Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0167 August 24, 2004 | 8,000 Subscribers...
 


Dear friends,

How often has a company approached you with absolute certainty about the nature of their problem and what needs to be done to fix it? There is often quite a difference between what people in organizations think they need and what they really need. They're often too much a part of the dynamic to objectively see what needs to changed.

A competent facilitator, consultant, or coach will spend time interviewing key players in an organization to get a relatively objective assessment of what's going on within it prior to designing an intervention. This week's article, "
Success in Needs Assessment Interviews," addresses just this process, and was written by Karen Lawson, PhD, president of Lawson Consulting Group based in Lansdale, PA.

Also, I've made special arrangements with an organization called "Consulting Today," to represent their article collections based on several themes that may be of interest to facilitators, consultants, and coaches. Please have a look at summaries of these packages at the end of this article.

In this Issue:

Feature Article: Success in Needs Assessment Interviews

Resource: A Practical Guide to Needs Assessment

Consulting Today Article Collections.

If any of you have any interesting stories or experiences about facilitation, group process, work groups, team building, training, etc. that might interest our readers, please send them to us.

Have a great week!

Steve Davis
Publisher

 
Self-Mastery Skill
Success in Needs Assessment Interviews
Get to the heart of your groups problem before trying to solve it.
The Point


Every year companies spend millions of dollars on consulting projects that do not achieve the desired re-sults. One reason the projects fail is that all too often the organizations, and the consultants
they engage, overlook the importance of identifying exactly what is needed before they begin their work. It’s ready, fire, fire, fire, and no aim at all.

A needs assessment can prevent a quick fix, bandage approach to business problems. A good assessment will help ensure that the solution addresses the real problem, and effectively
focuses resources, time and effort. There are many ways to do a needs assessment, depending on the issue the client is dealing with, the type and level of the consulting you'll be doing. You’ll probably do several, including:

•Research the company and industry to deter-mine trends and problems.
•Review records (e.g., quality and production records, exit interviews, performance reviews).
•Administer a written survey (self designed or customized generic).
•Conduct benchmarking to determine best practices (internal or external).
•Observe workers and meetings.
•Interview employees, managers, executives, perhaps even vendors and customers.

Chances are, no matter what else you do, you’ll do some interviews. So, for this discussion, we'll focus on conducting needs assessment interviews. Here are some factors to help you get the best information.


Application


Plan the interviews. Begin by reviewing your overall plan for data collection. Decide who should be interviewed (which levels, which people, whether it will be representatives or everyone). “It’s ready, fire, fire, fire, and no aim at all.”

Decide who should do the interviews. Then decide the time frame in which it will be done, considering the schedules of the project, the organization, and the interviewees. Decide how much information you’ll collect, and whether you want to interview people alone or in focus groups.

Before the interview: Schedule the interview. Contact interviewees well in advance of the interview. Give them some choice of times if it's possible.

Send an agenda. Indicate your purpose, and describe logistics information like time, duration, location, and whatever else will help them feel comfortable. It’s also helpful if you can send the questions in advance so they can prepare or think about their answers.

Clarify confidentiality. Many consultants prefer not to be told information the interviewee wouldn’t want shared. If you choose to offer confidentiality, tell interviewees if information will be summarized but not attributed. If you are using focus groups, the participants must understand the importance of not divulging what they learned in the session. Confirm the client's policy for reporting legal violations.
Ensure privacy and remove distractions. While you might think this is a given, in today's “cube” environment, it can take special arrangements to have privacy for an interview. Emphasize the importance of the interview with the interviewee, and with those who might interrupt or distract.

During the interview

Orient the interviewee, and make them comfortable. Explain the overall objective of the project to the extent that you and the client have agreed is appropriate. Generally, the more candid you can be about the purpose, the better information you will get.
Explain the entire data collection process. Tell the interviewee what information you will record, and what you will do with the information. Tell them what feedback they will get on the information gathered, when, and in what format. Give them refreshments if you can.

