Types of Performance Interventions Considered in a Needs Assessment

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Benefits of Needs Assessments

A needs assessment is an important process typically undertaken to determine if (or why) there are significant gaps between the current performance of an organization or individual and the ideal performance goals established for the organization or individual (Altschuld & Kumar, 2010). In many cases, a needs assessment is reactive, attempting to determine the cause(s) of and solution(s) for unsatisfactory performance or diminished returns. This is an advantageous undertaking since it allows an organization to obtain a complete picture of exactly what is taking place before making any decisions that impact future performance. For example, unsatisfactory performance may be tied to low organizational morale thereby requiring management to set a positive atmosphere.  Another reason for conducting a needs assessment is to establish a baseline for performance. This type of assessment is proactive since it attempts to establish methods and practices that may assure excellent performance by identifying future needs. Regardless of the reason for conducting a needs assessment, various types of performance interventions are often implemented to enable the organization to identify ways to reach its goals (Altschuld & Kumar, 2010).

Performance Interventio

The selection of a performance intervention, especially in the case of an identified performance problem, involves a methodical and inclusive response designed to overcome the problem as well as create opportunities for improved future performance (Watkins, West Meiers & Visser, 2012). While numerous possible performance interventions exist—and a few are discussed in detail here—some organizations implement tools that combine elements of more than one type of intervention. Indeed, the balanced scorecard management tool may be viewed as one of these hybrid versions. Reasons for selecting one performance intervention over another vary according to the needs and desires of each organization (Watkins et al., 2012). Some organizations want to save money and therefore select an intervention that is most cost-effective, while others place a greater emphasis on comprehensive interventions that result in changes across the entire organization. Regardless of the intervention selected, its success is measured by how well (or poorly) it is able to reduce, or eliminate, the gap in performance originally identified. This, in turn, improves organizational performance. Four specific performance interventions are briefly reviewed here: 1) strategic planning; 2) continuous improvement/kaizen; 3) SWOT; and 4) the balanced scorecard. The advantages and possible disadvantages of these will be discussed, and conclusions drawn regarding which interventions are most successful.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is selected by an organization if it desires to start from the ground up and outline a way to more effectively utilize or acquire resources to pursue a specific strategy (Mckeown, 2012). This first involves attempting to evaluate the organization’s current situation to determine if there are different possibilities to pursue or if simply solidifying the current position is best. Overall, strategic planning is an attempt to be more precise or specific in business operations, while looking toward the long-term goals of the organization. Importantly, as the strategic plan is developed, it must be realistic and attainable; in other words, something that can actually be accomplished (Mckeown, 2012). Unfortunately, as explained by Mckeown, while a strategic plan establishes very impressive goals and initiatives for the organization, it is often short on providing the real-world tools for implementing the strategy.

Most organizations that select strategic planning as a performance intervention are seeking to address long-term concerns rather than simply to correct an immediate or local issue with poor performance. This process works well for establishing or strengthening major elements of an organization’s mission statement and, as a result, will typically produce decisions that have far-reaching implications (Mckeown, 2012). Additionally, for a performance intervention like strategic planning to be successful, it needs to be flexible and adaptable, rather than inflexible and rigid, so that key members of the organization are able to maintain the course that upper management has directed. Members of the organization being receptive to new ideas and possessing an ability to change are also important factors in the success of strategic planning, so it will not work in a bureaucratically structured organization.

Continuous Improvement/Kaizen Process

According to Garcia-Sabater and Marin-Garcia (2011), never-ending or continuous improvement is one of the most powerful principles to guide management. The two core concepts related to continuous improvement are the ‘continuous improvement cycle’ and ‘prevention’ (Garcia-Sabater & Marin-Garcia (2011). Prevention is based on the understanding that the cost for a fault increases exponentially over time, which means that, the later a fault is found, the more expensive it is to correct it. By preventing faults, an organization can markedly increase profit.

Another term for continuous improvement is kaizen, a Japanese term implying ongoing improvement without spending much money, involving everyone from managers to workers, and using—primarily—common sense (Garcia-Sabater & Marin-Garcia, 2011). In effect, the idea is to make small improvements every day on a continuing basis, which implies a never-ending process of improvement. With kaizen, there is a stark contrast to the typical Western ideas about improvement, which generally insist on massive changes after getting rid of the original way of doing things. Perhaps one of the most impressive features of continuous improvement processes is low cost of implementation (Garcia-Sabater & Marin-Garcia, 2011). The main reason for this is the simplicity of the process. The Japanese concept of kaizen, in particular, emphasizes lean methods for improvement which are undertaken slowly over a period of time. Critically needed improvements are formalized and then spread out across the organization as part of everyday employee tasks (Garcia-Sabater & Marin-Garcia, 2011).

