Applying risk, needs and responsivity (RNR) best practices for reducing recurring bad behavior (aka recidivism) to become predictive and proactive as a leader in an office context.
By Jon Isaacson
In the world of criminal justice, probation is the most commonly utilized sanction for both offenders in jail as well as those in prison. It is a rather staggering statistic to know that nearly 1 in 60 U.S. adult residents are on probation (Allen, et al., 2016, p.101), as currently there are 4.1 million offenders on probation and 780,000 offenders on parole. Probation is a means from which an offender can remain under supervision by the criminal justice system without being incarcerated, or so the theory goes. While the reasons for probation are many, some of the most discussed include cost effectiveness, overcrowding and theories related to best practices. To the cynic we release offenders from incarceration because we are soft, it costs less and we just don’t have the room, to the idealist we remove offenders from the institution so that we can rehabilitate them.
Why are we talking about probation in a business context?
If offenders on probation are those individuals who have been deemed fit to reintegrate into society but whom still require supervision as well as resources to fully transform into trustworthy productive contributors to their community, there are many potential correlations to an organizational framework in the business world. Wise leaders understand that not every employee who fails should be fired, fined or demoted – the harshest of sanctions within the business world - but many require further supervision and training to be restored to prior responsibilities or to reduce the chance of repeat mistakes in the same areas. In the realm of jurisprudence the term is known as recidivism which is a fancy word for that natural human habit of criminals cyclically returning to their illegal behavior following release from incarceration or sanctions including probation. In business, we too want to prevent recidivism, we want to be proactive so that we do not keep making the same mistakes over and over again or like the criminal justice world we will be in a continuous negative cycle of behavior that can cost time, money, resources or even lives.
Probation practices are relevant to business practices because recidivism affects both.
Principles for effective intervention have long been the pursuit in devising best practices for probation in order to address both cognitive and behavioral based issues while assisting individuals to make positive predictive as well as proactive changes in their wayward lives. This is not unlike a business scenario where something has gone awry, an issue has been addressed, consequences have been laid out and now it is time to re-establish a team member into the organization and renew the bonds within a team that were affected by negative actions. Criminal justice would divide an individual’s needs into risks, needs and responsivity (RNR) as a model for how to devise interventions that will be most effective for productive reintegration. Identifying the attitudes, behaviors and needs that should be targeted to effect change is good practice for working with offenders in the legal system but is also good business sense for leaders within a business framework dealing with interpersonal dynamics that can negatively affect cohesiveness within the organization.
The RNR model is based in psychology demonstrating that targeting criminogenic risks and needs in a calculated manner is much more effective than unstructured or vague clinical approaches (Lutze, 2014, p.108). How many businesses also chase their tails with unstructured disciplinary practices and vague team building approaches? So what can we learn from the risk, needs and responsivity approach that may help our organizations predictively as well as proactively build employee engagement even when the actions are disciplinary in nature?
The risk principle includes utilizing proven risk assessment tools to predictively identify levels of risk for repeating negative actions. Similar to criminal justice, when tools are sought by management care must be taken to ensure that the tool itself is not so cumbersome with administrative tasks that it becomes a full time job just to enter data for the assessment. There is a sweet spot with assessment tools, which for most businesses may be some sort of personality profile, must be user friendly, adaptive and resource effective especially in consideration for time management. These assessments should incorporate feedback from bottom up so that the vision is clear and the implementation is effective for the whole organization. In the criminal justice world a properly administered risk assessment will enable risk prediction, identification of level of risk and will direct proactive treatment intensity. For business, the right assessment tools can enable an organization to prepare managers, employees and prospects for understanding communication styles as well as create guidelines for effective team development.
What tools can we use to attempt to identify points of friction prior to their occurrence?
The most commonly utilized risk assessment tool within criminal justice circles is the Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R) which assess offender risk by examining 10 domains including criminal history, companions, emotional problems, attitudes and orientation (Allen et al, p.106). This tool helps judges (ie executive level management) and probation departments (middle management) to make better predictive as well as proactive decisions regarding fitness for probation (hiring), supervision levels and what type of services are needed. In the business world there are so many personality and profile tests available, if you already have one in use then commit to that, if you do not have one you may consider its value for the same reasons LSI-R is utilized. As noted by author Lex Sisney, many of the tools utilized by business were created mid-last-century and do not allow predictive understanding or proactive management, “To get a complete picture of the total team makeup and predict it’s performance in advance – as well as what adjustments to make when things get off track.” In his book Organizational Physics, Mr. Sisney proposes what he has titled the PSIU framework which categorizes individuals into Producers, Stabalizers, Innovators and Unifiers as a framework for effective team building and development.
