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How to Grow Your Impact and Income with Assessments [Behind-the-Scenes Tutorial]

organizational consulting Sep 02, 2020

You can look at the role of a consultant as someone who simply provides solutions to enhance leadership and business results. 

Or you can see the role through a more meaningful lens as someone who comes alongside senior executives in order to speak truth to power and influence decisions that benefit the entire system.

To fulfill either of those roles - you need one thing: an ability to conduct organizational assessments.

  • Assessments provide your clients clarity into what is working, what is not working and most importantly why. This clarity empowers them to invest their time and money in solving the right problems and the right way.
  • Assessments provide you the positioning you need to be seen as a strategic partner (and not an extra "pair of hands".) The insight you glean through interviews and focus groups provide you an independent and outside point of view - one of the key reasons why executives hire consultants in the first place.
  • AND assessments give you the data you need to confidently speak truth to power about not just what is needed to enhance short-term profitability (what they may want) but also what is required to create the type of environment and culture that benefits their entire realm - employees, leaders, customers, community and shareholders (what they need.)

If you're looking for the one single solution that maximizes both your client impact AND your income, providing high-quality assessments that deliver insight, not just data is that solution.

And if you're looking for real-world guidance and examples on how to get started, this training tutorial is that guidance. So let's get started...


Betsy Jordyn: Hey, it's Betsy Jordyn here, and I'm super excited to talk to you today about organizational assessments. I have to say that out of all the things I've ever done as a consultant assessment is absolutely my favorite.

I'm going to be clear though, that I'm more of a qualitative girl, meaning I really love the opportunity to sit in front of leaders and in front of employees and customers.  I like to draw out that information. Qualitative for me is so much more rich than quantitative because I can draw out and tease out all of those extra elements besides like just the themes and the facts, but the motivations and the heart.

A lot of people ask me about assessment. It feels like a big black hole. I have several articles about assessments, but instead of just talking theoretically about assessment, that thought yet, I'd take you behind the scenes and show you some actual tools that I have used in assessments.

Creating an Assessment Plan (0:58)

I'm going to go ahead and share my screen and get started and show you what I got here. The first thing is that whenever you get started with a client, you really need to create that assessment plan. That's the first thing that you're going to go through.  You need to make sure that you do match the right methodology with the right business needs. This is a swipe file. This is one that I've actually used with clients, and you really want to first clarify why they need an assessment project and what is the assessment project supposed to answer for them? What are the strategic questions that are on the table that you've to come back with as it relates to the client and making sure that they get the answers that they're looking for, and also layering in your proactive advocacy around what you think they need you to be looking for and listening for.

Aligning the Senior Team Around Assessment Objectives (1:45)

When you get to the assessment objectives, that's the first thing that you're trying to do is get the client to articulate it and getting also at an executive team to get on the same page. Sometimes you might have an assessment objective that's really just there for political reasons

For example, I worked with a client who was very curious about something very specific around critical thinking skills and resources.  I added in questions and ask things along those lines.  There were leaders that certain people had questions around and I needed to just kind of be listening for those. I didn't necessarily put them in my stated objectives, but I kind of knew that they were there. But whenever I was talking to that particular leader, I made sure they knew I heard about that.

The first thing that you need to get answered is what are the objectives?  This is the example: this is one from a client that I worked with a while ago.  They had this project that was working in place to help improve the effectiveness of construction projects.  There were a lot of different stakeholders and they were trying to figure out how they were all working together. We clarified the objectives.

Choosing the Right Methodology & Sample Size (2:53)

Once you get the objectives clear, then you look at the methodology.  At that point, one of the things I always recommend, especially if this is your first project with a client, in fact, I recommend always that you have assessment as your first project, but always include client interviews - meaning stakeholder interviews. You always want to look at there's the leader and then there's the direct reports. You always want to do interviews with them. For political reasons, you need to do one-on-ones with each one of those people, because whoever you don't get feedback from as part of the project is going to be the one who's buy in you're not going to get later.

