and models of supervision is the inclusion of a disciplinary element that is based on the principle of punishment. Many problem-oriented and deficit focused processes that are practiced within a hierarchical context are already intimidating and do little to motivate workers to change. When reprimands and suspensions become “natural” consequences utilized in such processes, and when support and clear direction to change are lost within an intimidating and disempowering process, both supervisors’ and workers’ capacities to learn, grow and actualize personally and professionally are seriously limited. This is so in environments where supervisors’ energies are placed on searching for deficits, problems and/or justifications for reprimanding or dismissing and workers’ attentions and efforts are geared towards “laying low”, “dodging responsibility” or just trying to get through the shift. These realities have serious negative implications for the overall team environment.

Guiding Philosophies

It is the HCO’s understanding that most YCWs have a growth tendency towards personal and professional self-actualization. This propensity for growth can only be realized, released, and related goals (personal and professional) achieved in an environment that endorses the aforementioned beliefs about youth care workers. This environment must also promote safety, trust and support between and among team members. Further, a working environment that honours and affirms their unique abilities, their strengths, and their potential for growth is key in helping them create the preferred level of knowledge and skill (performance capacity) they require for effectively meeting the diverse needs of the youth in their care.

Belief about Youth Care Workers’ Capacity for Growth

It is HCO’s belief that Youth Care Workers are:

  • Motivated by good intentions
  • Wanting to make positive and meaningful contributions
  • Unique and diverse
  • Equipped with growth tendencies and capacities for change
  • Full of strengths and personal resources required for adaptability and success
  • Motivated when they are self-determining and have control over their own fate
  • Reinforced and affirmed by positive and successful outcomes

It is HCO’s belief that most Youth Care Workers (YCWs) within the program have well-meaning intentions and would like to provide the best care possible in order to meet the diverse needs of youth. YCWs’ efforts are geared towards approximating optimal and holistic health in the pursuit and acquisition of youths’ goals for a preferred life. Despite the best of intentions, however, the quality of care provision is often dictated by the knowledge, skills and abilities (overall performance) of the team members providing such care.

Regardless of performance level, it is HCO’s belief that YCWs committed to providing “best possible care” are open to further developing their performance capacities in the pursuit of such honourable ends. It should follow that YCWs would be open to professional development if it was certain that such an endeavour was going to make a difference for them and a difference in the lives of the youth they care for.

Quality care provision is the result of a well-functioning and effective team.

An Environment for Positive Changes and Successes

One of the most important elements in bringing about preferred team member (overall team) changes and co-creating successes is an environment in which individual team members feel positive and experience safety, trust and support. Equally significant is that conditions for self-determination, empowerment and opportunities for successes be promoted, created and consistently employed.

Through team building efforts, most HCO teams identified fundamental prerequisites that contribute to an environment of Respect, Acceptance, Trust and Safety. Communication and Support were identified as such prerequisites that, when present and operating effectively, contribute to the preferred team environment in which positive changes and successes can flourish. Communication and Support were characterized as containing critical elements for team success and overall effectiveness. These are outlined in Appendix A and Appendix B

Self-determination and Empowerment

Self-determination and empowerment are fundamental values within a strengths-based approach. Self-determination refers to the recognition of one’s right to be free to make their own choices and decisions regarding their own future. A critical element in the principle of self-determination is that individuals understand what choices and resources are available to make such choices. In addition, individuals should have a clear understanding of what the consequences of certain choices are. Finally, self-determination is increasingly possible in an environment described above, and where supports are available when specific choices are implemented.

Empowerment refers to a process by which individuals are supported to increase their personal and professional strengths in a way that assists their accomplishing goals and/or improving their circumstances.

HCO believes in cultivating and sustaining an environment that promotes self-determination and empowers team members to be effective and successful in their efforts to provide the best care for the youth in their custody. This is accomplished in a number of ways:

  1. Youth Care Workers (YCWs) are given a clear understanding of their job duties, team members’ responsibilities and program expectations (Appendix C)
  2. YCWs are regarded as valuable partners in the care of youth
  3. YCWs are made active participants in every aspect of personal, professional and team development
  4. YCWs are empowered to be involved in decision-making regarding self, team, and youth in care
  5. YCWs are afforded opportunities to define their own goals for professional performance development
  6. YCWs are encouraged and supported to work in partnership with their supervisor and fellow team members to bring about preferred changes
  7. YCWs are informed of and/or provided the resources necessary to meet identified personal/professional or team goals to bring about preferred performance.

It is believed that the promotion of self-determination and empowerment of team members in such a collaborative and supportive manner builds on and increases motivation for personal and professional actualization. Further, when undertaken in an environment that is safe, trusting and supportive, this process assists in the establishment of a greater sense of personal agency and co-ownership for the environment and the direction of the team. By making the provision of care for youth a more meaningful and significant endeavour, the likelihood of overall effectiveness and achieved successes is much greater.

