Benchmark Blog

Leaders’ Playbook – March, 2023

Mar 01, 2023
Benchmark Blog

Welcome to Leaders’ Playbook!

Hi, and thanks for opening this newsletter. This newsletter is for leaders and managers. My goal is to find ways to both inform and inspire as you read about initiatives and breakthroughs throughout the company. As we grow and expand, it becomes increasingly difficult to gather leaders and share information. I want you to hear from colleagues with whom you don’t often collaborate. I hope we read about these happenings and find ways to collectively adopt best practices and celebrate breakthroughs. Let’s build our Benchmark Leaders’ playbooks! Thanks for reading.

– David Ross, COO

Our Call

By David Ross, Chief Operating Officer

I’ve heard it said that there are three lenses through which to assess a leader’s potential: Their Character, their Competence, and their Call. I’d like to unpack the idea of “call.”

I love the way Frederick Buechner discusses it in his book, The Hungering Dark.

“Like ‘duty’, ‘law’, ‘religion’, the word ‘vocation’ has a dull ring to it, but in terms of what it means, it is really not dull at all. Vocare means ‘to call’; and a person’s vocation is a person’s calling. It is the work that he or she is called to in this world, the thing that one is summoned to spend his or her life doing. We can speak of one choosing their vocation, but perhaps it is at least as accurate to speak of a vocation’s choosing a person, of a call’s being given and a person hearing it or not hearing it. And maybe that is the place to start: the business of listening and hearing.”

Our lives are full of all kinds of voices “calling”. Some more significant than others. There are plenty of distractions from doing the most important work – the greater things to which we are called. Frankly, we even create or choose to focus on some of these distractions in our work. There are a few simple things I do to remind or reinvigorate myself, to my call: 1) I love to hear our stories. I ask for them, and I look for them. The further you are from the direct service we deliver, the more covetous and pursuant you should be in illuminating and amplifying these stories for both selfish and corporate leadership reasons; 2) I have these little sayings, or quips, that I tell myself. They are like whisper prayers or “keep me honest” phrases. For example, I often say, to myself and others, “The people we serve deserve my/our best”; 3) I simply reflect on “why” — why it matters. Our corporate principles are great reflection phrases. Often, the most powerful thing we carry is the memories of our personal pasts which contain scenes of injustice, poor service or no service, suffering, etc. as it relates to people who happen to have disabilities and their families.

I treasure this deeper call and treasure being able to call it my vocation. What an honor. And even more so, what a privilege to know that though our calls may have come in different ways, our “whys” from different places, this vocation is more than a job. And, because so many of us are like-minded and similarly impassioned, we are all the more effective as we are bound together at this place of vocation – Benchmark.

Growth and Development at Benchmark

By Sarah Chestnut, Director of Development Strategies

In recent months, Benchmark has experienced a flurry of business development activity across markets and service lines – none more so than behavioral health and crisis. As states develop plans to spend federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and other funding, search for solutions to address behavioral health needs exacerbated by the pandemic, and implement the national 988 suicide prevention hotline, organic growth opportunities, and formal procurement activities abound.

Benchmark is well positioned to assist with these needs based on our long history of supporting populations with significant support needs whom others can’t or won’t serve. Building on a strong foundation that started with residential and day services for individuals with complex needs, we decided over 15 years ago to expand into new opportunities, launching mobile crisis services through contracts in Indiana and Georgia. Today, Benchmark is seen as a national leader in serving individuals with complex needs, and we continue to build upon our success to expand into new markets and service lines.

To continue our strong growth trajectory, we must continue to evolve and innovate to meet changing needs and demand for cost-effective services to meet individuals’ needs across populations, diagnoses, funding sources, and other factors. One option is to pursue partnerships with other organizations, allowing us to provide a broader continuum of services and learn promising practices from others. That’s why we partnered with CBI, a peer-led CMHC headquartered in Arizona, to provide mobile crisis services statewide in Oklahoma.

In January, we came full circle in Indiana, launching a mobile crisis pilot serving residents of three counties in northeast Indiana.

Even as these programs are in their infancy, Benchmark management is already identifying unmet needs, service gaps, and opportunities for growth. While these are recent examples, this growth mindset is not new – it’s core to our organizational DNA and culture.


Why Organizational Culture at Benchmark Matters

By Courtney Heiser, Chief Culture Officer

In March, I will celebrate 20 years with Benchmark. While many of my peers tend to switch jobs every 3-5 years, on average, I am often asked why I’ve remained with my employer. My answer is always a variation of the same response – I love the mission. I work with incredibly talented and passionate people. And the two come together to create a culture that is inspiring, supportive, and rooted in a collective desire to make people’s lives better. In October of 2022, my role was expanded to include a focus on workplace culture and what that means for the organization’s future growth and potential.