Then you want to make sure that you are considering, other political dynamics that might be the next layer below.   Then looking at then managers and employees and focus groups.  

As it relates to getting client perspective, sometimes you want to find a customer that could be integrated as part of it, or customer feedback could be a separate project in itself.  You want to make sure from a senior leadership standpoint, everybody's included.

Then when you're looking at focus groups.  Then you want to look at a representative sample. There's a certain art and science. I'd have to talk it through with your exact client projects. I can't really tell you here's the magic number and how you would need, I'd have to look at how things divvy up.  But I'll just tell you here what's really important is you definitely want to make sure that you don't have managers and employees in the same focus group, you need to keep them separate. You also need to make sure that if you have to put groups together, put like groups together. You could put, let's say HR and legal, they can be in a group together.  Sometimes legal and finance, they can be in a group together.  You definitely don't want to put like finance and operations together because they're going to have very different issues and very different perspectives. You want it to consider all of that.

The Assessment Announcement Memo (4:35)

Then the most important thing, as it relates to your project plan, you want to make sure that the leader sets the context and you want to make sure that they, you are introduced and that you are set up to say, “Because we really care about your opinion, we are bringing this outside third party.  Because we really care.” The leader really needs to set the conditions that the assessment matters, that the time will be set aside, and also that there'll be something that is done with the information. If your client cannot agree that they will do something with the feedback, it would be better to do nothing at all. Because what you're going to do is if you get feedback and the leader does not do anything with it, trust will actually tank. The setup is really, really important. That's the assessment plan. The first thing that I do once I get the contract signed and I start working with the client is working through the assessment plan.

Writing Assessment Questions & Discussion Guides (5:32)

Once the assessment plan is together, then you can start working on the questions. I have a discussion guide and there's a thousand questions.

People ask me all the time, what are the right questions you should ask? And when it comes to figuring out what your discussion guide would be for interviews and focus groups, it's never wrapped the, it's always about the listen-fors, but from my standpoint, as I always get everything planned out, as much as I can so that I can adapt in the moment.

I'm just going to quickly go through this because there's so much that goes into this from a technical standpoint, but just to give you a big picture. One of the first things, whenever you're getting into an interview or focus group, is you want to make sure that you introduce yourself and share a little bit about your background and why you're there.  Then you want to talk about the purpose: what is the purpose of this particular interview or focus group, what are we going to do, what the leader is going to do afterwards.

For example, with this one, it says your insights will help shape how XYZ leadership can improve the experience for the future.  They want to listen to it and they want to shape it for the future. You have to say, you're going to make a difference when you're here. This context is everything. If you don't get this right, nobody's going to start talking, especially when you're dealing with a focus group.  Then a focus group is really important to set the guidelines and the parameters. One of the things that I always do is I always explain, first and foremost, at a focus group it's different than other meetings.  In normal meetings, people are trying to get on the same page.  In a focus group, you could have different points of view, but you need to hear all the points of view.

Facilitating Interviews & Focus Groups (7:12)

Then also making sure that you have the norms around, “Hey, I can only represent what I hear, so it's really in your best interest to share openly. But because of that, I want to offer you my first promise. My promise is, as I promise anonymity.  There is a difference between confidentiality and anonymity. Confidentiality is that they won't be revealed at all.  Anonymity is they personally won't be revealed.” We will be giving feedback in terms of the themes and quotes. Confidentiality isn't what you're actually promising. It's really anonymity. Your clients won't necessarily know the difference, but you need to know what you're promising.

Then you need to make sure when you're in a focus group, that you do what I call the Vegas focus group rule, which means that's what said in the focus group stays in the focus group.  Because you need to get them to promise that they will keep each other's confidence.

Then you want to set the other ones: that speak one at a time, set the expectation that you're going to interrupt and move on, and that you want to make sure that you hear differences of opinion.

Then you always start off with the softball questions.  I always start off with, “What's the best part about working here? What's your least favorite thing about working here? Is it unique to here or can you get it somewhere else?” That kind of thing.