Opportunities for Success: Co-creating a Greater Sense of Confidence and Competence

Measuring success in Youth Care can be a very difficult thing to do when successes can seem few and far between. HCO has made a shift from acknowledging success as an end result to valuing and measuring success as a process. Honouring efforts and affirming the intentions behind many attempts at accomplishing set objectives, whether it is with the youth or with the staff, has become a regular occurrence.

Added to this has been the adoption and consistent employment of an active search for such successes throughout the HCO program. In accordance with this stance has been the fundamental emphasis of commending, validating and affirming all efforts in the process of our work.

This position has resulted in the cultivation and unearthing of strengths and successes that have always existed but have been long overlooked. SUCCESS begets SUCCESS. This positive contagion has contributed to an atmosphere where opportunities for success, for both youth and staff, are bountiful.

As stated, YCWs have the capacity to adapt, grow and actualize in the areas of professional performance. This knowledge combined with an atmosphere that promotes growth, supports efforts, validates strengths and successes, and provides safe, trusting, and supportive avenues to learn from mistakes (critical elements for growth) results in a process that promotes a greater sense of confidence and competence for YCWs.

  • A greater sense of confidence and competence is co-created with YCWs within HCO through:
  • The valuing of YCWs as important team members, essential to the success of the youth and their teams
  • The promotion and reinforcement of what YCWs already know
  • The recognition and affirmation of presently existing YCW strengths
  • The clear definition and support of what YCWs want from their work with youth
  • The provision of a structure and process for defining what YCWs want for themselves
  • A practical avenue for setting realistic and significant goals which bring about preferred realities for both YCWs and youth
  • The provision of accurate feedback and clear communication
  • An environment that honours efforts and promotes and affirms all successes

The development and continuous implementation of structure and process which promote and support both the best interests of the youth and the personal and professional development of YCWs.

Consequently, as youth care performance increases, so too does the quality of care provision for the youth in our programs.

Note: This particular model of supervision which emphasizes personal agency, a sense of responsibility and which endorses collaborative growth through a focus on strengths and mutual support is another way of creating opportunities for success.

A Serious Attitude: A Commitment to the Strongest Teams and the Best Care

HCO has taken a serious stance regarding expectations of the program and of team members. This position has been taken in the best interests of youths in our care. It is HCO’s contention that there are 20 areas of performance that have been identified as critical in the provision of the quality of care that HCO strives to provide.

It is an expectation that HCO team members attain at least a satisfactory level of performance in all of the performance skill areas outlined below. However, while a satisfactory level of performance preferable in these critical areas, it is hoped that workers will strive towards achievement of exceptional performance. YCWs will be supported in their efforts to work towards the highest level of achievement.

While it is unrealistic to think that all YCWs can achieve the highest level of performance in all areas, it is a program expectation that YCWs actively work towards achieving a satisfactory level of performance in at least one of the identified “critical performance” areas. The 20 Critical Performance Skill Areas for HCO Team Members are:

  • Participates in youths’ treatment plan and life programming
  • Follows though on and supports team decisions
  • Takes concerns (with staff members) directly to staff involved, or to the supervisor
  • Follows through on commitments to youth
  • Attempts to work through conflict/challenges with youth, in the best interests of that particular youth
  • Completes clear, accurate, detailed, factual and professional documentation
  • Consistently reads/reviews communication logs and pertinent documentation
  • Utilizes effective disciplinary measures as outlined by HCO guidelines
  • Takes direction from supervisor/team leader (this is demonstrated by integration of feedback into one’s work)
  • Interacts/behaves “appropriately” in the presence of youth
  • Demonstrates efforts to understand youths’ social, cultural, religious orientation(s)
  • Displays efforts to maintain a clean and healthy living environment
  • Prioritizes the needs of the youth over all other tasks
  • Demonstrates equal and consistent treatment with all youth
  • Is prompt for meetings, shifts, etc.
  • Demonstrates a positive attitude
  • Demonstrates a strengths-based approach when interacting with youth
  • Demonstrates a strengths-based approach when interacting with staff
  • Seeks out necessary support(s) if/when identified by self/others.
  • Provides positive and constructive feedback to fellow team members.

The PPDP offers a systematic process (steps, timelines, tasks, roles, etc.) and supplemental tools to guide supervision, managers and directors through the steps of supervision, performance appraisal and performance development.

Some of the tools include:

  • Job Description Template
  • Critical Performance Skill Inventory
  • Performance Inventory
  • Performance Appraisal Form
  • Strengths Index
  • Areas for Performance Development Form
  • Performance Development Plan Goals Template
  • Peer Review Appraisal Form
  • Performance Plan Self Appraisal