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Who should the agency’s
clients be?

The question is who clients should
and not who they are. If establishing a new agency eco system or working
with an existing system, agency clients are limited to people who should be agency clients. If this is not
managed carefully, people become clients who only more or less meet the criteria
for being clients. Over time, this results in subtle shifts in both the client
criteria and in the services themselves. The former happens because the
criteria expand to include everyone who is receiving services. The latter
happens because Providers tend to adjust the services to better fit the people
actually receiving them. The agency then slips incrementally toward being all
things to all people. At a minimum, its mission becomes blurred and
correspondingly ill defined.

It is at least tempting and perhaps human nature to assume our
vision of who the agency’s clients should be is the right vision. We then
further assume others associated with the agency share our vision.
Unfortunately, our vision is not necessarily the right vision and it is certainly
not true everyone agrees with us. The likelihood is we are mostly right and
other people mostly agree with us. This leaves a significant gray area where
the blurring of criteria and shifts in services happen. As time goes on, this
cumulative effect within the gray area is potentially substantial.

Managing this combined client and services drift starts with
establishing a clear reference point explicitly defining who agency clients
should be. The list of criteria may be short or more extensive. Nonetheless,
there is a list and clients of the agency should
conform to the criteria on the list. The challenge is to establish the right
list for the particular agency. Doing this correctly is not simple, however.

The key here is understanding the criteria for being an agency
client have already been developed and should not be casually or inadvertently
changed. This is true both for new agencies and for more mature agencies.
Recall the Helping Triangle and how the agency comes into existence. The
Initiators initially identify the people for whom the agency is developed. The
Authorizers then provide the necessary auspices and authorization for the
agency. This authorization is on behalf of the potential clients identified by
the Initiators. The Implementers, in turn, accept this authorization and
proceed to develop the agency. Who the clients should be is decided before
establishing the human services agency itself.

To determine who agency clients should be, focus on the Helping
Triangle. From point “0” within the Triangle, start with 0-1 leadership
connections with Initiators as illustrated in Figure 2E. Ask Initiators
who the agency should help, who should receive agency services. The
goal here is to understand who they think the agency’s potential clients are.
The perspectives of the Initiators can be accessed through face-to-face
conversations, a review of existing documents, focus groups, and so on. The
criteria they have in mind are discoverable if we are persistent.

With the Initiators’ list of criteria in mind, repeat the process
using 0-B leadership connections with the Authorizers. The result is two lists
that may or may not completely match, i.e.,
the Initiator list and the Authorizer list. Continuing the process through
other leadership connections generates additional lists, letting us know who
our other stakeholders think the agency’s clients should be. There is likely to
be a high level of consensus on most, but not all, elements on the various

Review the various lists and eliminate those elements reflecting a
moderate to low consensus. This leaves a working set of criteria most
stakeholders support. Take this criteria set back to the Authorizers to verify
proceeding with those criteria does not negatively affect authorization.
Assuming continuing authorization is forthcoming, proceed with establishing the
agency itself, clearly knowing who the agency’s clients should be. – The
activities discussed here are the Leadership Team’s responsibility.

Please do not overlook the fact some stakeholders are already
disappointed in the process and, to some extent, with the agency itself. There
is no plan for the agency to serve some people whom they think it should serve.
Additionally, the agency plans to serve some people they think it should not
serve. This stakeholder dissonance
may range from trivial to significant, but cannot be altogether avoided. It is
an unavoidable dynamic when establishing an agency eco system. Just as a human
services agency cannot be all things to all people, it cannot keep every stakeholder
happy every time. The challenge is to manage the dissonance so as to minimize
its immediate and ongoing, negative effect.

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