Baldrige Assessments

assessing a Small Organization

The Challenge

Just like large corporations, small organizations need to set their improvement priorities in a rational, fact-based manner – or risk choosing issues to work on that may not improve performance. A Baldrige assessment is an ideal way of identifying these priorities.

However, small organizations simply cannot afford to spend a lot of time and resources on this process – the assessment has to be done in a streamlined fashion. So some kind of workshop approach is the obvious solution: quick, simple and low cost.

The key drawback of workshop-style assessments is that they can be superficial, especially if those taking part only have their own perceptions to draw upon. And if the voice of front line people is not heard, the workshop may simply confirm some of management's incorrect assumptions and preconceptions.

The solution

The solution is to reinforce a workshop-style assessment, so that it truly becomes a fact-based inquiry with information drawn from all levels of the organization. The following are three techniques that can be used for this purpose.

1. Broad participation

The first technique is to broaden participation in the workshop, as far as is practical, without losing the interaction and sharing that is so valuable to the learning process. The workshop will lost much of its value if it turns into a presentation or a typical large meeting.

This interaction can be preserved: through first-class design and facilitation. The Baldrige process lends itself to using multiple small groups (one per category) each of which can contain senior leaders, middle managers and front line. What's required to make this work well is:

  • an interactive method of teaching the essence of the criteria to the large group, so that people gain the knowledge that they need to work effectively in their small groups
  • ways of sharing the small groups' findings effectively in a short time
  • a technique that enables everyone to contribute to identifying the 'vital few' priorities for improvement
  • a planning process that enables everyone to contribute to one of the plans under development, with enough guidance and structure to arrive at a reasonably complete initial plan.

Broad participation is the first technique for reinforcing a workshop assessment. the second is to conduct a staff survey.

2. A Staff survey

For the workshop to be effective, we need to have the 'voice of the front line' represented, as well as management's perspective. Simply having some front line people present in the workshop will not usually accomplish this: these individuals may be reluctant to speak up in the presence of senior management, or they may not be paid sufficient attention when they do speak up.

One of the most effective ways of bringing the 'voice of the front line' into the workshop is to conduct a survey beforehand, and to refer to the survey findings during the workshop. The survey should include both numerical ratings and comments: the ratings provide factual evidence of strengths and weaknesses, and the comments provide some clues regarding underlying causes.

The survey scores will always point to certain issues where front-line people have a concern or a different perspective from management, and this sets the stage for the front-line people present to be asked for their input. The survey results give them a mandate to speak up.

Obviously it is desirable to use a survey system that:

  • is aligned to the criteria being used (e.g. Baldrige)
  • is quick and simple to administer
  • is demonstrably anonymous – so that people will take part and provide honest answers
  • provides standard reports that workshop participants can understand.

These two techniques together – broad participation and use of a staff survey – will ensure a more thorough and reliable assessment.

There's a third technique that can be used to further reinforce the thoroughness of the assessment: using a 'helper team'.

3. A Helper team

The idea of a helper team is to give a few people additional knowledge and insight beforehand, which enables them to help their colleagues during the assessment workshop.

The helper team typically does two days' work prior to the assessment workshop. The first day is spent learning about the criteria and interview technique, and reviewing the survey results. On the second day, the team members conduct group interviews of front line people, and compare notes on what they learned.

During the assessment workshop, each small group is assigned a helper. With the benefit of the preparations done beforehand, this person is well equipped to:

  • help keep the group interpret the criteria properly
  • ensure that the survey results are considered during the discussions
  • share what they just learned from the front line interviews.

Taken together these three technique can greatly reinforce the thoroughness and accuracy of a workshop assessment, with a modest additional investment of time and resources.

Additional Information

Learn more about our Baldrige Survey System, which was designed precisely for this purpose.

Copyright © 2006 David W. Hutton

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