The Work Before The Work: Understanding Organizational Needs

November 19, 2018
Author: Nic Bencaz and Eric Bean

Case Study: Part 1

This blog post is part 1 of 2 detailing our work over the past year with a growing diagnostic company. The company wanted to better equip their leaders to lead and thrive through change. In part 1, we will highlight how we conducted a needs assessment that informed our multi-pronged intervention strategy (which we will cover in part 2).

Recently, HigherEchelon provided consulting services to a company that is a leader in clinical laboratory testing and medication adherence monitoring.  The client was embarking on two large scale changes that were causing internal anxiety, and the leadership team wanted to ensure that leaders throughout the organization would be equipped to clearly communicate changes and lead effectively through such changes. Leadership sought solutions that would achieve the following objectives:

  • Improve the team’s ability to adapt in a constantly changing environment
  • Increase the level of motivation and engagement of employees by reducing anxiety
  • Improve organizational culture and leadership through coaching

Attacking the Problem

Is this as simple as providing some off-the-shelf training, or is there something behind these issues that may not be evident?  We believe that before offering a solution, we must truly understand the problem.  We tackle the often ignored, but essential pre-work that allows us to provide tailored solutions based on the client’s specific situation – a key reason the client hired us.

Spotlight on Root Causes

We wanted to obtain a deeper understanding of the challenges the client was facing, the goals they wished to accomplish, and what discrepancies exist between those elements. A multi-faceted needs analysis puts a spotlight on the root causes, enabling informed decisions and paths for positive change. The needs analysis process we utilized followed 5 basic steps:

Step 1 – Ask the right questions.  Peter Drucker once said: “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” That is exactly the approach we take at HigherEchelon: no company or organizational issue is exactly alike, and their challenges should be treated as such.  We began with a one-week data collection effort that included:

  • A 41 question survey to the executive team and middle level managers assessing organizational health across 6 dimensions
  • Individual standardized interviews with 5 executive leaders and 5 middle level managers
  • Separate focus groups with the executive leadership team, the middle level leadership team, and two groups of hourly employees
  • Direct observation of co-worker interactions and meetings

Step 2 – Analyze results to uncover themes.  At the end of each day, we would comb through our qualitative and quantitative data and see where consistent themes appeared regarding organizational strengths and weaknesses, and the degree of consensus among these themes across departments and leadership levels.

Step 3 – Present initial results to leadership.  We presented themes collected from our interviews, meeting observations, and organizational survey to our focus groups to get their thoughts. This approach was a great opportunity for both sides (HigherEchelon and the client) to clarify and revise current results, hold a discussion on root causes, ensure agreement on issues, and shape expectations for the final report.

Each leadership level had unique issues that were uncovered as a result of our analysis.  While executives focused on company culture and resisting change, middle level leadership focused on low morale and a lack of performance metrics.  Both groups agreed on a need for improved communication and alignment between strategy and culture.

Step 4 – Reanalyze and re-present.  Collating and reanalyzing our final data following the focus group sessions, we arrived at three central focus areas in need of attention to present to the executive team:

  • Organizational Structure and Information Flow – the current organizational structure was not sustainable, and messages were not getting to the right people or departments following meetings
  • Business Acumen – employees did not fully understand the functions of several organizational departments, nor how their work impacts the organization’s goals
  • Employee Development and Recognition – employees stated they were uncertain regarding their performance level and path for advancement

Step 5 – Develop a formal report and recommend multiple solutions.  Our report outlined the methodology used, the results found, and most importantly – offered solutions! Every solution we offered to the client came with a detailed explanation on why it is important, what it will impact, how it will be implemented, what the measures of success would be, and how we would directly support it.  We backed up our recommended solutions with empirical research and direct (but anonymous) quotes from employees to emphasize the importance of these issues.  We broke down our recommendations into “Quick wins” (changes that can be implemented quickly and easily) and “Long-term Solutions” (changes that will require a more deliberate and thoughtful plan of action).  Some brief examples of our solutions and direct quotes from each focus area is provided below:

  • Focus Area #1: Organizational Structure and Information Flow
    1. Quick Win – weekly Monday Morning huddle
    2. Long-Term Solution – Revised Organizational Structure
  • Focus Area # 2: Business Acumen
    1. Quick Wins – Creating a visual logic model for roles/responsibilities & workflow narratives to demonstrate proper decision making
    2. Long-Term Solutions – increased cross training & develop a formalized onboarding process
  • Focus Area #3: Employee Development and Recognition
    1. Quick Win – Recognition programs
    2. Long-Term Solutions – Performance Development plans & Succession planning for high-potential employees

Tying it all together:

Results from our needs analysis provided key insight on large-scale issues present at the client’s organization.  Several of our recommendations were immediately put into practice, and we have augmented our solutions through face-to-face workshops and executive coaching – areas we will elaborate on in our next blog.

If you would like to learn more about needs analysis, reach out to us at HCS@HigherEchelon.com through our website for more information. Stay tuned for the Part 2, where we shift from identifying the need to providing the solution!