Continuous improvement requires systematic evaluation. Continuous improvement requires unfiltered evaluation. – Anonymous
Mastering the Evaluation is a Valuable Leadership Skill
Often I interview a potential client and hear that they have a strategic plan…more often than not, it’s put away somewhere and dusty. In other conversations about creating a strategic plan, I hear the same story…we have completed the previous plan and need a new one. Both of these paradigms are very curious to me.
Once you create a strategic plan, it becomes an organic process which migrates over time. It’s really not very efficient to stop and regroup as if starting all over again. If there’s a long-term strategy, then it’s always a long-term strategy, if the leader commits to regularly evaluating the plan, revising and updating the plan, and recommitting to the plan. It’s an ongoing process and not a stop and start process.
I’ve also written about the most dysfunctional systems in organizations, and one of those is the annual review*. Instead of waiting for a full year to evaluate, set up an ongoing system of evaluation and course correction.
We do not set aside time to plan and evaluate. Let’s face it. We don’t do it. Most of us don’t do it. I teach this and I must still force myself to do it. Our lame excuse is that we don’t have time. We don’t have time because we haven’t defined the value for the evaluation and we haven’t defined the cost for lack of evaluation. It’s very costly to have to repeat, undo, or redo things and it’s very destructive to the morale of the people.
A tradition in strategic planning is to do a S.W.O.T. (define the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). That’s a broken model which puts us back into the traditions that have caused us problems in the first place. It’s time to rethink evaluations.
I have used a simple model for many years. It came from my training as a meeting facilitator. It’s an efficient use of time and resources and exposes things that need attention. Simple is good.
First, define what you and the team are evaluating: Is it the plan? Is it the process? Is it the team? Is it the organization? Is it the skills? etc. You get the idea. If you are conducting an evaluation, then define what is being evaluated.
Next, define the protocol for team interaction. Be sure to include everyone who has information to share. Often, I include the janitor or phone receptionist in an organization because they know things that nobody else knows. It’s important to get the full picture when evaluating things. Certainly the data intake and the planning are not both appropriate for everyone in the organization, so separate the functions and invite the appropriate participants. Then define how the group will interact. Declare that the session is a safe space to speak the truth kindly. It’s important to get data and not important to blame people. Address the facts and don’t blame. This way you will get more useful and accurate information.
It’s important to separate the evaluation and the planning. The evaluation provides perspective for the planning. Allow time for gaining perspective, to think about the information, and to regroup for moving forward. Information overload and rush to implementation can both be problematic.
Here’s my simple three-step evaluation:
1) What’s Working: Or what we do well. Define the valuable skills and processes to KEEP. When making changes later, it’s important that we don’t throw out the baby with the bath water, as the old expression goes. Define the core competencies and systems that are valuable and build on those.
2) What Needs Changing: This is not a negative, a critical activity like we get when defining weaknesses in a SWOT. This is honestly identifying things that could be better or things that we might want to STOP doing. This group of items will make a big difference, so take time with this step. You might want to group the items that are related to see if combining them or setting up a priority or sequence with them might be helpful. This will become the basis for your action plan.
3) New Things to Consider: When looking through the information in steps 1 & 2, there will be ideas for new systems, skills, or processes to consider. Be careful here and be sure that you are not adding too much to a process that is already full.
In team evaluations, this process allows for the team to create synergy and to develop peer-to-peer accountability. The process itself is valuable and what happens in the culture adds significantly to that value. Many times, the greater value is what happens within the team and not the results of the evaluation itself. Process builds trust and creates the synergy of community.
This process also works when you work alone. Evaluate yourself and your processes and your plan. Invite a colleague to participate and you’ll get an expanded perspective.
Set your calendar to do this monthly at a high level and semi-annually at a detailed level.You’ll be glad that you did and you’ll get better over time, so it will take less effort in less time.
The Transformational Leadership Strategist TM
(c) 2015 Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.