All successful association projects begin as someone’s vision. Ideas can start with association leaders, association members or staff members; but almost always, the board of directors expresses those ideas as a vision for the organization. Then, they turn that vision over to the association’s chief executive and the staff for implementation.
It’s exciting to see a vision become reality. All too often, however, something goes wrong, and the project slows or never quite gets off the ground. The outcome is less than optimal, and everyone feels it. A failed vision can be demoralizing.
Why do visions fail? And how can you ensure that your board’s vision becomes reality?
The execution of a vision is an operational challenge falling at the chief executive’s door. Staff leaders must decide which actions to take first, what resources are needed, and what changes should happen. They are also responsible for making sure staff members are working together.
It’s not easy. And if you’re struggling to “operationalize the vision,” you might want to consider launching an organizational assessment to figure out where to start.
What Is an Organizational Assessment?
An organizational assessment is a process to help leaders identify the capabilities and barriers in your organization. In other words, it helps you examine how you do things and then determine what is helpful and what isn’t. With that information, you can define specific actions to leverage your capabilities and overcome the barriers. Those specific actions then become the daily tasks staff members perform to explicitly achieve strategic objectives.
An organizational assessment is not strategic planning. A strategic plan helps your board set the overall direction for the association and the goals that define success. What a strategic plan can’t do is tell staff members specifically how to reach those goals. An organizational assessment, however, is designed to give staff members the steps to achieve strategic objectives.
How Do You Know You Need an Organizational Assessment?
How would you assess your association’s ability to reach its goals?
If you give yourself a less- than-stellar rating, you could use this assessment. Perhaps new leadership needs to better understand current operations, or current leadership sees so many problems that they don’t know where to start. You might need to solve problems like reducing complaints from members or stopping the decline of ROI in key programs. Or you could have a sense that something isn’t working as well as it should – new programs aren’t soaring, motivation seems stalled, or innovation seems stagnant. Any of these issues are indications that you need to assess your operations.
How to Structure Your Organizational Assessment
To begin your assessment, define your objectives or the questions that need answers. Think about what the outcome will be. It’s possible you’ll uncover some hidden truths about your operations during this process, so it helps to have a clear goal from the outset to keep your assessment focused.
Here are the steps I recommend:
- Gather information about your current operations, issues and opportunities from all stakeholders. Use interviews, surveys, focus groups, peer discussions, documentation and industry research.
- Analyze and synthesize what you learn. Qualify observations, starting with the specific, as positive or negative, helpful or harmful. Get a clear understanding of your current operational state from small insights to those that cross departments and constituencies.
- Define your options to develop capabilities, apply strengths to opportunities, and mitigate or eliminate barriers.
- Create an action plan.
- Get input from your staff.
- Assign priorities and a timeline.
- Execute the plan.
After you’ve completed this process and executed the plan, you should be able to better evaluate how well your staff performs and how successful you’ve been. With a realistic evaluation of your execution, you can modify it as needed.
[Related: Does Your Association Really Need an EMS?]
What to Expect From an Organizational Assessment
Often, the biggest benefit to this type of assessment is the opportunity it gives leaders to step back and examine their resources, processes, policies, and technology with an honest, questioning approach. Simply taking the time to do a cross-organizational survey with an open mind will inevitably yield useful results, but you will find other beneficial outcomes.
Here are some of the outcomes you can expect from an assessment:
- Alignment between staff activities and board strategy
- Efficient resource allocation
- Prioritized high value changes
- Support for sunsetting initiatives
- Superior member experiences
- Improved staff outcomes
- Planned and supported investment
- Realistic goals and timelines
The Bottom Line
Many associations are ready to conduct an organizational assessment themselves, but others benefit from hiring an outside consultant. A consultant can remain neutral, encourage open communications, compare with best practices, and offer novel solutions. If you choose to work internally, do all you can to ensure the information is gathered objectively and that leaders don’t start out with a foregone conclusion in mind.
An effective assessment will help you uncover new capacity, opportunities, or priorities which will inform your final plan. And you will gain a new understanding of your organizational culture and a refreshed sense of possibility and purpose. But it is the organizational assessment process that will help you channel all that information into becoming a superstar organization that can operationalize progress successfully.
Connect with Dennison & Associates Today
Are you interested in turning your board’s vision into reality? Curious about how to implement an effective assessment? Contact Dennison & Associates today for a consultation.
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