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Why conduct an assessment if you already understand what the problem is?

You mean you think you already understand what the problem is.  Organizational problems are often multifaceted and complex.  And your understanding may be incomplete – or even flat out wrong! In that case, you’re unlikely to implement something that solves the problem.  And, with the wrong solution, you could even make things worse!

An often more compelling reason to do an assessment is that people may distrust a solution unless they believe it’s based on an objective analysis of the problem. Even if the assessment validates leaders’ beliefs about the nature of the problem you’re facing, an organizational assessment gives you an objective, third-party view that has greater credibility.  And that can often result in greater acceptance of your solution.

Are there any other benefits to doing an assessment?

Yes, there are.  An organizational assessment gives an organization’s leaders a chance to build – or restore – trust.  To do this, leaders need to state publicly, before the assessment, that they’re committed to addressing whatever issues the assessment identifies.  People may be skeptical or cynical during the assessment, but what matters is that leaders follow through on what it calls for.

An especially powerful way to ensure follow-through is to create cross-functional, cross-level teams, each focused on a particular issue and chartered with the challenge to identify and propose possible solutions. Trust grows when people see that business leaders are candidly sharing results and mobilizing resources to address key issues and engage employees in the process.

What are some of the features of a good organizational assessment?

These are the features we have found to be most beneficial to our clients:

  • Use of multiple assessment methods:  We usually recommend some combination of interviews, focus groups and an employee survey.  Individually, each of these methods has both advantages and disadvantages.  But together, they constitute powerful, complementary sources of data.
  • Complete confidentiality:  This must be assured at the outset and maintained throughout, so that participants in the assessment feel comfortable sharing their true feelings and concerns.  Any assessment is only as good as the authenticity and validity of the data.
  • Representative sampling:  The respondents in an assessment must constitute a truly, representative sample of the organization’s broader population. This is easiest to achieve through a survey, but it’s also important when people are selected for interviews and focus groups. When your assessment includes data that’s truly representative, your assessment results will have more credibility.
  • Standardized questions:  Standard sets of questions must be used with each data gathering method, so that later you can identify themes and tabulate them in a consistent way.
  • Quantitative and qualitative data results:  A good, comprehensive assessment should yield both quantitative data (for example, average ratings on survey items or scales) and qualitative data (participants’ comments in response to open-ended questions). Quantitative data allows you to compare subgroups (for example, departments) within your organization as well as to compare your data with that of other organizations. Qualitative data can help explain the reasons for people’s perceptions of the organization. Some kinds of qualitative data (for example, participants’ responses to questions such as, “What could the organization do to …..”) can provide sources of ideas for solving problems.
  • Conversion:  Qualitative results can also be converted to quantifiable ones through thematic analysis and tabulation of the number of people who mention each recurring theme.

What is the best way to summarize the results of an organizational assessment?

One approach we find especially effective is to prepare a 20 to 30 minute presentation – consider it like a “stump speech” – that tells the story of the assessment and summarizes the important results in a way that everyone can understand.  Avoid “management-speak.”

Most importantly, this presentation should conclude with a strong, clear statement of what the organization intends to do to address the issues you’ve uncovered in the assessment. You can and should share this presentation with different groups within your organization. Following each delivery, we always like to engage the audience, often in small groups, in a discussion of their reactions to assessment results.  This provides additional opportunity to refine your understanding of the issues as well as possible solutions to address them.

Are there any situations when an assessment should not be done?

Yes, indeed.  If the leaders of the business are not committed to addressing the issues surfaced in the assessment, they should never conduct one. When people are asked in interviews, focus groups and surveys how they feel about the organization and what their concerns are, it is simply natural and logical for them to expect that something will be done about what they have to say. When this doesn’t happen, people are likely to become resigned, cynical and passive – or more so, if they already were!  In this case your assessment has served to do nothing but raise hopes and expectations only to dash them later.  In other words, an assessment not acted upon not only doesn’t help make things better, you can almost guarantee it will make things worse.

We also advise against conducting an assessment just before or during a major organizational change.   Change almost always unsettles people and may prevent you from getting a “true reading” of your organization.  Better to wait until the change has been implemented, until you’ve achieved a more “steady state,” especially if the change involves something as unsettling as retrenchment or even lay-offs.

Finally, don’t use data from an assessment to determine issues of downsizing or layoffs. Doing this is likely to build a lasting distrust of assessments and data gathering activities of any kind as well as the people who conduct them, whether they be internal or external consultants.