The Breakfast of Champions
How Organizational Self-Assessments Can Put You on
the Road to Success
by Brian Ward

Let's face it ... as individuals most of us struggle when giving or receiving feedback. Even when it involves praise, we often give the 'aw shucks, it was nothing' response. And when it involves criticism, we very often squirm, even if it doesn't show on the surface.

What happens to organizations when they attempt to do the same? Some approaches to getting feedback on performance involve a third party conducting an 'objective organizational review'. Although on the surface it might seem logical to have such a review done, very often organizations covertly reject the findings, or worse still cherry pick the ones that suit them. The results can be disastrous. Lost opportunities, misspent dollars, staff apathy and customer dissatisfaction resulting from lack of management action on the findings, are just a few of the more undesirable outcomes.

But there is an answer. And it's finding favor amongst leaders and teams who are serious about taking responsibility for assessing their own and their organization's performance. Known as Objective Self-Assessment, (and sometimes also referred to as Objective Self Review) it involves a third party as a facilitator, where their role is to provide guidance and support, including the provision of a workable customized self-assessment process and tools.

The quality movement spawned the idea, starting in the United States with the Baldrige Awards. In Canada the National Quality Institute modeled their assessment process on Baldrige, and customized it to include health & safety, as well as other 'Canadian' preferences. In the US the process and accompanying criteria are frequently being used by organizations to engage in rigorous self-assessments, without necessarily applying for the award. In fact the number of organizations who use the assessment process without applying for the award, now far outnumber those who do apply. In Europe, The European Foundation for Quality Management uses a very similar model, and stresses the importance of self-assessment. Also, organizations that seek accreditation (e.g. JCAHO, CCHSA, CARF, ISO Series, etc) are increasingly finding that the reviewing bodies are placing more and more emphasis on self-assessment as a tool to augment their third party reviews.

What is Objective Self-Assessment (OSA)?

So what is an Objective Self-Assessment (OSA), and what does it involve?

An OSA can be described as a senior management led review of overall organizational performance, within an assessment framework that makes sense to the organization and the sectors it serves. It is used as an aid in strategic and tactical decision-making and prioritization at all organizational levels.

Some of the key elements in a review are as follows:

  • It is led by senior management
  • It is an organization wide collaborative process
  • It focuses on developing and testing hypotheses that explain organizational performance, including results (sometimes referred to as outcomes or lagging indicators) and their antecedents (sometimes referred to as drivers or leading indicators)
  • It is non-prescriptive in terms of the structures, processes and tools required for the organization to achieve its unique goals
  • It is an invigorating and rewarding process, it does not seek to find fault or be punishing
  • It is an ongoing process

Many organizations that use such a process, find that as a result their organizations become more:

  • customer focused,
  • team based,
  • process oriented,
  • outcomes driven and
  • self-directed

The process normally starts with management education, and includes a high level quick self-assessment. This initial assessment is normally only used to kick start management's thinking, and is not a substitute for the more in-depth assessment that will be undertaken.

Management, once trained then engage in developing a self-assessment process that makes sense in their world. This always involves some trade-offs in terms of time and resources, but these trade-offs should never undermine the integrity of the overall process. That is why having a third party facilitator to guide the process is so important.

Once the initial version of the process is completed, it comes time to have conversations with other key players in order to give them the opportunity to grasp the concept of an OSA, its application and their role in making it a success.

Then comes communication to the organization, its suppliers and clients. Time spent here in achieving their buy-in will pay off handsomely when the process gets started.

A typical process, after it has been customized to fit the organization's needs and given the right amount of resources, will take about four to six weeks to complete. The larger the organization, the greater the amount of time and resources needed. It is advisable for an organization to attempt to complete the self-assessment within this relatively short timeframe. If it takes less time than this, people may view the results with suspicion. If it takes longer, people may lose interest.

The results are then discussed at all levels of the organization, and appropriate priorities are established. Using the results as a key input in strategic planning is essential, so the timing of the review should ideally coincide with strategic or tactical planning cycles.

A Framework for Organizational Self-Assessment

One of the first steps in developing a winning strategy is to take stock of where your organization is currently. For some, this can be a daunting, or even a threatening task. Our approach in facilitating organizational self-assessments is based on a number of principles that help deal with these issues:

Firstly, the process used should be simple to understand. Secondly it should be built around an 'inescapable logic'. The framework we use is based in part on the Balanced Scorecard approach made popular by authors Kaplan & Norton, integrated with best practices in organizational assessments, such as Baldrige, National Quality Institute, European Foundation for Quality Management, etc. OSA's can and do fit quite well with a Balanced Scorecard approach. Both models are based on discovering organizational or system level cause and effect relationships, and then taking action on the findings.

It has been said that 'feedback is the breakfast of champions.' With a comprehensive Objective Self-Assessment, it becomes the full meal deal!

Download a free copy of a mini OSA - click on the link to download the mini self-assessment:

Brian Ward, C.H.R.P., is a principal in Affinity Consulting. He specializes in assisting leaders and their teams develop and implement quality management systems that are client focused, team directed and outcomes based. He can be contacted at .


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