Is your Organization Effective? (Sadly, probably not)

Richard Eaton

“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”

Peter Drucker

No one comes to work every day to do a bad job. 

For most people to do a  great  job at work, they need to be immersed in an organization that recognizes and actively manages in three key dimensions of effectiveness: Direction, Process and People. The most effective organizations excel at proactively managing and continuously improving the competencies related to these three dimensions. However, results show that  most organizations fail to manage these competencies well, if at all. 

Berlineaton, the management consulting firm that I co-founded, recently turned 20. As part of our commitment to recognize 20 years of success and the 20,000 people we have engaged with in those years, we decided to embark upon a project to do two things: 

  1. Give back to our community 
  2. Practice what we preach, and continuously improve one of our core management consulting methodologies: Continuous Improvement (CI) 

We Gave Back (and People Gave to Us) 

To accomplish these goals, Berlineaton team members put one of the core pieces of our founding methodology under the microscope – an already proven CI system that has sustained us and our clients for the past two decades. We emerged with a refreshed approach to organizational effectiveness in general, and to Continuous Improvement in particular. We then set out to test and improve this new methodology by creating a CI Beta Testing workshop where some of our clients and their colleagues could experience the revised CI process. During the workshop delivery, we could learn and improve while giving back to our community of likeminded and passionate CI champions. We set a target number of workshop sessions (if you are picking up on a theme, you may be able to guess how many) and began reaching out to organizations. 

Between April and November, 2016 we delivered 20 (plus one) CI Beta Testing workshop sessions with a wide range of organizations, and engaged with more than 250 people. This project represents a donation of over 100 hours of management consulting services to the cause of organizational effectiveness. It speaks to our passion for helping organizations get better at working with each other to continuously improve and to the willingness of 250 people to look at helping their organizations become more effective. A big thank you to the organizations who have been a big part of Berlineaton’s success over the past 20 years, and to those who invested some of their valuable time for these 21 Beta Testing sessions. 

We Practiced What We Preach 

In addition to giving back, we also wanted to make some of our core services better. Continuous Improvement is about taking an honest look at your current business situation, developing plans for improvement, and then executing and sustaining those improvements. This CI principle applies to Berlineaton as a company as much as it does to any other organization. 

Over the years, we’ve discovered that, although most clients engage with us to solve one key, burning issue, they eventually wind up looking at their whole organization at some point during our project. While re-examining our Continuous Improvement methodology, we realized that it saves time and makes more sense to begin with a bigger picture snapshot of how effective the organization is,  then  set priorities and move forward with an approach tailored to the needs of the whole organization.  

Each CI Beta Testing workshop was comprised of representatives from one organization, often from various functional area. The first task in each workshop was for participants to work together and figure out where they stood using our Organizational Effectiveness Self-Assessment Tool to support this process. 

This tool identifies nine competencies listed under each area of Organizational Effectiveness: Direction, Process and People. These competencies are expressed in simple, practical statements, and are designed to represent the basic ‘bread and butter’ things that organizations need to do well to be successful such as: 

  • Direction: We have an up to date strategic plan with our vision, mission, goals and priorities 
  • Process: Our processes are efficient and free of red tape 
  • People: Our roles and responsibilities are clear and appropriate 

Inevitably, dynamic, engaging and authentic discussions ensued as participants from different departments discussed the scores that the organization received against the 75% target score. Even more fascinating was the clarity that this tool and facilitated conversation created. Within the same two-hour workshop, many were ready to move forward and identify action steps that addressed their chief challenges and opportunities. 

We Were Stunned by the Results 

The results were stunning. 

Stunning in a good way because the tool worked great and participants, almost universally, enjoyed the experience. The average satisfaction score across the board was 86%, with most people saying that they enjoyed the opportunity to have an open discussion about business performance with their colleagues. One of our clients liked it so much that he shared the tool with a not-for-profit organization he volunteers with in Colombia. They translated the tool into Spanish, ran their staff through it and apparently loved the experience. 

