I’ve found in my and others’ experiences of reviewing small, medium or large businesses, it appears that despite their size or complexity, they have all shared similar needs. For example, the need to have a general look at the whole business to see where improvements could be made, or, the need to redevelop a specific area within the business, or, the need to do something about known, often historical problems. Doing a review, albeit a major or minor one, is often a cause of real anxiety for the decision makers. Questions commonly asked include what is the best process? When is the best time to start? What and how do we tell our staff? How and where do we begin?

I’ve found there is no one, best way to conduct a review. There are however, a number of potential problem areas to be avoided. If you can sidestep them, the ‘best’ process for your organisation will emerge. Some common problems include:

Lack of Planning

Have you often heard people talk of mistakes made in prior reviews, that are repeated, without fail, every subsequent review? Or, that a random approach is taken, with no clear beginning, middle or end and confusion reigns? The beginning point is definitely thinking and planning. Consider the review brief, the review scope, what is to be looked at and why (what is the problem exactly? How do we know we have a problem?), what the expected outcomes are and who is capable of doing the work. Methodology is also important, so identify the most effective ways to review, given the size and complexity of the organisation. An approach that may have worked somewhere else may not quite suit your organisation, so tailor-make the process to suit your needs. Document the plan, consider who needs to be involved, factor in regular progress reviews and identify how the overall monitoring is to be done, once underway. Consider how best to support staff through the process. After completing the review, formally reflect and critique the whole process. What worked well? Less well? How could the process be improved? What specifically could be done differently? What was the planning like? Who else could have been involved? What’s the feedback from staff and stakeholders? Have the desired outcomes been reached?

Excess slowness or speed

Know of places that talk for months and months about doing a review and take even more months to actually begin it? Know of places that watch issues develop and fester, without resolution? Not a great idea. Stress, anxiety, fear, lowered productivity, loss of morale, loss of respect for management and rumour creation are some of the by-products of being slow to act upon your intentions. Most workplaces can’t afford these by-products, so plan to avoid them. Once the review begins, work with relative speed. Don’t take months to do something that can be done within weeks; move quickly to adjust your review process if it becomes obvious that the proposed methodology isn’t going to get you the outcome you need. Conversely, don’t attempt to do major pieces of work in an impossibly small timeframe.

Lack of Communications

In the absence of factual, timely information, rumours and misinformation will fill the gap, thus fuelling the development of negative by-products, mentioned earlier. Avoid the trap altogether by developing and implementing a communications plan. Determine the messages you want and need to convey; determine the communication channels you want to use; what you need and want to report back on or get input on, the frequency of your communications, and the person(s) responsible for implementing the plan. Ask staff and other key people for feedback, to check the communications are effective. You may be communicating but are people getting the message?

Lack of input from key people

Inevitably, people in the workplace know the problem areas, their potential solutions, know what works well, and other business-enhancing, bright ideas. External advisors are not necessarily the ones with all the answers so ask the staff and involve them in the process. A good result is achieved if there are numbers of minds on the problems and different perspectives brought to bear. A change process driven by skilled, key people within the organisation, often brings the best result.

No clear direction, commitment or follow through

Once underway, reviews need focus, clear direction, commitment and momentum. If you don’t have all of these, at the beginning, during and after, trouble will head your way.

Lack of support

It pays to identify, right at the beginning what organisational supports will be needed. For example, if you want staff to attend meetings, be members of project teams and the like, then what do you need to put in place, to free them up to participate? If the review identifies that new practices will be required, what resources might be needed (and budgeted for), for the implementation phase?

Sometimes organisations become so bogged down with themselves, they can’t get out of their own way. They can become weighty with endless analysis and slow decision making processes. They can lose their flexibility and ability to have rapid response capabilities. Sometimes then, a self review is forced upon them by external events, missed opportunities or when some situations have become intolerable.

Developing the ability to rapidly respond to changing times and situations is essential, as is the ability to deal with problems when they appear. Some problems may be avoided if an organisation commits to ongoing, continuous improvement and develops the systems and processes to do it effectively. Do yourself a favour – regularly review every aspect of your business – and learn from the experience.

First published in NZBusiness August 2002

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