The accreditation process is most valuable when staff throughout the agency are engaged, but this isn’t always easy. Harris County Protective Services for Children and Adults shares the fun, interactive methods they used to promote the culture of COA and gain staff buy-in.

The phrase “THEY ARE COMING” typically strikes fear in the hearts of agency staff and leadership preparing for a reaccreditation Site Visit. Even scarier is that a lot of the staff not directly involved in the process never know exactly who “THEY” are.   

Since the last Site Visit 4 years ago, our organization had experienced many changes to leadership. Our Quality Improvement Team had transitions in roles and was now staffed with a diverse team with a fresh set of eyes for COA.

As a team new to the process, one of the first things we did was an assessment of staff feelings and knowledge about COA.

Challenge #1: Even though our organization has been successfully reaccredited since 1978, staff still remained in panic mode. 

When it was time for our formal Site Visit COA continued to be viewed as a separate entity, a “THEY” of sorts. We wanted to be sure that the view was of our partner helping us to identify strengths and areas for improvement in ways that may not be immediately apparent. We realized that part of the issue was that historically, we had not engaged and educated ALL staff (and not just those involved in turning in evidence). We needed to reframe staff perceptions as COA being a positive experience and focus on the benefits of the visit instead of just focusing on meeting deadlines to turn in evidence.

Challenge #2: What did we do to engage staff before? What resources do we have to engage over 19 different programs with field and on site staff?

We convened a think tank of new and seasoned staff from Quality Improvement, Communications and our Training Institute. At the last Site Visit we were only able to reach staff via email blasts and a creative “Go for the Green COA Poem.” Though staff comments about COA from past surveys and focus groups was reviewed, it was hard to track who actually opened the emails and who really took-home the message of what COA is all about. 

thought bubble

We wanted to do something different and FUN that would appeal to our two majority generations in the agency identified from our annual staff survey: millennials and baby boomers.

Out of our think tank was born the theme for our COA Kick Off Week online Challenge, “Who Wants To Be A COA-Knowledgaire”, which included a teaser video about COA starring our own “COA Queen” which addressed and made light of staff feelings about COA. 

Teaser Video


We also found online templates for interactive Power Point Shows that were clickable to reveal correct (or incorrect, buzz!) answers that staff could complete each week to gain knowledge instead of having to read long text.

If staff passed the Grand Challenge Quiz (via Survey Monkey) with 90 or above, they were eligible to redeem limited edition swag items.  The swag items, though a small investment from the Quality Improvement department ($2,000), made for an effective incentive that got many unfamiliar faces involved and increased word of mouth.

At the end of the challenge, almost 50% of our staff had participated visiting us in person at each site to collect their unique swag, a huge participation success for a governmental agency.

The Quality Improvement Team showing off their COA swag.

We have additional engagement activities planned for the months leading up to our visit to keep the momentum going and to continue promoting our Site Visit as an opportunity to showcase our programs and to learn about the up and coming best practices for social service agencies and nonprofits. To learn more about HCPS on their website and Facebook


The views, information and opinions expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Accreditation (COA). COA invites guest authors to contribute to the COA blog due to COA’s confidence in their knowledge on the subject matter and their expertise in their chosen field.

Emmony Pena

Emmony is a Licensed Master Social Worker from the University Of Houston Graduate College Of Social Work with a focus on program development and evaluation. She has 5 years of experience in Data Analysis and Process Improvement through her graduate research assistant experience at MD Anderson and in her current role as Quality Improvement Professional at Harris County Protective Services. Emmony’s goal is to engage staff in performance and quality improvement activities and in plan-do-study-check act cycles.

Emmony monitors the implementation of the agency’s Performance and Quality Improvement plan and provides technical assistance and leadership to programs in the areas of Council on Accreditation standards, data collection, logic model development, focus groups, case review audits and trainings.

Certifications: CANS Assessment (Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths) Certified