Organizational culture is the collection of values, expectations, and practices that guide and inform the actions of all team members. According to a 2022 article on, a good workplace environment boosts employee happiness, morale, and motivation. No doubt, there is much that goes into building workplace culture. Notably, shared mission and values, trust in management, focus on employees’ overall mental and physical well-being, and more recently, flexibility in work environments and schedules, and a focus on DEI and creating a culture of belonging. These are all areas where Benchmark either already thrives or is making intentional and concerted efforts to do so.

As leaders looking to the company’s future, we must ask ourselves, “What kind of culture am I creating for my teams? Where can we improve?” Although some aspects like a flexible work environment may not apply to some programs (i.e., those working in residential settings), what can we do to create flexibility in scheduling or focus on enhancing parts of our culture that can be controlled?

In the coming months, I will be looking for opportunities to talk with members of your teams to gauge workplace culture on a departmental scale. I want to know what we’re doing well and where we can improve.

Why does it matter? According to, healthy organizational culture often results in the following:

1. Increased employee engagement
2. Decreased turnover
3. Elevated productivity
4. Healthy teams
5. Stronger brand identity and brand ambassadors

It’s probably safe to guess that all Benchmark leaders are invested in achieving these objectives, which helps us better carry out our shared mission, vision, and values. I look forward to working with you and your teams to continue to create a culture that results in Benchmark being:

1. A premier provider of human services
2. A trusted partner to our funders, contractors, and business collaborators
3. A place where people want to build lasting and fulfilling careers

Developing Future Leaders Through the Management Development Program

By Eric Weeks, VP of Human Resources

In 2014, Benchmark Human Services (Benchmark) created an internal process to develop the next generation of leaders for the organization. Since the inception of the Management Development Program (MDP), approximately 18 managers and professional staff have graduated from the 12-month program. Program participants are selected through a nomination process initiated by directors and vice presidents starting in the first quarter of each fiscal year. The core of the original program revolved around training within six departments including accounting, payroll, human resources, marketing and communications, information technology, and compliance. In addition, participants were assigned projects by directors and vice presidents and each year’s program concluded with graduates presenting their projects and experiences to their peers at the annual Management Rally.

Projects and presentations have evolved, and in 2022, the class presented their projects to senior staff. The projects included a day services program coordinator training manual, DSP retention, supported living intake manual, and an analysis of best practices that make supported living departments profitable.

Over the past 9 years, the MDP has been enhanced to include virtual meetings and trainings, program tours, meetings with senior leadership, program reviews including business development, and meetings with legal and health services leaders. In 2023, participants will attend a one-day leadership summit, diversity training for managers, and a leadership book review. There are more improvements planned for the 2024 class, and you will learn about those changes and the whereabouts of previous graduates in future editions.

In the meantime, contact Eric Weeks with questions.

Incorporating Lean Six Sigma into Every Day Work

In April of 2022, Benchmark announced it would be implementing Lean Six Sigma (LSS) training and practices throughout the organization. In simple terms, LSS uses a set of tools to improve business processes. It focuses on eliminating waste and errors so workflows are efficient and work every time. LSS offers different levels of training, with each level designed to dig deeper into the provided tools resulting in process improvements. Since kickoff, Benchmark has accomplished the following:

• 530 employees completed White Belt training – Online Course
• 57 employees completed Yellow Belt training – Live Virtual
• 10 employees participated in Green Belt Rapid Improvement Event training – Live Virtual + 2-day in-person training

The Green Belt students are currently preparing to put some tools into action through a series of Rapid Improvement Events (RIEs). RIEs involve a small team devoting time to analyzing and improving a narrowly defined targeted issue or process. Rapid improvement events are used to augment, not replace, daily continuous improvement.

As an example, one commonly used LSS tool is 5 Whys. Our Employment Services division has been using 5 Whys since 2014 when a guest speaker at the annual Management Retreat presented the tool. The Department uses 5 Whys when someone loses a job to try to identify the root causes and how to improve processes to avoid a similar outcome moving forward. In the eight years since using the root cause/5 Whys technique, 90-day retention of placements has gone from averaging around 70% to over 80%. If you’d like to learn more about how Employment Services is using the tool, please get in touch with Lisa Rector, director.

Below is a simple example of how 5 Whys helps to identify the cause of an issue and provides a platform for improvement.

Asking “Why” five times lead to the root cause, which was the restaurant didn’t have enough plates. This may help determine a solution like, 1) invest in more plates or 2) ensure there are more plates stocked and ready for use prior to the start of the shift.

The goal of implementing LSS is to make it a mindset. In other words, as we move through our day to day business practices, we want employees to think about the principles of being lean and efficient in order to ultimately provide the best service possible to those in our care.

If you are interested in participating in future LSS trainings, please contact Ben Harrison via email or via phone at 260-744-6145 ext. 5973.

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