Managing Focus Group Dynamics (8:26)

The probes are just are just as important as the questions.  The questions are what you lead with that if you don't listen for what the outcomes are, if you can't hear it, then I always include probes to make sure that you're understanding it. Probes are where all the magic is.

Once you get the softball questions out of the way, then you can start getting into a little bit more of the meat of what's going on in the organization. I usually save the leadership stuff rather for the end, because that's usually the hardest thing. You'll never know, you could have, it may feel like a softball question to you is like, “Hey, what do leaders do? Or on here that you like?” I had one situation where I was in a focus group where I asked the question a thousand different ways, you know, what's the best thing, “What are the best thing your leaders do? What's the worst thing?” That didn't go anywhere? Okay, so “What should your leader start, stop and continue doing?”  It went nowhere. Eventually, I had to have everybody write it down on slips of paper and bring it up to me, but it was that they were so afraid of saying anything in a focus group around other people.

Favorite Wrap Up Questions (9:26)

It's really important that you are flexible in the moment. Then I'm going to share with you my two favorite wrap up questions. These are the two ones, my magic wand questions. “Is there anything else that you want to share about X, Y, and Z?”  “If you had a magic wand and this magic wand could do one thing, what is one thing that you would change that would make the biggest impact on making this organization even more effective or make it this experience even more amazing for all your customers?” Whatever you want to say it.  Then the last one, “Is there anything else you want me to know about your experience?” What's really interesting about the magic wand question is seeing what everybody says. This one I make every single person answer and it gets them to prioritize like out of all the things we talked about today, what's the most important.

Then this is there anything else you want to tell me, that's where I just leave it open-ended because then there might be something that they really were sitting on and we just didn't get to it. You want to make sure that you leave room for that.

do with the information. That is the question on everybody's mind. “Yeah, I shared all this stuff. Is it going to matter? Is the leader's going to care?”  Or whatever this is. If you do this well, I have other videos on my framing and empathy framework. If you're not yet familiar with it, definitely look it up. You can go check it also out on YouTube. You can look up my blog, but it's very important to use your framing and empathy framework throughout this entire process.

The Real Benefits of an Assessment - Showing Employees that They Matter (10:58)

I could tell you how many times at the end of a focus group with customers and employees, that people came up to me hugging me with tears in their eyes and like, “Oh my gosh, I finally know my leader really cares. That this company really cares because you're here.”  Never underestimate the power of your outside perspective. I know you as a consultant sit there and you get your brain wrapped around, “How do I express what I do in a way that's credible? How do I demonstrate my expertise in a way that's meaningful? How do I share all my credentials in a way that people get super excited?”  That's never going to be your number one thing of why people want to use you and the value that you bring.  It's your outside perspective. They cannot see the forest from the trees, but you live on a different tree.

When you bring this to bear in your assessment project, you are just going to create so much value if you do this well.  Learn assessment skills.  They will serve you like nothing else.  I could tell you that my assessment skills is the main thing that has created so much success for me.

Get Started (12:04)

Hopefully, you enjoy this video. If you have, please let me know if you're going to move forward with learning more about assessments. If you have questions about how to improve your organizational assessment skills, we can talk about getting access to my e-course on the Consultant’s Toolbox, where I have a whole lot more details on how you go about doing an assessment. 

One of the things that I did when I was learning how to take my assessment skills for organizations and apply it to customers, because I never really did it with customers and it's a little different.  I hired somebody to be this like backstage coach that nobody knew about.  I paid her on the side, landed the work, and it was great.  

Then I discovered, you know what, I can offer customer assessments just as well as I could do leadership and employee. Once I started doing that, customer assessments are a nice price tag.  They were all a hundred thousand dollars a piece. It was definitely worth investing in that development. Just think about that one.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me [email protected].  Thanks for listening. Talk to you soon.

Next Steps:

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3. The OD Consultant’s Toolbox is all about landing and delivering strategic consulting engagements that will make a difference for both your career and the organizations you want to help.

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