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PHI Leading Coaching Trainings in Detroit Area

September 5, 2013

“Our whole organization is built on relationships,” said Diane Ciric, the senior program director at AHS, an organization that owns and manages adult group homes in the Detroit area. “If you don’t have strong relationships, you’re going to have all kinds of problems.” AHS and two other Detroit-area long-term care organizations have spent much of this year working on strengthening those essential relationships by engaging with PHI to build communications and teamwork skills throughout their staff using the PHI Coaching ApproachSM.

The training project is a piece of the Long Term Supports and Services Employer Partnership funded by the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund (DRWF), a collaborative funding effort aimed at connecting low- and moderate-income people to emerging and growing career pathways and engaging employers in identifying ways to address their workforce needs.

In 2011 the Fund asked PHI to examine the recruitment and retention challenges faced by long-term care organizations in and around Detroit. A common theme across all organizations interviewed was a need to improve communication skills and address workplace cultures.

The three organizations chosen to participate in the Partnership and receive PHI Coaching training represent a wide variety of attributes. AHS, for example, has a large staff, with approximately 135 direct-care workers working in group homes for adults with developmental disabilities (DD). Adult Well-Being Services is a large social service organization that provides a range of services, including a day program for people with developmental disabilities, which employs 50 direct-care workers, drivers, and parent support staff. Community & Home Supports is a small home care agency that provides personal care services to elders and people with disabilities. All three organizations shared a common desire: to strengthen the overall culture of the organization by improving relationships between supervisors and direct-care workers, between direct-care workers and other workers, and between direct-care workers and consumers.

Some of the skills involved in PHI Coaching include:

  • Active Listening: Using body language, paraphrasing, and asking clarifying questions to listen attentively and ensure understanding.
  • Self-Management and Self-Reflection: Being conscious of assumptions and biases, and setting aside emotional reactions that can get in the way of hearing someone else’s perspective.
  • Clear, Nonjudgmental Communication: Communicating clearly and directly about expectations or concerns while using language free of blame and judgment.
  • Collaborative Problem Solving: Using critical thinking and communication skills to build effective teams, ensure accountability, and resolve problems.

In order to change the culture of an organization, PHI believes that the organization’s leaders need to embrace, model, and mentor the changes. That effort began in January 2013 with executive leaders from all three organizations receiving training in the skills of coaching and communications. The organizational leaders spoke about the challenges they face on the job — turnover among workers, the occasional “bad seed” employee, etc. PHI Coaching & Consulting Services Director Susan Misiorski and PHI Organizational Change Consultant Cean Eppelheimer asked the executive leaders also to speak about the positive aspects of their organizations, and to consider why workers may occasionally resist their workplace superiors. At the end of the week-long training, Eppelheimer reminded the executive leaders that they must be intentional and proactive in practicing the Coaching Communication skills. Improved communication is “not just going to magically happen,” she said.

Over the next two months, the skills were then introduced to line supervisors, schedulers, and a few direct-care workers. All these workers were chosen for their roles as informal leaders within their respective organizations and as potential in-house trainers to grow and embed the skills within each organization. 
The depth and intensity of the two-day training seemed to surprise some of these line leaders; one remarked, “I thought I already knew how to communicate.” But as the training progressed, participants increasingly realized the utility of the PHI Coaching Communication skills — asking open-ended questions, being self-aware of your reactions, and learning to control emotions.

In May, the three organizations began to build their own capacities to deliver the coaching and communications skills. Selected supervisors, and direct-care workers that would make up their internal training teams participated in an intense five-day train-the-trainer session learning how to build the skills of their co-workers and their organizations. They practiced how to give constructive feedback, how to train as a team, and how to keep the momentum for change going within their organization.

Over the summer, the organizations have used these training teams to build Coaching Communication skills among their fellow staff members. As of early September, while not all staff has been trained, trainers say that they can see a difference in the cultures of each organization. When Janasha Higgins, a housing supervisor and Coaching Communications trainer at Community & Home Supports, was asked if she has ever had the chance to use Coaching Communication skills at work, she laughed and said, “You mean, besides every day?” Higgins said that she had gone into the initial training with “no expectations” and was pleasantly surprised at how useful it was. “I can react very quickly without thinking about other people’s thoughts or demeanor,” she said. But immersing herself in Coaching Communication has “definitely helped me step back a little more.”

Executive leaders say that they have altered the way they approach certain tasks as well. Sharon Lapides, the founder, president, and CEO of Community & Home Supports, said that Coaching skills have prevented untold hours of wasted time. She mentioned an incident involving a care team of four or five direct-care workers, all of whom care for the same consumer. Some of the workers expressed frustration that certain chores were not being taken care in an equitable way, with some workers ignoring sinks full of dirty dishes or laundry baskets full of dirty clothes. Lapides called a breakfast meeting of the workers, and together they devised a chore chart. “It was really quite effective,” she said. During the meeting, Lapides said she used techniques learned during training, particularly problem-solving. The skills “allowed me to engage them better [and] highlighted the need for these types of interactions,” she reported. “Doing this up front saved time in the long run.”

In the coming months, PHI will continue to track and support the progress of AHS, Adult Well-Being Services, and Community & Home Supports. Executive leaders from each organization say that they expect their workers to embrace PHI Coaching Communication skills. “I’m not looking for a miracle but I think people will get it,” Ciric said. “Some folks will take longer than others. But as long as we keep moving in the right direction, I expect big improvements.”

— by Matthew Ozga

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