How to Conduct an Organizational Assessment

Organizational AssessmentStrategic planning, as a structured and systematic process, is successful when it is leader-led and overcomes the five reasons 70% of all strategies fail.  Learn how to see your plan through to success.  The strategic planning process is where leaders of an organization establish the vision of the organization’s future and then develop and implement the actions necessary to achieve that future.  This article expands on the strategic planning concepts addressed in Think Big, Take Small Steps and is designed to help you achieve success in your strategic planning process.

Establishing an Executable Focus to Ensure the Success of Your Strategic Plan.

It really doesn’t matter what you are doing; if you are planning to change something from what it is today to something different tomorrow, then you need to understand the way it is today.  The reason this is important in strategic plan development is because a strategy and associated plan should be designed to overcome current barriers to your vision.  I like to use the image of building a bridge over troubled water.  Today you’re on one side of the bridge and you need to get to the other side.

If you didn’t know how deep, how fast, and what lies below the surface of the water you plan to cross, then you’re bound to fail.  So, an organizational analysis is a survey of the river and a testing of the banks to determine the best way to build your bridge.

I have heard many terms over the years, like preplanning analysis, environmental scan, SWOT analysis, etc.  There is nothing wrong with these terms, but my plan is to show you how to ensure whatever you call it, it provides you with the data you need.  I use the term organizational analysis, because that seems to be the least technical and better understood by my customers.

Some of those terms used above are tools that you might use during an assessment.  I plan to cover many of these tools next week in Understanding the Different Assessment Tools.  Also, I want to share a very specific tool that I learned about in the military and now apply in all of my assessment activities.  I will talk about this tool in two weeks in Assessing Your Organization Using the Military’s DOTMLPF – FREE Assessment.  Future articles in this series will cover other tools, like a Stakeholder Assessment, a Change Readiness Assessment, the SWOT Assessment, and Scenario Planning.

Today is simply an overview of the approach I use and when I apply these various assessment tools.  I look forward to your ideas on the approach and others you have used.

The closest approach to what I use to assess an organization, that I have seen documented, would be the Delphi Technique.  The Delphi Technique is comprehensive, but I add some things to it.  Let me outline the activities as I like to see them occur during an assessment.  Sometimes, this approach changes, or (in many cases) things happen at the same time.  I’ve completed assessments as quickly as a couple of weeks and I’ve had one take four months.  This will depend on the size and complexity of the organization.  Additionally, if the organization already has somewhat of a grasp of strategic planning and a plan in place that isn’t too bad, it can speed up the process.  Don’t simply rely on what they’ve done–there is a good chance they missed things to get it done quickly.

Here are the activities I employ to conduct the assessment:

RESEARCH

First I start with conducting as much research on materials and data the organization uses to communicate, direct, evaluate, and improve the organization.  I review everything they put out about their company in print and through the web and social media.  I look at current strategies, policies, and directives.  I review their organizational structure and understand the purposes of each organization and relative employee and contractor strength.  I look at what training programs they employ and attend and the level of knowledge, skills and abilities of employees and leadership.  The list goes on…

In two weeks, I will lay out the specific framework that I use to review an organization and formulate the next stage.  A key component of this research is to determine who to interview and what to ask.  The next step in my assessment is developing interview questions that are influenced by my research.

The most important thing is that you can’t conduct an assessment on research alone.  What people put in writing is never exactly how things are really working.  You must interview people to verify your findings and get to the entire picture.

Expect your initial research to take up to a week.  You will continue your research even after you’ve started your interviews, because you will come across other things to consider and review.

INTERVIEWS

Interviews with key leadership, knowledgeable employees, organizational stakeholders, customers, and strategic partners are key to the success of an organizational assessment.  Your interviews should be focused on obtaining a good picture of what the organization is facing.  Much of the topics listed in the research section are repeated here.  The framework I use to gather data is the same framework that I use to interview.  I call it DOTMLPF-FREE.

The number of interviews vary based on organizational size and complexity.  I normally can get away with simply 10 to 20 interviews, but my longest project had 44 interviews.  The client was adamant about us getting many views from across the organization and outside the organization.  Honestly, in three or four interviews, I normally know what’s going on…the remaining interviews simply validate what I know and what’s already been said.

To ensure that you are systematic in your interview approach, make sure you use an interview questionnaire.  Don’t ask the questions word-for-word, but use it as a template to drive your interview and make sure you don’t miss anything.  It can be helpful to send the questionnaire out before the interviews to help people prepare their thoughts and possibly provide key documents that you might need.  However, don’t allow them to fill it out and send it back–you will lose everything in this approach, Trust Me.

