Current Reality Purpose of Assessing Current Reality A realistic assessment of current reality provides very important information that is useful to organizations in several ways: It can identify barriers that may impede or prevent significant progress. It can provide a safe forum for conversations about difficult issues. It helps define the gaps between where we are and where we want to be. It can identify major strengths to build on. It helps bring information to bear on the most important areas to work on first. Assessment Processes Assessment data is usually gathered in one of several ways: The staff identifies important issues with the help of a facilitator or leader. A survey is conducted with a sample of staff and the results are shared with the leadership. The leadership team identifies the current reality and tests it with a sample of the staff. Questions that are most useful in eliciting information about the current reality are often open focused and quite generic. Examples might include the following: What helps you / hurts your ability to be as effective as you would like to be? And… How could the organization better accomplish its purpose? What are some examples? What are the consequences? If these questions are asked in a group setting, answers can be written on flip charts by a facilitator (and / or an additional note taker). Often, the responses of one person will lead to additional thoughts of others. It is important to follow the energy in these conversations. Once the conversation appears to lose some energy or the comments become repetitive, it is appropriate to capture the data, set it aside and begin recording on new flips. If these questions are asked of individuals, it is helpful to have them write brief answers to these questions on 3X5 cards – one card per important topic. The top two lines should be left blank. Once the notes have been written, have the person identify a topic of only a few words and write these in bold on the top two lines. This method of data capture will become very useful as the leadership team sorts and considers this information. Sorting / Using the Data The large amount of information that is gathered is sorted to allow a number of “buckets” or sub-themes to emerge. The leadership team considers the information and identifies the major themes that appear most relevant in describing the current reality. It is important to note that the purpose of this exercise is to identify a general sense of the organization that can provide background and grounding about the task ahead. The leadership team should avoid the urge to examine the information in great detail as this can result in long conversations that are not very useful to the team in the overall discovery process. Facilitation Tips The leadership team must recognize that one of the outcomes of asking people about their work (and the effectiveness of the organization in supporting their work) can be venting in either an emotional or straightforward way. I believe it is useful for facilitators and leaders to consider in advance how they will deal with these situations. Let me begin with some thoughts about the importance of venting. I have found that many people and organizations never create enough personal energy to want to make needed changes. Even when a change might be good for everyone, there are often risks to overcome and significant energy required to create change. When people are energized to explain a situation and vent in either an emotional or straightforward way about problems they are encountering in their work, this may indicate that there may be enough energy in the organization for people to make the changes required. I suggest that facilitators or leaders use this energy in a positive way and make a conscious decision in advance to avoid trying to suppress the feelings of the staff. People feel like they feel whether they understand all the reasons behind their feelings or not. We usually cannot suppress these feelings even if we try. When we attempt to suppress these feelings, we often find that we alienate the person and others in the room. I am not suggesting that the facilitator or leader should accept abuse. I am simply suggesting that these feelings can be helpful in finding out what problems exist and we should focus on how we can assist the person by being helpful to them. The facilitator or leader might consider handling the situation as follows: Allow the person to complete their statements. Do not interrupt. If others in the audience attempt to add their own statements, ask them to wait for a few minutes while you gain clarity about what is being said. Tell them that you are interested in their comments and will come back to them shortly. A useful response to the person can be something like the following: “ I appreciate you sharing your thoughts here and wish to make sure that I have heard what you are saying. I am going to attempt to summarize what I think I have heard and request that you assist me by rephrasing when you see that I have missed your points. What I thought I heard you say was:” 1. 2. 3. “Does this represent the points you were trying to make or should I revise this in some way. It is important to go fairly slow here. People often make statements that do not reflect their complete thinking and having their comments repeated provides a short time for reflection. Even if the facilitator repeats exactly what the person said, the person may have more to say simply because the facilitator has provided the opportunity to think in more depth. In fact, the facilitator may wish to ask the person to expand on their thinking here. When it appears that you understand the person’s points ask them: “Do you think I have captured your thinking adequately here?” When the person has responded affirmatively, the facilitator can return to others who also had energy around the issue and repeat the process. Facilitators and leaders may wish to practice this methodology with others in advance. When faced with these situations, anxiety may rise and it is useful to have actually practiced using the kinds of phrases that can be useful. Having the exact phrases down is not really the key issue. The key issue is deciding in advance how you will respond in situations that can make you and everyone in the room rather uncomfortable. Your choice to embrace the energy and deal with the problem by understanding their concerns will be strong signals to everyone that this process is important to you and you take it seriously. A final thought. On rare occasions, a person may speak about a situation that they believe is caused by another person in the organization (including their supervisor). I do not believe that it is ever appropriate to explore in any depth the situation(s) that are involved here. I suggest that facilitators might handle this situation as follows: Person - “I could do my job if only ______ would get off my back. She is continually asking for more than I can give!” Facilitator or Leader - “ I understand you have a concern here. It is obviously too difficult to address this situation in this forum. I suggest that we find a way to address this situation outside of this meeting.” While the last statement is made as a suggestion, it should not be an option for the person to continue to pursue this line of thinking. The facilitator should repeat their suggestion if necessary.
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