Tools of the trade: May 2012
Organisational health check: How to detect problems within your company early on
How healthy is your organisation? Is it fit and bouncing with energy or is it chronically sick with a debilitating malaise? Is its immune system so weak that it always catches whatever cold is doing the rounds? Is it harbouring a creeping cancer that threatens to destroy it from within?
‘Healthy’ implies a fully-functioning body with no sickness or damage. Critically, an appearance of health can often veil internal issues that will cause problems later on. A health check focuses not just on visible symptoms but also on hidden issues that may surface later. If these issues are addressed at an early stage, pain can be avoided through timely treatment. An organisational health check can be described as a seven-stage health assurance process, as follows:
Identify the areas of the organisation to be checked. There are two basic ways of doing this: by department or by subject. If you are not sure which area to focus on, consider existing models such as the EFQM Excellence model or the Office of Government Commerce Gateway, which may provide helpful checklists.
The question over the meaning of health may be revisited. While existing measures may be useful, the ‘health’ question can provoke a new viewpoint and raise the question of how to identify hidden cancers and other deeper issues. Typical measures include:
- development health – patents, projects on schedule
- process health – documentation, waste, failures
- health of orders – sales versus targets, pipeline delay (time between initial engagement with the customer and the order being placed)
- health of staff – sick days, injuries
- resource health – days when roles remain empty, performance distribution
- financial health – cash reserves, debtor days, gearing.
The next question is: ‘How exactly will we measure these different factors?’ This can be tricky, as it is easy to say: ‘Let’s measure customer satisfaction’ and not so easy to actually do it. This questioning will likely raise further questions such as: ‘Which customers? When? Who will do it?’
Cost will probably crop up here and you may need to decide what is affordable. As with all expenditure, there is a return-on-investment decision that needs to be carefully understood. A danger at this point is that things can get so watered down that a paltry shadow of the real potential benefits can be cast.
Eventually, the planned measurement takes place. It may involve computers, interviews, consultants or research companies, and measurement should be carried out consistently and accurately. A common approach is to have independent consultants conduct a series of interviews and review available data rather than implement an expensive set of new measures. With such approaches, the skill of the consultant is critical. Such reviews are often best carried out by a small team who can use interview and data analysis tools.
When the data and interview information is collected, it must be turned into useful material that can be really understood. This typically involves two sub-phases: investigation and presentation. During investigation, numeric data is examined and trends are looked for. Qualitative data may be coded and cross-compared, with an emphasis on identifying insights and patterns.
This understanding then has to be converted into a form which can be presented to others, with charts, summaries and key points. The conclusion of this stage should be a common understanding of the findings by key players. If the findings are critical this may involve significant debate.
Understanding is useless unless followed by action. This begins with planning and moves into managed implementation. Planning is typically at programme and project level. Programme planning includes the decision of what will be done based on a return-on-investment decision. This leads to a set of projects and possible ‘just do it’ simple action points, which must result in permanent and positive change.
The purpose of this whole effort is to improve the health of the organisation, so it makes sense to verify that changes have worked as intended. For valid comparison, this means repeating the measures affected. A good approach to organisational health mirrors a good approach to physical health, and regular check-ups are key. If you do this, the re-check can be integrated into the next health check.
David Straker, MCQI CQP, is a consultant. He runs a knowledge sharing website at www.syque.com