Written interview templates help your clients see the breadth and depth of your assessment before you are too deep into it.  I normally have them approve the questions and also ask if there is any question(s) they would like added–something they really want to know.  Your clients should also approve the interviewee list and can recommend adding names of people you hadn’t thought of.

Be careful with the number of interviews–rule of thumb is it take three hours for every interview–an hour for the interview, an hour to document the interview, and an hour to tie the results into your analysis.  So, ten interviews is 30 hours–almost an entire week.  When you apply how busy the interviewees might be, getting on their calendars means you can expect a week per ten.  If the interviewees require travel to other locations (in other states or countries), then you can expect this timeline to increase.  The organization that took me four months, took a month for the research, and three months for interviews due to schedules and traveling.  Part of that time, of course, is the next steps of putting it all together.

Having written interview templates helps if you have multiple interviewers working with you on the team.  They can follow the template and bring back data.  Make sure they know what and how to ask questions–they can’t simply follow the questions, it has to be a guide.  But, for large efforts, a team can help.  I always try to have someone to take notes, so I can simply ask questions.  I do take my own notes and write everything down afterwards, but having a second person helps me focus on the interviewee.  Once I used a recording device, but I think this was a distraction for the interviewee and don’t recommend it.

ADDITIONAL ASSESSMENT TOOLS

Based on time and availability of staff, I like to conduct various different analyses of the organization.  These take the form of change readiness assessments, stakeholder assessments, culture assessments, process and enterprise maturity assessments.  Using these types of tools, if you understand them, can provide a measuring stick for the organization to use over-and-over, year-after-year.  This way they serve as a solid stake in the ground for the current state, a progression meter for the future, and in some cases a basis for comparison against other organizations.  A great tool used by many organizations is the Gallup Employee Engagement Assessment.  This tool measures employee engagement within the organization off a small set of questions.  I will discuss several of these tools in future blogs, but the Gallup tool, I’ll leave to your own research.

Once you’ve done your research, I like to organize my assessment presentation in a very specific manner.  I normally (taught by Booz | Allen | Hamilton) use a very detailed and in-depth PowerPoint presentation, but the format can work with a written assessment as well.  Here are the major areas of the assessment:

1.  Purpose.

2.  Key Recommendations.

3.  Planning Approach showing the entire planning approach being used and where we are at the point of this report.

4.  Assessment Inputs:

a.  Number of Interviews.

b.  Key Documents researched.

c.  Assessment tools used.

4.  List of all interviewees by type.

5.  List of key documents reviewed.

6.  Identification of key Stakeholder, Customers, and Partners.  I will talk much more about this in a future blog.

7.  Organizational structure at a high level and manpower/human capital assessment.

8.  Key metrics used by the organization that highlight strategic progress.  Thos in the areas of satisfaction, financial, performance, and personnel.

9.  Assessment tool results.

10.  A high-level Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis — like an executive summary of the big study.

11.  Consolidate and prioritize the trends, issues, and problems (TIPs) facing the organization and develop them into single issues.  This is the meat of the assessment and what formulates the Key Recommendations in the front of the assessment.

Once I’ve completed my assessment, I will sit down with the primary Client so that he or she can review it before anyone else in his organization sees it.  This way, they get the unfiltered view of what is going on, but can adjust the product so as not to embarrass or throw anyone in the organization “under the bus.”

At this point the assessment is completely truthful and if the client is part of the problem I will say it.  I honestly do not pull punches, I just deliver with tact.  Never tell someone they are the problem without justification and examples and always be prepared with recommendations on what they could and should do about it.

Also, I don’t highlight anyone’s specific opinions from the interviews.  This protects them for telling the truth and protects your reputation.  I caveat my analysis based on research and interviews.  What I saw, might not be the full truth, since sometimes you only see a slice of what really is happening.

The strategic plan should be a transformational document for the organization.  It will clearly outlines the mission and purpose of the organization and where they are going in the next 3-5 years, which is codified in the vision.  A good strategic plan should lays out a systematic plan to close the “gap” between where they are now and where they are going.  This “gap” is identified by the organizational assessment results.  A good and throughout assessment will help define a very strong strategic plan.

So, 70% of all plans fail to some level; however, by following these guidelines you can help ensure your strategic plan will be one of the 30% successes that everyone reads about.

Related Information:

1.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphi_method.

2.  http://www.gallup.com/.

3.  12: The Elements of Great Managing, by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter

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About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

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