Quality assurance is a program management system focused on ensuring staff meet employment program guidelines efficiently. Successful quality assurance (QA) improves program outcomes without increasing burdens on staff. However, when faced with the many competing priorities of managing an employment program, implementing QA strategies can feel daunting. Below are six tips for strengthening quality assurance strategies to optimize your program’s success.
1. Share Responsibility
Whether you are a team of two or ten, review the grant guidelines and delegate clear responsibilities that play on each team member’s strengths or professional goals. For example, one staff member may be particularly strong at employer engagement. Task that person with employer communications while someone else teaches their clients job readiness skills. By playing to each team member’s strengths, the team as a unit will produce higher quality work and feel less burned out.
Look beyond the employment specialists. In some situations, caseworkers can be responsible for the pre-employment budget and employment staff for the self-sufficiency budgets. Development or volunteer coordinators can assist with employer outreach. By communicating the message that program deliverables are an office-wide responsibility, each person’s tasks become more manageable.
2. Demonstrate that Paperwork is a Priority
Discuss paperwork as a priority with your team, and request their suggestions on how to complete it more proactively. Here are several ways to do this:
- Agree to dedicate one day per week to documentation and use that time to focus on case notes, reports, and other paperwork. To build team morale and motivation that day, you may all agree to go to lunch together or share your breakfast virtually. Whatever it is, the goal is to demonstrate that paperwork is an essential component of the job and can be a fun shared responsibility.
- Limit interruptions when people are working on documentation. By minimizing interruptions, you communicate to your team that their time is valuable and that documentation is a priority.
- Have regular and consistent team meetings and individual check-ins about documentation status. This time can be used to discuss program deliverables and offer feedback on patterns of missing documentation.
3. Develop Systems to Monitor Progress
By developing internal systems to monitor progress on an ongoing basis, the work becomes more efficient and transparent for everyone. Ensure there are various systems in place to monitor case files. Here are some possibilities:
- Make time during monthly meetings with caseworkers and employment specialists to ensure everyone is aligned on grant requirements. This time can also be used to discuss which documents or case notes are fulfilling which requirements. By doing so, staff better understand why they are required to complete each task, and the work feels less laborious.
- Implement standard case file checks. Communicate to staff a key milestone date for case file checks in addition to the case closure date. Require that staff get their files as complete as possible by these deadlines. Then have the manager review and complete any corresponding report. This second pair of eyes and routine requirement makes it easier to catch missing documents before cases close.
- Conduct random case file checks. The manager can inform staff that they will randomly select several files to monitor on a routine basis (perhaps every other month). This step ensures that files are not put together before reports but are being updated on an ongoing basis. It also helps communicate the importance of proactively completing paperwork.
4. Standardize a Plan for Missing Documentation
Despite staff’s best efforts, obtaining all the desired documentation for each file is not always possible, and when that happens, it is critical to have a standard procedure in place. This will help staff feel more comfortable speaking with their manager about the challenges they are facing in receiving documentation. The team will also feel more confident that files are thoroughly completed upon case closure. Here are some tips for achieving this:
- Require that staff collect proof of employment at least monthly from the time clients start work until they exit the program. If a month is missing or their work hours fluctuate, the file still has enough documentation to indicate the family’s self-sufficiency. Another way to simplify this requirement is by asking employers to submit monthly proof of employment for all clients who work for them.
- Ask staff to acknowledge in advance of review if any documents are missing. This step demonstrates to the manager that their team monitored the file independently and that they are aware of the missing document.
- Establish a routine feedback system for when a document isn’t acknowledged as missing. Ensure that staff receive this feedback promptly (preferably in writing) and that they are clear about why that document is required going forward. If a concerted effort is made, ask staff to maintain case notes to illustrate that effort over time.
- Ensure that staff who consistently have required documentation in their files receive positive feedback and recognition for how they are supporting the team in meeting its objectives.
5. Work Proactively to Manage Burnout
Burnout is closely related to quality assurance. By implementing transparent systems to meet program objectives and make the work more efficient, staff avoid feeling burdened by fluctuating goals, dysfunctional internal systems, or extraneous work. Invite staff to share the internal systems they feel are burdensome and brainstorm ways to simplify them. For example, if staff work with a particular employer regularly, ask the employer to send a representative to your office each month to interview candidates. This will save staff time and the hassle of transportation.
Be aware of the common signs of burnout, including irritability, fatigue, emotional numbing, lack of motivation, helplessness, or lack of engagement in social activities. These signs can indicate a need for a break or an adjustment to the workload.
For more recommendations, see Switchboard’s information guide Preventing Occupational Hazards by Promoting Organizational Resilience.
6. Focus on Your “Why”
Why are you doing this work? What gets you up in the morning? What motivates you to continue even after the most challenging day? For a lot of staff, it is likely not to complete paperwork! However, knowing what brings you and your team to this work and re-committing to it regularly are essential to the team’s success. Invite this discussion into team meetings, and help your team reconnect with their purpose for doing this work in challenging moments. Case notes tell a story of the client’s first several months in the U.S. They also demonstrate the concerted effort your team put forward to support a client in becoming self-sufficient. By helping staff see the greater purpose for completing this documentation and connecting with their intrinsic motivation for the work, the best possible outcomes are achieved.