Clarify and confirm. Your questioning and listening skills will determine your success. Balance open, closed, analytical and clarifying questions so people have room to express their information and priorities without feeling grilled or led.

Clarify carefully if an interviewee rambles or talks in generalities. Get examples. Make sure you under-stand just what they are saying and not saying. Summarize key points to confirm your understanding.

Respect their time. Ask your questions, record the information you need, and get them on their way. Both they, and the client who pays for their time, will appreciate that.

Record additional action items. In the course of interviews you may hear of things that need immediate attention. If it’s something in your control, do it right away. If not, do what you can to ensure it gets done. Prompt action will help employees feel their opinions are valued, and increase willingness to participate in the future. Follow up carefully.

After the interview

Summarize the data. With unstructured inter-views, this could be a major transcription effort. For check box interviews, data entry is easier. Reminder – lock all records up securely. Interview data can be intriguing for curious employees.

Identify key themes. This is a creative and important part of the needs assessment process. Plan to allow yourself enough time to do this well—to draft it, and then to think about it, and perhaps review it with others before you report it. Review your interview notes one more time when you think you’re done, looking for ideas that are clearer now that you see the themes.

Remember it’s qualitative data. Interviews are data, but they are not statistics. Resist the temptation to assign too much weight to the numbers that come from them. It’s a thermometer, not a cat scan.

Make it graphic. Charts can provide graphic pictorial summaries of the trends and themes in the data you‘ve collected. You can also make your final report interesting with colorful quotes direct from the inter-views. They are anecdotal but powerful information. The needs assessment process in general, and interviews in particular, may take time, but it is the only way you can ensure the consulting you do is exactly what was needed.

With a good needs assessment, and especially with excellent interviewing, you’ll uncover the real issues of the organization. You’ll reduce trips down blind alleys. You’ll save money, time, and employee good will in the long run. And all that will increase the likelihood that the client will want to work with you in the future.

About the Author: Karen Lawson, Ph.D. is president of Lawson Consulting Group, based in Lansdale, Pa. She specializes in organization and management development, and is the author of six books, including Executive Development: Grooming for Competitive Advantage. She can be reached at (215) 368-9465, or klawson@lawsoncg.com.



© 2000, 2004 consulting today. All rights reserved. Web: www.consultingtoday.com, 6325 Hilltop Rd. Orefield, PA 18069 Phone: 610.366.0165 E-mail: editor@consultingtoday.com

Action


Where might you improve your approach to organizational needs assessment? Tap into the ideas above to refine your approach. Please
send us your questions and comments.

Resource


A Practical Guide to Needs Assessment, by Kavita Gupta

Kavita Gupta wrote a book that is a must-have for anyone desiring an overview of the multiple ways needs assessment can occur. Gupta begins by setting the context of needs assessment, attending first to what needs assessment is and where it fits into the training or performance improvement scheme. By overviewing the works of Gilbert, Kaufman, Rossett, and others, the author creates a very usable comparison. Persons trying to decide what type of needs assessments are best for their situation can quickly narrow their focuses. (Not all needs analyses are built alike, after all, and they start from somewhat different places.) A review of data gathering fundamentals is concise (just over 20 pages) but helpful. Les Lauber (Lawrence, KS)

In the Spotlight


Article Collections

Here's a selection of practical articles by and for consultants, coaches, facilitators and their clients. Sharing our best ideas, models and tools is the way we serve our clients and the field in which we work. The energy and creativity of our authors brings outstanding value to these reports. A brief description of each report appears below.

Coaching Tools

The Foundations of Coaching

The coaching profession has its foundations in sports coaching, counseling, behavioral sciences, consulting, and more. These five authors explore the beginnings and rise of this discipline. Anyone who coaches should read these articles, and may want to share some of them with clients as well. More detail / order...

