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Assessing the Challenges of Organizational Leadership

At some point in our journeys, many of us enter the realm of organizational leadership. While leadership is ALWAYS about people, the transition from leading individuals to helping guide an entire organization is often a daunting one. Whether you’re a founding entrepreneur leading a rapidly expanding company or you’re a newly-appointed leader in a more mature organization, conducting an organizational assessment is key to understanding what critical areas need your and your team’s attention.

I was once a member of an organization that used what’s known as the Malcolm Baldrige Excellence Framework[1] to guide organizational self-assessment and continuous improvement efforts. A Baldrige assessment starts by asking very basic questions about the organization — and then dives into more complex questions that are usually best answered by more mature organizations. It became such a part of the way we operated that it was hard to think of ‘running the business’ without it. When I transitioned to a new organization, I very quickly had to understand how it operated and what needed attention. While this new team wasn’t using the Baldrige Framework, I found starting with those very basic questions helped me reach that understanding more quickly.

What follows is not an endorsement of nor a recommendation to adopt Baldrige in your organization. Rather, it serves as an illustration of how asking some basic questions can provide a better understanding of how the organization is operating and what critical gaps might exist.

When initially assessing an organization, look for answers to questions in the following areas[2]:

  1. Leadership—How do your senior leaders lead the organization? How do you govern your organization and fulfill your societal responsibilities?
  2. Strategy—How do you develop and implement your strategy?
  3. Customers—How do you obtain information from your customers? How do you engage customers by serving their needs and building relationships?
  4. Measurement, Analysis & Knowledge Management—How do you measure, analyze and then improve organizational performance? How do you manage your information and your organizational knowledge assets?
  5. Workforce—How do you build an effective and supportive workforce environment? How do you engage your workforce to achieve a high-performance work environment?
  6. Operations—How do you design, manage and improve your key services and your work processes? How do you ensure effective management of your operations?
  7. Results—What are your results? (This is the KEY question & really the one to start with…it provides the framework for questions 1-6!)

You’ll notice that questions 1-6 are ‘how’ questions, while question 7 is a ‘what’ question. As you ask and learn, the depth of the answers to these questions should start to frame how the organization is doing business and where focus may be needed. Certainly, if your answers come up short for any of questions 1-6, there’s some work to do (and yes, it happens!). Similarly, if you uncover vagueness or uncertainty in question 7 when asking what your key results are and how they’re being monitored, the organization may need focus and alignment.

Organizational leadership can be complex, but asking some simple questions can provide better understanding and more focused efforts toward improving organizational effectiveness.

[1] Baldrige Excellence Framework: A systems approach to improving your organization’s performance. (2017, January). Retrieved from https://www.performanceexcellencenw.org/images/2017/2017-2018_Baldrige_…

[2] Ibid. Pp 7-30

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