(Originally posted: Wednesday, February 19th, 2014)
In Strategic Planning for Non-profits, John Bryson states that strategic planning works best at places that need it the least, and worst at places that need it the most. The message is that if an organization is mired in politics, negativity, leadership turnover, board micro-management, poor selection of leaders, and all the other things associated with dysfunction, it is hard for planning to work because people are going to base decisions on narrow political agendas, not data or plans, or even what is best for the people they serve.
However, if an organization takes care of and retains long-lasting and good leaders, engages in healthy politics, focuses on problems and not people, and is moving forward in a healthy manner, then good governance, people, and leaders instinctively know the right course. Data and planning work well in these environments because leaders defer to plans that had input and were vetted by a variety of people. Leaders make decisions based on evidence and what’s best for the organization, instead of relying on an agenda or what’s best for their careers. This Dilbert cartoon highlights an example of a bad organization considering a dashboard.
The same principle applies to assessment. Assessment works best at places that needs it the least, and worst at places that need it the most. How does one approach assessment in the two types of organizations? If you work for a healthy organization, then assessment is about supporting the agreed-upon process, faculty and staff support and development, and meaningful dialog (not to be confused with two-way monologue, or talking but not listening).
In unhealthy organizations, there isn’t a lot one can do. Since assessment results are rarely used in decision-making (at least not intentionally), people are naturally going to be skeptical. There is also going to be an obvious lack of trust. The extent to which these barriers can be overcome will determine the success of quality improvement efforts like assessment in unhealthy organizations.