SWOT Analysis

One of the most popular performance interventions used by organizations is the SWOT analysis. This is a well-known planning method that is designed to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of a particular organization, business, project, or proposed venture (Helms & Nixon, 2010). A SWOT analysis focuses on both the internal and external elements that impact an organization’s operations. The strengths and weaknesses of an organization are considered internal elements of analysis, while the external elements are opportunities and threats. This performance intervention is viewed in management circles as highly rational and applicable to a wide variety of environments. Also, it is considered as providing a very useful framework for analyzing the status of an organization at one point in time. It is important to perform the SWOT analysis prior to establishing any new objectives so that attainable goals can be set (Helms & Nixon, 2010). The results of a SWOT are typically presented in the familiar matrix that is very recognizable across the business community (See Appendix A).

Identification of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and strengths of an organization is critical because it allows decision-makers to plan specific processes for addressing each of those four elements. One possible scenario following any SWOT analysis is that the desired objective is simply no longer attainable (realistically) based on what was revealed in the SWOT. When that occurs, the organization must select a different objective that will align with what the analysis reveals is the true state of the organization. The process of categorization that exemplifies a SWOT analysis possesses some weaknesses. One weakness is a tendency, which is partially attributed to the prevalence of SWOT, for organizations to simply produce multiple lists to represent a company’s status without acting on the information contained in them. Secondly, the information presented in a SWOT is simply presented without critical comment. In other words, in some cases, an organization may permit weak opportunities that may balance out strong threats which would, in effect, invalidate the analysis (Helms & Nixon, 2010).

Balanced Scorecard

In order to develop a performance intervention that truly addressed an organization’s needs and concerns, the balanced scorecard system was developed (See Appendix B). By developing that system, Kaplan and Norton emphasized the value of team effort, which is the only means by which the long term value of the scorecard can be maintained (Kaplan & Norton, 2006). Feedback is also a vital part of the program. Another crucial aspect of this program is the collection of data, which helps to provide quantitative results that are evaluated by managers in order to aid in the decision making process for future company strategy. Lastly, good communication will ensure that a balanced scorecard is successful (Kaplan & Norton, 2006).

Importantly, the balanced scorecard is more than simply a measurement system but is more appropriately described as a management system that allows organizations to clearly convey their vision and strategy and then translate those into action. An important feature of the balanced scorecard is that it provides feedback connected to both the internal and external factors connected with an organization with a goal of continuous improvement (Kaplan & Norton, 2006). What the balanced scorecard accomplishes—as long as it is used properly—is to move the process of strategic planning from a mere academic exercise to the primary focus of an organization.

While the balanced scorecard method represented a new way of doing business, it was certainly based, in many ways, upon previously existing management concepts, such as Total Quality Management (TQM). In fact, just as TQM features customer-defined quality, the empowering of employees, management based on measuring results and continuous improvement, these elements are also important in a balanced scorecard. Specifically, the balanced scorecard requires that an organization analyze itself on the basis of four perspectives and to develop metrics, collect data and analyze it relative to each of these perspectives: the Learning and Growth Perspective; the Business Process Perspective; the Customer Perspective; and the Financial Perspective. Admittedly, some claim that the balanced scorecard is not always successful in every instance. In fact, there are those who complain that it is too complex and difficult to implement (Kaplan & Norton, 2006). At the same time, according to Kaplan and Norton, the number of organizations implementing the balanced scorecard continues to grow.

Summary and Conclusions

This paper acknowledged that the selection of a performance intervention, especially in the case of an identified performance problem, involves a methodical and inclusive response designed to overcome the problem and create opportunities for improved future performance. Four specific performance interventions were briefly reviewed: 1) strategic planning; 2) continuous improvement/kaizen; 3) SWOT; and 4) the balanced scorecard. Advantages and disadvantages were addressed and, in reality, an organization would likely do well by selecting any of these four performance interventions.

In conclusion, while SWOT analyses may be the most widely used and continuous improvement (or kaizen) the most cost-effective, the balanced scorecard is possibly the most successful. The balanced scorecard is a measurement system (like SWOT), but that is just the beginning. It can more accurately be described as a management system that allows the conveyance of a clear vision and strategy and then translates those into action. The balanced scorecard is selected also because it allows (or, more accurately, demands) continual feedback and input from all levels of the organization. In addition, if cost is a consideration, it can be included in the scorecard’s measurables. These features enable the organization to assess and modify both the internal and external factors connected with an organization with a goal of continuous improvement, which is a successful performance intervention.

References

Altschuld, J. W., & Kumar, D. D. (2010). Needs Assessment: An Overview. Thousand Oaks:Sage.

Garcia-Sabater, J. J., & Marin-Garcia,J. A. (2011). Can we still talk about continuous improvement? Rethinking enablers and inhibitors for successful implementation. International Journal of Technology Management 55(1/2), 28-42.

Helms, M. M., & Nixon, J. (2010). Exploring SWOT analysis–where are we now? Journal ofStrategy and Management 3(3), 215-251.

Kaplan, R. S., & D.P. Norton (2006). Alignment: Using the Balanced Scorecard to CreateCorporate Synergies. Boston: HBS Press. Mckeown, M. (2012). The Strategy Book. Harlow: Pearson.

Watkins, R., West Meiers, M., & Visser, Y. (2012). A Guide to Assessing Needs: Tools for collecting information, making decisions, and achieving development results. Washington, DC: World Bank.

(Appendices A & B omitted for preview. Available via download)