On the other hand, the results were stunning in a ‘not so good’ way because they revealed a vast problem with the effectiveness of most organizations. What we discovered when we tallied the results was that most people rated the effectiveness of their organizations poorly. In 23 out of 27 individual competencies queried on the Organizational Effectiveness Self-Assessment Tool, most people think their organizations are currently performing below target, or stated another way, 85% of competencies are under performing, including: 

  • The biggest opportunity…Direction scored at 48% Effective and is underperforming by 27% 
  • The next biggest opportunity…Process scored at 52% Effective and is underperforming by 23%. 
  • Finally, People scored at 57% Effective and is underperforming by 18% 

The Good News  

Not all the news is doom and gloom, fortunately. The results show that there are four competencies performing at or above the 75% Effectiveness target. The other piece of good news is that the dimension of  People emerged as the highest performing area even though most organizations are operating in their own unique situation. Clearly, there is something ‘going right’ here that merits further investigation. 

4 Things we Learned from 21 Workshops 

Berlineaton’s main goals for this project were to learn, try some new techniques, get feedback and continuously improve. Here are four things we learned from 21 workshops:  

1. Although simple, the approach worked well 

Sometimes the simplest approaches can get the best results. We were taking a bit of a gamble that a group of people standing around a few paper wall charts with felt pens and sticky notes could come up with some profound observations and compelling actions in a couple hours. But they did and, as a wonderful bonus, they enjoyed the experience almost universally. This led us to our second learning:  

2. Organizational Effectiveness is a Hot Topic 

We were amazed at the passion, depth and authenticity of the discussions that took place during this experience. Everyone is keenly interested in this topic. Many participants have never had an opportunity to share ideas with others in a forum like this. Most highly valued the experience to the extent that it led to our third learning: 

3.  Given the right conditions, it is relatively easy to generate high levels of Engagement 

Engagement is a real challenge in many organizations these days to the extent that high levels of turnover and low levels of staff satisfaction are almost endemic. With these groups, all they needed to generate high levels of engagement was permission by their bosses to speak openly and honestly about critical business issues, and a set of simple assessment tools administered by an objective, credible third party (i.e., us). And this leads us to our fourth learning:  

4. Follow through is critical 

Each workshop wrapped up with a summary of actions and next steps connected to executing the organizational effectiveness improvements that participants had recommended to themselves. On following up, we discovered that some groups had taken the ball and run with it almost effortlessly. Others did not. 

Change is hard, and it’s even harder for those organizations that are struggling in many other aspects of their business. The solution lies in the realm of leadership, of course, and in committing to the longer term goal of building the capacity of the organization to bridge the execution gap, and lead itself on the continuous improvement journey.

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Are you looking to set a new, bold direction, equip your teams and leaders with new skills, or make your organization stronger?

  • The emphasis on Strategic Management was important to us, since we didn't want a plan that sat on the shelf after several months of strategic thinking. I found that Berlineaton didn't come to our organization with a preconception of what our strategic plan would look like, but they made an authentic effort to understand the people in our community and be in tune with its ethos, its goals and its people. They gained trust and confidence and continue to work with us on the implementation of our tactical plan.

    Head of School in Victoria,

    British Columbia

  • I have engaged Berlineaton over the years to support a few different initiatives. I have found they bring very strong skills and tools in the areas of strategic planning, change management, facilitation, problem solving, project management, engagement management and team building.

    Associate Deputy Minister,

    BC Government

  • Your efforts in guiding the robust planning process that has resulted in UCC’s Strategic Directions were quite simply extraordinary; your partnership was integral to any success achieved. Thank you. I hope you are as proud of the final product as we are.

    Sam McKinney, Head of School,

    Upper Canada College

  • Overall, I would highly recommend Berlineaton for anyone seeking superior results in the field of facilitated, team-based process improvement that blend a focus on more task focused business results with the team, and overall people, engagement required to promote higher levels of ownership and execution success.

    Executive Director,

    BC Government

  • Berlineaton helped me work through staffing changes and a significant workload immediately following the COVID-19 outbreak. Our coaching sessions were very much appreciated, and I was able to re-focus on the strategic goals of our organization, while still leading my team and day-to-day operations. Being able to improve my leadership competencies and navigate the last few months was invaluable to say the least.

    Executive Director,

    Not-for-Profit Organization in British Columbia

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