Strengthening The Business Model
Today’s changing and complex operating environment poses a challenge for many institutions in the higher education and nonprofit industries. Organizations in these industries typically have limited resources to support the execution of their mission and vision. Unfortunately, many institutions are not set up to efficiently leverage those resources to execute against strategic goals, but rather operate in an environment that reflects historical needs and trends. For example, organizational structures frequently reflect the need for clerical rather than knowledge-based work.
An organizational assessment can provide direction to address concerns through evaluation of an institution across people, process, and technology dimensions. This level of assessment serves as a sound first step to identify those areas that can be improved or optimized to better address current and strategic business needs. The remainder of this article further describes the activities associated with an organizational assessment, its implementation, and how it can benefit institutions.
Conducting an Organizational Assessment
Organizational assessments can follow a variety of models. Whether a review follows the framework developed by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the guidelines published by the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA), or an alternate structure, the process analyzes performance by comparing mission and strategic goals to organizational structures, and typically targets people, process, and technology. These three discrete areas are most often assessed simultaneously to better inform identified bottlenecks and challenges.
Prior to conducting an assessment, organizations should review their overall strategy to critically assess the business challenges they seek to resolve. This review will ensure that recommendations provided at the end of the assessment align with future goals rather than outdated initiatives. It will also ensure that the assessment can correctly identify root causes of the sub-optimal performance in one of the three main dimensions to position leadership to think critically about solutions such as shared services, upgrading existing software and applications, and exploring new technologies to enhance their enterprise.
Assessments usually follow a five-step agenda as outlined below:
1. Ground the Assessment in Strategic Goals
Review the organization’s mission and strategic goals.
This will enable the assessors to perform the analysis through the lens of future goals and limit the introduction of historical strategies and activities into the recommendations. The review should include a specific emphasis on monitoring and evaluation activities.
2. Identify Business Challenge(s) to Address
Engage in a thoughtful analysis of current performance and business concerns.
Organizations should make sure to correctly identify performance issues before moving on to the next step. This ensures that the recommendations will position the organization to achieve its goals.
3. Identify Optimal Solutions
Identify the ideal team composition, business processes, and technology solutions that will most efficiently and effectively support their work.
When reviewing business processes and technology, assessors should think critically about the functionality and level of services required. Assessors should consider shared services and robotics process automation as a potential cost-saving change to alleviate administrative burden.
4. Define Required Changes
Perform a Gap Analysis via a detailed comparison to the current state.
The assessors should build upon the observations to define the actions required to achieve the optimal solution, as well as utilize a chronology.
5. Update the Organization
Ensure that organizational updates are both implemented and supported by appropriate change management activities to achieve the desired return on investment (ROI).
This last step requires significant planning, empathy, and visible support from leadership. Updates to team structures, business processes, and technology will require close coordination between leadership, human resources, and managers, all of which will benefit from change management support.
The organization assessment produces recommendations to align the organization in supporting its mission more effectively, whether by updating the size and structure of a team, modernizing business processes, or updating the technology approach. A successful assessment will provide recommendations that, if followed, can significantly improve an organization’s ability to achieve its goals.
An important aspect to successfully implementing recommendations from the assessment is to create a “roadmap” after the assessment is completed that will outline the specific sequence of discrete actions that will ensure maximum adoption of changes and ROI.
Implementing Assessment Recommendations
When implementing recommendations, organizations should prioritize team or people changes and business process prior to technology changes. Process and technology-based improvements cannot address challenges related to structure and should be implemented after organizational changes to ensure that transformational goals are met. Additionally, effective organizational change management (OCM) tactics will be critical to ensuring that the changes associated with the recommendations are fully adopted and have the intended impacts.
An assessment may result in a recommendation to reorganize specific departments to improve collaboration, to mitigate redundancies and optimize efficiencies in specific areas to meet strategic goals, or to engage in additional training and morale-related activities. At the center of these recommendations is the question whether centralizing or decentralizing staff help meet current business needs. Additional recommendations may suggest leveraging a shared service model, which ultimately can increase coverage and customer service.
Overall, process recommendations will re-engineer procedures with current strategic business needs while minimizing repetition and workload. These changes should be supported with communications, training, and documentation such as job aides to ensure that the changes are fully adopted.
Improvements associated with technology can vary widely. In some cases, the organization may benefit from a reduction in disparate technologies, and a consolidation of processes within central technologies, such as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. While this is the typical recommendation, some central technologies do not offer all the required functionality needed to effectively support business requirements. In those cases, an institution may choose to retain or adopt new technologies that work in tandem with their ERP. This can include newer solutions, such as no code / low code functionality and machine learning to reduce administrative burden and redirect staff focus to complex, higher value tasks.
Attain Partners has successfully worked with institutions across the United States to conduct organizational assessments and provide strategic guidance based on individual results. For more information or to speak with one of our experts, please contact us here.
About the Authors
Melany Barrett is a Senior Consultant in the Management Consulting practice of Attain Partners. With over 8 years of experience in Higher Education, she has a demonstrated knowledge in business process improvement, project management, research administration, and faculty affairs administration. Prior to Attain Partners, Ms. Barrett supported Higher Education administration and strategic initiatives as a member of an internal consulting team. She is a Prosci® Certified Change Management Practitioner with knowledge and training in the field and holds an MBA from the Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
Alexandria Fleming is a Senior Consultant at Attain Partners specializing in change management. She has several years of experience doing change management work and technology implementations. Alexandria is originally from the west coast and enjoys international travel.
Jessica Lee is an Analyst at Attain Partners with prior experience in recruiting services. She is currently supporting both organizational change and project management efforts for Higher Education Clients and is a Prosci® Certified Change Management Practitioner. Jessica brings with her a strong attention to detail and is committed to achieving the best results.
 Charles Lusthaus, Marie-Hélène Adrien, Gary Anderson, Fred Carden, and George Plinio Montalván. Organizational Assessment: A Framework for Improving Performance. IDB, IDRC. 2002.
 Immordio, Kathleen M. Organizational Assessment and Improvement in the Public Sector. Routledge. 2010.