The need principle directs efforts toward those dynamic risk factors that are changeable as well as criminogenic needs, or those factors that contribute to offending such as antisocial personality or hanging with the wrong crowd. What is referred to as risks in criminal justice might better be understood in the business context as those factors which contribute to The Three D’s of Dysfunction, Disruption or Disorder. As leaders we need to need to identify those ingredients that will lead to the manifestation of The Three D’s when we are hiring new employees, dealing with interpersonal dynamics and making key decisions as an organization. Understanding and effectively addressing needs is key for probation officers as well as management practitioners. Best practices within criminal justice have been recognized under Effective Practices in Community Supervision (EPICS) developed by researchers at the Univerity of Cincinnati with the goal of teaching probation officers how to more effectively target criminogenic risk factors. So man of the practices identified by the developers of EPICS directly apply to good leadership practices including: effective reinforcement – immediate statement of approval and support and the reasons why this behavior is desirable; effective use of authority – being direct, specific while specifying choices and consequences; relationship skills – empathetic, engaging, solution focused; skill building – teach and practice new skills with offenders, and more (Allen et al, 2016, p.108). If these don’t resonate as being relevant, helpful and effective within a business environment than there isn’t much use of reading further.
Conflict resolution is first mindset and then skill set. – Unknown
The responsivity principle in criminal justice describes how to provide treatment in a manner that is most conducive to an offender’s learning style, motivation and abilities. Whether we are inmates behind the bars of the criminal justice system or employees of a for profit organization, a significant portion of our lives are occurring within the structure and with the people we are surrounded by – it is to the benefit of all that we structure our efforts to be effective in working together. Interestingly enough, in a recent study covered in Forbes, while most employees would answer that personality differences or incompetence is the source of their frustration at work when the conductors of this study dug a little deeper they found that the most common source of friction in an organization boiled down to clarity.
“In fact, teams in conflict had much higher levels of ambiguity in three categories of work: their team’s goals, roles and procedures. So, while it’s very human to assign personal motive and blame in times of trouble, there isn’t really anything personal about the core of workplace conflict. If you back up and look at the facts, a lack of clarity is what’s truly to blame.” (Wakeman, 2015)
As individuals working together voluntarily for an organization we often want the same end goal but do not perceive or interact with the world in the same way, so understanding both how the individuals on our team communicate as well as receive communication is an essential area for sustained success. Leaders do well to invest in means to predictively understand friction points in their organization as well as proactively work through these potential growth barriers.
Any organization where humans are involved will have risks, needs and responsivity principles. Understanding the implications of RNR can assist to develop as system that is predictive as well as proactive or ignoring these principles can result in a repetitious cycle of negative behavior. Best practices for probation within the criminal justice realm are applicable to effective cognitive and behavior business practices because both organizations face issues with recidivism. Best business practices for leadership as well as those for probation management are continually evolving, impacted by bureaucracy and contingent upon adaptation. If you find yourself stuck in a mental road block, perhaps you just need to take a walk on the wayward side.
Allen, H.E., Latessa, E.J., Ponder, B.S. (2016) Corrections in America: An Introduction (14t Edition). Boston, MA, Pearson.
Lutze, F.E. (2014) Professional lives of community corrections officers: The invisible side of reentry. Thousand Oaks, CA. SAGE.
Sisney, Lex Style Assessments. Retrieved from http://organizationalphysics.com/the-psiu-talent-management-suite/
Wakeman, Cy (2015, June 22) The number 1 source of workplace conflict, and how to avoid it. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/cywakeman/2015/06/22/the-1-source-of-workplace-conflict-and-how-to-avoid-it/#32a27f89126e
In business there are rituals that neither management nor employees enjoy and yet they are widely practiced because a) it’s what everyone else is doing, b) we’re required to do it by the unwritten codes of business handed down from our ancestors and/or c) leadership is unwilling to admit that something needs to change. Enjoy our fun video that reviews the tried-and-failing process of annual employee reviews as acted out by children.
If you do not recognize a need to evaluate and improve your processes, you are probably right – everything is fine and you are going to be awesome (sarcasm). But, if you recognize that there are always areas that can improve, you may start by relieving the additional strain on managers as well as the deflating of employee morale that is often tied to the annual employee review as currently practiced.
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