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You can hear Alyssa Martin and Adam Jones speak on “How are you doing...really? Cultural Insights from Organizational Assessment” at the TASBO Engage conference on March 5, 2020.

Assessing your organization to improve performance

When some leaders hear the term “organizational assessment” they shudder, thinking of the worst of “the Bobs” from Office Space (what is it that you say you do here?). Conducted properly, transparently and collaboratively, however, an organizational assessment can pay huge dividends in improving operational effectiveness.

Maybe your district has a new superintendent or other key leadership changes. Perhaps it’s time to revisit your strategic plan. Or, your district is considering a reorganization of key functions. These are all good reasons to conduct an assessment to identify ways to improve the culture and operations of an entire district or selected departments.

An organizational assessment uses defined processes to obtain valid information about the district’s performance and the factors that affect that performance. An assessment targets three factors: people, process and technology, then takes a further look at the governance structure underlying those factors.

Recognize that an organizational assessment is neither an audit nor an investigation, however, through the collaborative effort you do find out things that people don’t always want to hear. Setting the ground rules for open and honest communication is an essential starting point.

Areas of Focus

There are different forms of organizational assessments, but most focus on these areas:

  • Governance: How does your district make decisions and implement policy? How do those decisions contribute to the district’s performance?
  • Information Technology: IT impacts all functional areas in your district. Is the IT organization a help or hindrance to performance (or both)?
  • Operational Functions: How do common operational functions, such as human resources, finance or procurement impact performance?
  • Service or Product Delivery: How are key services or products being delivered? What organizational factors impact the success of those services or products?
  • Strategic Planning/Priorities: An operational assessment can be performed before or alongside the development of a strategic plan.

The Players

Sometimes a board or another oversight body will initiate an organizational assessment, but it can also be driven internally, reporting to a superintendent or CFO. Best practice also involves the internal audit function working in collaboration with the assessment team. Before you start an assessment, you need buy-in from the responsible decision-makers over each area or function being assessed.

An organizational assessment can be outsourced to an independent consultant, or can be conducted by assembling an in-house team. Regardless of the structure, when deciding who should conduct your organizational assessment, you should look for the following attributes: credibility, technical know-how, objectivity, communication skills, interpersonal skills and availability. All of these elements will be critical to the outcome.

Tools of the Trade

An assessment will include these tools and processes, many of which are also part of an internal audit:

  • Observation, which can include initial impressions about how well or poorly the district functions;
  • Interviews are the fundamental building blocks of gathering information. Interview questions should be thoughtful, deliberate and allow room for interview subjects to elaborate;
  • Stakeholder satisfaction surveys, even existing surveys, can be an effective shortcut to discerning organizational culture, perception and behavior;
  • Process mapping, both documenting the existing process, and then adding value by editing the process to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

Other tools used in the assessment might include a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis, a KSA (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities) matrix and/or a maturity model. A simple maturity model can be used to assess your district’s current effectiveness and then determine what capabilities are needed to improve effectiveness.

Once the assessment is completed, you will have a much better understanding of where your district is healthy and which areas may be under stress. In thinking about ways to improve, you will need to assess not only what your district needs, but what changes it can tolerate. Ultimately, the assessment should provide the information you need to help your district achieve its most important goals.

You can hear Alyssa Martin and Adam Jones speak on “How are you doing...really? Cultural Insights from Organizational Assessment” at the TASBO Engage conference on March 5, 2020.

About the authors

Adam Jones served from 2003 to 2012 as the Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of the TEA, capping 20 years of experience in Texas state government. As a member of Weaver’s Risk Advisory Services practice staff, he helps government clients improve effectiveness through organizational assessment, strategic governance and management consulting and coaching. Adam frequently writes and presents on leadership, management, public finance, information technology, procurement and HR.

Alyssa Martin, CPA, leads Weaver’s national government strategy and is a risk advisory partner. She and her team assist school districts, colleges and universities, cities and state agencies with identifying risks, improving operations and protecting against fraud, cyber crime and other losses. With more than 25 years of public accounting experience, Alyssa is widely recognized for her knowledge and is frequently asked to speak at conferences and training events.

See https://weaver.com/industries/government for more information.

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