Coaching Tools

In this issue, you’ll find six articles that provide a wealth of tools you will use again and again in your coaching. The authors are seasoned and successful coaches who share the learnings of years of experience. What gets in the way of developing new habits? What are some specific skills the best coaches use well? What are the steps in coaching emotional intelligence? They’re all here. More detail / order...

Leadership

Leading Organizational Change

In this collection, six authors provide important strategies for leading change in any organization. Share these four articles with partners in change management to help develop a consistent philosophy and style. Share them with clients to help clients understand their part in the change process. More detail / order...

Managing in a New World

In this collection, six authors offer perspectives on management issues in an information economy populated by a new breed of worker. Share these insights with any leader who is working to improve the way they, and their organization, manage the people of the new millennium.
More detail / order...

New Leaders — The First 100 Days

This issue offers five important articles for the new leader, focusing on the priorities and skills needed in the first few months of tenure in a new position. Share it with leaders at all levels as they begin a new challenge. More detail / order...

Non-Profit Consulting

Consulting With Non-profits

If you are consulting for non-profits, or considering it, this issue has important lessons from people who’ve been doing it for years. There’s information on how non-profits operate, their values, processes and priorities, what clients want, and how some non-profits deal with problems. There’s also guidance on how and why to use an interim executive director, and some advice for new and potential board members. More detail / order...

Strategic Consulting With Non-profits

This issue provides a variety of perspectives on doing strategic work with nonprofit organizations. There’s an article on how to run a strategic planning retreat. Or as an alternative to developing ‘the plan,’ we offer an article on how to teach the board to think strategically. There’s an article on what non-profit clients look for in a consultant, and one on how to address that gap between board ideas and staff action. Plus ideas from an international panel of consultants on working with non-profits using Future Search. More detail / order...

Project Management

Project Management

This issue focuses on resources for project managers — helping them plan for success in all their projects. Two of the articles focus on planning skills for managers of technical projects. The other three are applicable to all kinds of projects, including organizational change efforts. You’ll find these compact two-page articles will be powerful aids in training as well. More detail / order...

Consulting Tools

Organizational Diagnosis Models and Methods

This issue offers five articles that describe models and methods used by organizational and management consultants who want to understand client organizations. From hints to make needs analysis interviews and feedback meetings more effective, to overviews of systems models, these methods help consultants effectively identify the important dynamics and priority issues.
More detail / order...

Marketing

Strategic Marketing For Professionals

Here are five articles that overview marketing for professionals who provides intangible services. These articles offer ideas that help you design the strategy for your business. Use them to lay a foundation for your marketing effort, to provide an infusion of ideas and energy, or to get a few new hints that will provide a big payoff. More detail / order...

Marketing on a Budget

This issue offers ideas and tools for effective marketing that won’t drain the budget. The authors offer clever and creative twists on traditional strategies like networking, press releases, and mailing. And you’ll find a packet of great new ideas as well. These are ideas you can use at any stage in building your business, and energy generators for your marketing anytime.
More detail / order...

Whole System Change

Principles of Whole-System Change -

Whole-system change involves getting the entire system — a 20 person department, a 2500-person division, or representatives of an entire community — into one room for long enough to have a shared understanding of history, priorities and actions needed. It is changing the way organizational change is done. These articles explain the underlying principles of these methods. More detail / order...

Organizational Change

Leading Organizational Change

In this collection, six authors provide important strategies for leading change in any organization. Share these four articles with partners in change management to help develop a consistent philosophy and style. Share them with clients to help clients understand their part in the change process. More detail / order...

Tools for Organization Change

This collection offers seven articles providing a variety of tools used by consultants involved in organizational change. These tools include models like Weisbord’s Six Boxes and Bridges Transition Model, a process-change model, a communication plan for change projects, and some ideas for ways to mark important transitions. More detail / order...

Teams

Working With Teams

In this issue we bring you six articles on all aspects of teams, from the processes teams use to solve problems, to ground rules for task teams, to the critical success factors for virtual teams.
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