People are fine with any change proposed as long as it does not affect them

Do you want your organization to be working more effectively? Maybe it is time to look closer at its structure, processes and work environment to understand where some of the key challenges are. Michael Hathorn from the University of St. Gallen and Arizona State University is an expert in organizational assessment. He is also a partner at Optimis – a human resources consulting firm that specializes in organizational assessment, development and learning. His session at our NGO Leadership Workshop will focus on the design and use of organizational assessment tools and change leadership.

In the interview, Michael will reveal:

– Why it is important to conduct an assessment of an organization,

– What to bear in mind during the process to implement the changes successfully,

-What the role of a leader in the process of organizational assessment and change-process is.

Archive: William Davidson Institute

One of your lectures at the NGO Leadership Workshop will focus on organizational assessment. What is it concretely?

Organizational assessment is a systematic review of a number of important aspects of an organization. It will normally focus on organizational processes, systems, work environment and structure. The main question when conducting the assessment is whether these observed elements fit the organization’s purpose, and  serve the objectives of the organization. 

It is a little bit like going to the doctor and getting an annual check-up to determine the state of one’s health at a point in time. In the same way, an organisational assessment is an organisational health check,  focusing on key indicators of the overall health of the organisation. 

How often should this kind of a check-up take place?

It depends on whether we want to assess the overall organization or only some particular departments or units within the organisation. For instance, it can be used on a regular annual basis and also when there is a particular problem or challenge. 

Are we talking about a simple survey distributed among the leaders of the organization?

Quite the contrary. It is rather crucial to understand that it is not a check-the-box-exercise but a list of questions answered in focus groups, interviews and-or assessment sessions within the organization. 

It is also very important to make sure that a wide variety of stakeholders participate and answer these questions – not just the head of departments or the leaders, but also the people that are directly involved in numerous processes. Those are the ones in a better position to understand and know how well the organization works. To get a clear picture of what is happening in the organization, you need a high rate of involvement of people who work on the ground, you need to incorporate multiple viewpoints and do more than just a check-the-box-exercise. 

So why is it necessary to conduct such an assessment in an organization?

Mainly, it creates clarity around what is going on in the organization that results in organisational outcomes or benefits. This knowledge helps identify opportunities for improvement, for change, and for a better understanding of what the organization is doing well and not well. 

Many times, there is too much emphasis put on performance of the organization. But we sometimes neglect the elements that drive that performance. Thanks to the organizational assessment, we can investigate the drivers of the performance themselves. For instance, if your IT system is poorly specified, no amount of a great work environment, organization structure or processes are going to help you completely overcome the deficiencies in the IT system.

What is the role of a leader in this assessment process?

The leader has a certain responsibility for making sure that everyone understands that this assessment is a priority for the organization, that it is going to happen and that the results will be used for the improvement of the organisation. 

Communication among all levels of the organization is incredibly crucial. 

Unfortunately, many times, managers and leaders tend to think – well I don’t need to explain myself. However, answering the simple question “why” is a very powerful motivational aspect that needs to be clearly communicated. So why are we doing this? Why are we going through the organizational assessment? Is it because I got up in the morning and had an epiphany? Or is it because we have real challenges we need to understand in order to address them effectively?

Clear, persistent and transparent communication plays a significant role in organizational change since it helps people with how to react.

How do people usually react to such changes?

There is a saying that sums it up perfectly: People are fine with any change proposed as long as it does not affect them.

We should not underestimate the personal aspect of change. 

To every change in the organisation proposed, there is a reaction from individuals as well as teams. 

Clearly, the more significant changes proposed, the higher possible level of resistance. Both, active resistance, such as “I am not doing that”, and passive resistance such as “ok, that’s the change but I am not interested in taking any action”, are typical reactions. 

These  barriers to change definitely need to be addressed during the whole process by clear and direct communication.

What should leaders of NGOs take into account when conducting an organisational assessment?

One of the main mistakes made by leaders is that they do not have formal process for the assessment. It should definitely not be conducted as an improvisational, ad hoc exercise.  

You crucially need a formal process as the baseline. This way, numerous important elements of the assessment process, such as communication, leadership alignment, barrier challenge, measuring the results and finding ways to institutionalize the change into the NGO, will not be forgotten, since they will be included in the process from the beginning.

What about the organizational culture and mind-set? Does it somehow affect the likelihood of proposed changes?

Definitely. That is why the quality communication along the whole process is so important. 

However, an odd thing about change is: Once the change is implemented and is perceived as desirable and successful, then everyone, especially the leadership team, claims they were supportive of the change from the very beginning. So, basically, while success has many fathers and mothers, failure has none. 

Part of the challenge with change is that even with the well-run change processes, only about 80% of the projects succeed, and 20% do not meet the expectations that were set. However, when leadership is lacking, no clear process is present, and barriers are not addressed, the end result is only 20% of change projects reach their goals. This simply proves not only the importance of the organizational assessment but also of the crucial elements that need to be executed during the assessment process in order to make the NGO face new challenges successfully.  

At the NGO Leadership Workshop, we will look at several case studies to illustrate practical implications that the workshop participants might make in their organizations. They will identify their current challenges and develop strategies which they can apply in their organizations immediately afterwards. 

Find out how to conduct strategic assessment of your organization and become an effective change-leader by applying for our NGO Leadership Workshop!

Author: Simona Lučkaničová