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A bit of RNR: what FM can learn from probation

Published on: 10 Apr 2017

Facilities managers are equipped to identify and remedy a building that is malfunctioning, but they do not have as much training or experience when dealing with the people problems that arise within their teams.

In the world of criminal justice, a discipline that deals with systems as well as people, probation is a commonly used sanction for both offenders in jail as well as those in prison. It is a means by which an offender can remain under supervision by the criminal justice system without being imprisoned.

Probation in a facilities management context

If offenders on probation are individuals deemed fit to reintegrate into society but who still require supervision as well as resources to fully transform into productive contributors to their community, then there are many potential correlations to an organisational framework in the business world.

Wise leaders understand that not every employee who fails should be fired, fined or demoted; instead, many require further supervision and training in order to be restored to their prior responsibilities or to reduce the chance of repeating mistakes in the same areas.

In the realm of jurisprudence the term is known as recidivism – the natural habit of criminals cyclically returning to their illegal behaviour.

In business, we too want to prevent recidivism and making the same mistakes in a continuous negative cycle of behaviour that costs time, money, resources or even lives. Probation practices  are relevant to business practices because recidivism affects both.

Principles of effective intervention have long been the pursuit of probation to address both cognitive and behavioural issues, assisting people to make positive changes in their lives. This is not unlike a business scenario where something has gone awry, the issue has been addressed, consequences laid out and the time come to re-establish a team member into the team affected by their negative actions.

Criminal justice would divide an individual’s needs into three components: Risk, Needs and Responsivity (RNR). Together these elements comprise a model for how to devise the interventions most effective for productive reintegration.

Much like fixing a malfunctioning system within a building, when dealing with people an understanding of the attitudes, behaviours and needs that need targeting to effect change is good business sense for leaders within a business framework dealing with interpersonal dynamics that can negatively affect cohesiveness within the organisation.

The RNR model is based on psychology demonstrating that targeting criminogenic risks and needs in a calculated manner is more effective than unstructured or vague clinical approaches.

Many businesses also chase their tails with unstructured disciplinary practices and vague team building approaches. So what can we in FM learn from the three-pronged RNR approach to help us build employee engagement even when our actions are disciplinary in nature?

1. Risk

Risk assessment tools are used to identify the levels of risk of repeating negative actions. There exists a ‘sweet spot’ for risk assessment tools, which for most businesses would be that they include a personality profile, and are adaptive and quick to use. The assessments they build should include feedback from the bottom up so that the vision is clear and the implementation is effective for the whole firm.

In the criminal justice world, properly administered risk assessment enables risk prediction, risk level identification and treatment intensity. In business, the right assessment tools should enable an organisation to prepare managers, employees and prospects for understanding communication styles as well as creating guidelines for effective team development.

Criminal justice uses the Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R), which assesses offender risk by examining 10 domains: criminal history, companions, emotional problems, attitudes and orientation (Allen et al, p.106).

This tool helps judges (for business, read executive-level management) and probation departments (middle management) to make better predictive and proactive decisions about fitness for probation (recruiting).

Author Lex Sisney warns that many risk assessment tools used by business were created mid-last century and do not allow predictive understanding or proactive management to get a full picture of the total team make-up and predict its performance, or adjustments to make when things get off track. Sisney proposes a PSIU framework, categorising individuals into Producers, Stabilisers, Innovators and Unifiers – for effective team building and development.

2. Needs

The needs principle directs efforts toward those dynamic risk factors that are changeable as well as criminogenic needs, or that contribute to offending such as antisocial personality or hanging with the wrong crowd.

What are referred to as risks in criminal justice might better be understood in the business context as the factors that contribute to The Three D’s of Dysfunction, Disruption or Disorder. We need to identify these when recruiting employees or dealing with interpersonal dynamics.

Best practices in criminal justice have been recognised in the USA 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. Most EPICS practices have a business application:

  • Effective reinforcement (statement of approval and support and the reasons why this behaviour is desirable).
  • Effective use of authority (being direct, specific while specifying choices and consequences.
  • Relationship skills (being empathetic, engaging, solution focused).
  • Skill building (teaching and practising new skills with offenders, and more).

3. Responsivity

‘Responsivity’ 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 or business employees, a significant portion of our lives occurs in a building with people; it is to the benefit of all that we structure our efforts to working together effectively.

A Forbes study found that while most employees cite personality differences or colleagues’ incompetence as the source of their frustration, the main source of friction in an organisation is lack of clarity. So understanding how people on our team both communicate as well as receive communication is essential for sustained success.


Buildings, systems and people are alike in that when there are malfunctions leaders need to identify the risks, needs and responsivity principles that will assist them to restore order.

Understanding the implications of RNR can assist in developing a system that is predictive as well as proactive, whereas ignoring these principles can result in a repetitious cycle of negative behaviour.

Best practices for probation within the criminal justice realm are applicable to effective cognitive and behaviour business practices because both organisations face issues with recidivism.

Jon Isaacson is a director of Local Facilities Manager’s Connection (,  a peer-to-peer networking group in Eugene, Oregon, USA

Further Reading

Allen, H.E., Latessa, E.J., Ponder, B.S. (2016) Corrections in America: An Introduction (14th 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.

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Wakeman, Cy (2015, June 22) The number 1 source of workplace conflict, and how to avoid it. Forbes.

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