The Assessment Process
WHAT IS AN ORGANIZATIONAL ASSESSMENT?
A Baldrige-style organizational assessment is a very comprehensive, factual and objective appraisal of how the organization is managed Using Baldrige (or similar) criteria, it examines the following aspects of an organization:
- how the organization is led, in order to provide vision and direction
- how appropriate information is gathered and used to plan for the future
- how people's talents are developed and harnessed
- how the organization determines exactly what its customers need -- and sets out to meet these needs
- how the flow of work is organized, to eliminate waste and error, and hence improve products and services
- how the organization is performing, from various perspectives:- customer/marketplace, employee morale and involvement, productivity, efficiency, and financial performance.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN BENEFITS OF AN ASSESSMENT?
A properly designed and executed assessment achieves all of the following benefits:
- it builds a commitment to change among the key players
- it provides a reliable, repeatable method of identifying the 'vital few' areas for improvement – those issues which have the most leverage in improving performance
- it provides the essential starting point for developing a detailed (project-by-project) improvement plan
- it provides a way of driving continuous improvement year after year – by building an assessment step into the annual planning cycle.
HOW DOES THIS PROCESS DIFFER FROM OTHERS?
What makes this process different from other types of audit or review is mainly the criteria used – such as the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the Canada Awards for Excellence or the European Quality Award.
These criteria are superb, refined instruments, which have been developed and fine-tuned over more than a decade by the foremost experts in this field.
WHAT DOES THE ASSESSMENT PROCESS LOOK LIKE?
The assessment process typically looks something like this:
The first, all-important step is to provide an education and planning session to engage the senior executives.
This step is designed to:
- clarify for them the assessment goals, potential benefits, and the overall process
- ensure that they understand and accept the criteria to be used
- give them a 'taste' of how self assessment works, so that they understand the nature of the beast (it very different from an audit, for example)
- set their expectations regarding the rest of the process and the outcomes
- ensure that they understand their role – and especially that they must take action at the end, based upon the findings.
The next step is data gathering. This is normally done by an internal assessment team, after suitable training. The assessment team interviews a cross-section of the organization, using both individual interviews (for senior people) and group interviews (for front line staff). During the data gathering process, team members document what they learn from each interview, and share this information with the rest of the team.
Once the interviews are complete, the team can review what it has learned and develop the findings, with guidance from an outside expert.
These findings are set out in a 'feedback report', which follows the structure of the criteria and identifies strengths and areas for improvement in each category. Finally, based upon all of this information, they develop a few recommendations – identifying the 'vital few' priorities for improvement that have the most leverage.
The next step is sharing of the findings with the executives. This is where the 'rubber hits the road' in the sense that this is a critical session, where the executives can become upset or go into denial. However, if all the earlier steps in the process have been conducted properly then this session will go smoothly, and the executives will accept the report in full – after a few hours of careful listening and intense discussion.
The stage is now set for developing improvement plans. This is typically carried out in a 1-day planning workshop very soon after the feedback report was delivered. The internal team members participate and make an excellent contribution during this workshop, due to the experience that they have gained. Once this is done, all that remains is implementation and follow-through.
This is a typical assessment. There are also other approaches, some designed for greater speed and simplicity (eg for organizations just starting out), others for greater thoroughness (eg for high-performing organizations).
WHAT IS THE ASSESSMENT PROCESS USED FOR?
The assessment process is used to:
- build commitment and engage key players
- identify the 'vital few' areas for improvement
- prepare an improvement plan.
Although the need for change may be clear, many organizations have great difficulty in achieving a consensus regarding what to tackle first. If there are 12 members of the senior management team – all competent, all committed to doing their best for the organization – then there will be at least 12 opinions regarding what to do. This is because each is very aware of his or her departmental goals, feels very responsible for delivering on these commitments, and is very aware of the departmental issues that are causing difficulties. Since they all have different information and different perspectives, there is little prospect of achieving consensus on what to do.
In contrast, when the assessment process is complete, there is a strong alignment. Everyone in the group is now working with a common frame of reference (the criteria) and everyone has the same information regarding the current state (the final report from the process).
Also, since everyone is looking at the organization from an overall system viewpoint, it becomes obvious that functional/ departmental issues are secondary to improving overall performance. In this situation, it is easy to develop a consensus.
Experience with this process has demonstrated time after time that:
given the same information, any group of rational people will come to the same conclusions regarding what needs to be done!
And this is indeed what happens. The external consultants, the internal assessment team, the senior executives -- all come to similar conclusions about what needs to be done. This also means that people who have been involved in the process are likely to become committed to support the resulting actions – to buy in and to take ownership.
The consensus that develops is usually focused on a fairly small number of high-leverage issues – say 3 to 6 at most. These are the 'vital few' actions that will have the most impact on performance. It is now relatively straightforward to translate these into detailed action plans, to integrate these into the business plan, and to assign executive responsibility for implementing these over the next year or so.
HOW DO ASSESSMENTS HELP SUSTAIN IMPROVEMENT ?
When the assessment process has been completed and an improvement plan developed, it is usually obvious to everyone involved that this should not be just a 'one-off' exercise. It makes sense to repeat the process at some time in the future in order to measure how much progress has been made, and to identify a new 'vital few'. Some high-performing organizations take this a step farther and build self assessment right into the annual planning cycle. Used in this way, the process becomes a robust mechanism for driving continuous improvement year after year, forever.
- Prospecting for Gold: A more detailed description of the assessment process (2,800 words)
- After ISO9000 Registration: A Baldrige assessment is an ideal way to drive performance to higher levels after achieving ISO9000 registration.
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