Rep Payee Best Practices for Running and Growing your Agency
This article is a summary of takeaways from last month’s representative payee networking event featuring guest expert Ali Tabatabai, President and CEO of New Leaf Solutions. Note: this article is not intended to provide investment, legal, tax, accounting or medical advice. Before making decisions involving investing, legal, tax, accounting or medical concerns, you should consult appropriate professionals regarding your speciﬁc situation. Quotes attributed to Ali Tabatabai have been edited for readability, conciseness, and clarity.
When it comes to running a successful Rep Payee business, Ali Tabatabai knows what it takes. Starting in 2011 with a program serving fifty people in the Los Angeles area, his business, New Leaf Solutions, now provides representative payee services to more than 4,000 individuals across California.
We were fortunate to interview Tabatabai at a recent Rep Payee networking event where payees from across the country gather to connect and share best practices. We heard from our guest expert about what helped his business to scale and enabled the agency to serve more people; here are some of the key takeaways from this insightful conversation.
1. Developing relationships is key
When you run a Rep Payee program, you need to collaborate with a number of entities and individuals. Tabatabai encourages leaders to foster and maintain good relationships with these groups including your local Social Security Administration (SSA) office and county agencies. He also recommends connecting with other Rep Payees, “so you can bounce ideas off each other and commiserate together.”
2. Communicate early and often when making changes
“Whenever we’re introducing something new to the populations we serve, change is the biggest barrier, along with the anxiety that comes with it. We try to anticipate that as much as possible,” shared Tabatabai. When New Leaf Solutions is working with a new group of clients to transition to their agency, they like to go above and beyond on communications. The agency offers “clinics” where staff are available outside of typical hours for program participants, families, and their social workers to learn about what is changing and how it will impact them.
3. Establish clear policies and procedures
As New Leaf Solutions grew, they recognized the need for written policies and procedures that could act as a shared knowledge base for staff and outside partners. As Tabatabai explained, “when we got to 1,000+ participants, we realized that it was going to be really important that we were all working off of the same playbook, to help ensure our quality of service moved in the same direction as our quantity.” He also noted that these written policies were created with the full team’s input and are particularly valuable for training and onboarding new staff.
4. Foster a culture of shared mission and values
“Connecting the dots on why we do this and why we go about the work in a particular way is really critical, and involving the team in that conversation early on makes a big difference.” Tabatabai stressed that even if you feel like having a mission and organizational values is “all talk,” it can help your team stay motivated and connected to the work. He emphasized that defining the mission and values was also a group effort, “we sat around, pulled out a whiteboard, and asked ‘how do we see ourselves having an impact on the population we serve?’”
5. Hire on those values – you can teach the rest.
When asked what skills Tabatabai looks for in potential hires, he responded “we look for values more than skill. When we’re hiring, we are looking for folks who demonstrate empathy, the ability to listen, who have patience – these are things you can’t really teach.” While his staff does need to have an understanding of the way the SSA works and how to use their software systems, he sees those as skills that can be developed. Tabatabai also noted that former service industry workers, like those who’ve worked in restaurants, “often transition really well into doing this work.”
6. Invest in the development of your team and yourself
New Leaf Solutions encourages and supports their team to pursue micro-credentials and certifications for their development. In addition to management and leadership certificate programs or training specific to payee work, Tabatabai sees the value in broader development. “Even if you’re coming in at the entry level and you think leadership isn’t for me, there are tools and tips and ways to deal with things that you can learn in these programs that make you a better person overall. We look to invest in that as well.” And the development opportunities don’t stop at his staff, Tabatabai also invests time and resources to improve his leadership skills. Here is a collection of some of the books, websites, and other resources he recommends for Rep Payee program operators and employees.
Want to hear more from Ali Tabatabai? You can watch the full video from our interview with him, starting around the six-minute mark.