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  • Nan Beeler

8 Common Problems Found During an Agency Assessment - and 7 Ways to Determine if You Need One

At a break during a child welfare conference I was attending, a supervisor from a child welfare agency approached me with a big smile on her face. “Nan, thank you for telling the truth about our agency,” she said. The Institute for Human Services had recently completed an assessment for her organization, which she said was “spot on, and gave us the impetus to make important changes.”

Her child welfare agency, like many, had been struggling with both direct service and management problems that were decreasing the efficiency and quality of the agency’s work.

After trying to resolve the issues themselves, they decided to reach out to us for help. In many cases, bringing in experienced consultants, like IHS, with decades of experience in identifying the root causes of organizational problems and developing a roadmap to overcome them, is the quickest path to improving the organization’s functioning.

If your agency is struggling with problems that seem insurmountable, we may be able to help.

Recognizing the need: Does your agency need an organizational assessment?

The first step in embarking on an organizational assessment is deciding if one is needed. Following are some questions that may help determine whether your agency could benefit from an organizational assessment.

1. Is morale poor in your agency?

2. Are communications strained, not clear, or not delivered to the right people?

3. Are there problems with decision-making and follow-through?

4. Do staff members complain that they never get answers to questions they

ask administrators?

5. Do you have questions or concerns about how your agency is staffed?

6. Are you concerned about the quality of your agency’s work?

7. Are your agency’s relationships with community partners strained?

Planning the organizational assessment

Once you decide an organizational assessment is right for your organization, IHS launches the planning process. We use a participatory consultation approach from the very beginning and meet with agency administrative staff to plan the assessment of both administrative and direct service operations.

We set goals for the assessment, determine what kinds of information should be gathered and how it will be gathered, and define timelines and structure of the assessment report. We develop a plan for communicating with all staff regarding how and why the assessment is being conducted and determine a process for reporting out the findings. We also build a roadmap for how we will work with agency administrators to develop recommendations for resolving problems.

How is the organizational assessment conducted?

Each agency assessment is based on the belief that most people want to do a good job and feel proud about the agency they work for and will respond to assessment questions if approached with respect and care. Assessments are tailored to the needs and goals of each organization.

We follow these guiding principles:

  • Utilize participatory consultation: we respect the expertise of agency staff and management. Together we develop a process for conducting the assessment that will work in each agency’s specific environment.

  • Engage in a variety of information-gathering strategies to ensure thorough, comprehensive, well-balanced information.

  • Ensure every staff member, relevant community partner, and board member is encouraged to participate in individual or small group discussions. (In large agencies surveys may be utilized.)

  • Ensure that staff feels safe and free from censure to discuss their ideas about the agency’s strengths and opportunities for improvement.

  • Write a report that is thorough and comprehensive. Our reports include findings about direct services and management operations with descriptions of strengths, opportunities for improvement, contributing factors, and impact on agency operations and families served.

  • Develop recommendations that are specific and realistic, in consultation with agency administration. The recommendations form a “blueprint” for improvement.

Examples of assessment findings

Operational problems are almost always rooted in problems with management level functions or structural issues at the organization. Conducting a thorough assessment is like peeling back the layers of an onion.

Here are some common problems IHS consultants find during agency assessments:

  1. Lack of consistent leadership with no clearly articulated vision, mission, or strategic plan to guide agency operations.

  2. Agency managers who do not work as a cohesive management team.

  3. No clearly defined policies for some aspects of the work.

  4. A lack of adequate staffing in all or parts of the agency, preventing critical job functions from being performed.

  5. A lack of clarity regarding who makes which decisions, or inconsistencies regarding how critical decisions are made across units or departments.

  6. Inconsistent or ineffective processes for communicating critical issues, decisions, or concerns to staff.

  7. Inadequate training for staff, and not enough time for supervisors to help staff transfer learning onto their jobs.

  8. Lack of communication between community service providers and agency staff, which results in poorly coordinated services to clients.

How do we support the implementation of recommendations?

Upon completion of the assessment report, IHS consultants typically meet with the agency director first, to share the assessment conclusions and initial recommendations. We then fine-tune those recommendations with the director (and any other administrative staff he/she invites) so they are both realistic and ambitious.

Then in-person presentations of the assessment findings are conducted with the entire staff, and any other groups the agency administration wishes to invite, such as the board or a citizens’ advisory council.

However, organizational assessments are useless if the recommendations are never operationalized. Change is inherently difficult, and staff must commit time and effort in addition to their normally heavy workload to make it happen.

To pave the way for organizational change, IHS helps the agency administration develop a plan for ensuring the recommendations are implemented.

This typically involves a series of planning and implementation meetings at the agency. IHS consultants can participate in initial meetings if needed.

Organizational assessment can also be conducted in preparation for engaging in strategic planning.

Why IHS is uniquely qualified

IHS uses a team approach to conducting organizational assessments. Our team members have decades of experience in organizational assessment and development, strategic planning, program development, and management.

Our experience is varied. In the child welfare and other social services, we have worked with adolescents, foster care, family services, training, developing family team meeting programs, and program management.

We have consulted with, and trained, child welfare and social service organizations throughout North America and Eastern Europe to develop staff training systems for their organizations.

Our backgrounds in social work, psychology, law, education, public administration, and public policy give us the interpersonal and communication skills necessary to ask the right questions and put people at ease so they can fully engage in the assessment process.

After our assessments, participants often comment that they were surprised at how comfortable they felt discussing agency issues with us, and were grateful for the accuracy of our findings, and that the recommendations gave them a clear path forward.

We enjoy doing this work because we can help improve services to families on a systemic level, thereby making a significant difference in the lives of families, children, and the staff who serve them.

For further information about how we might help your organization, please contact us by email ­­­­­­­­­­­­­at or call us at (614) 251-6000.

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