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The power of management assessments: an important process during unprecedented times

May 18, 2020

By Julia Johnson, Director of Organizational Performance and Robert Zondag, Senior Manager of Strategic Advisory Services

Following the financial crisis of 2008, three critical leadership lessons surfaced:

  1. Having a high-quality management team and a culture of accountability are critical to the successful operation of an organization during challenging times.
  2. The board of directors and/or the CEO knew or should have known that certain members of the management team did not possess the necessary knowledge, skills and ability to be effective in their assigned roles.
  3. The board, CEO and senior management should have taken proactive measures to remediate concerns prior to or during the difficult event.

With the broad-reaching impact COVID-19 is having on business and industry throughout the world, the concept of management assessments is re-emerging. As a high-performing organization, you may want to consider evaluating the use of management assessments as a tool to weather these uncertain times.

What is a management assessment?

A management assessment is an intentional process to evaluate whether the organization has the right leadership team at the helm to successfully navigate the current challenges, to anticipate what difficulties may be on the horizon and to chart a course forward. 

In a proactive management assessment, a high-performing organization recognizes the value and benefit of evaluating how successful the team has been in responding to challenges and where there may be opportunities to realign team members to their areas of strength. The idea to conduct a proactive management assessment often starts with the CEO, the board or the senior management team. 

A mandated management assessment is where an organization within a regulated industry, such as financial services, is required by a regulatory agency to engage in a study to affirm the strength of the leadership team and/or identify where the organization may need to shore up specific functional areas. 

These studies are nothing to fear, and in fact can be viewed as a process to help the organization better manage through difficult periods, identify needed skills within the leadership team and improve relationships with the regulatory agency.

Most business leaders agree that some type of formal planning and leadership review helps in driving organizational performance. Focused, qualified management is at the heart of a successful businesses. In simplest terms, management means getting things done to achieve goals with and through other people.  A management assessment is a vehicle to evaluate if the leadership team is equipped to weather the storm, whatever its cause, successfully. And that its leadership understands how to course correct as necessary.

The best management assessments are aligned to the cadence of the organization’s strategic planning process. By doing so, the organization builds a natural rhythm to periodically step back and review organizational structure, necessary knowledge and skillsets. Aligning management assessments and strategy also identifies the talent best suited to lead shifts in initiatives.  

Who conducts the management assessment?

Generally, best practice suggests a third-party be engaged to perform an assessment of team members in an unbiased format. The assessment may include questions surrounding strategic direction, culture, governance of corporate affairs, organizational structure, evolution of roles and responsibilities, learning and development, knowledge of the industry, ethics and related efforts. 

Ensuring that the service provider is committed to fact­-finding is critical and will lend credibility to the results of the assessment and related recommendations. 

The assessment may involve online surveys, group meetings, and/or individual interviews. Interviews are conducted via phone, web conference or in person. The information gathered is reviewed and compiled into a report that is shared with management and, if required, the regulatory agency requesting it (for mandated assessments).

How do I prepare for a management study?

Finding a qualified partner to perform the management study will be key to a successful engagement.  The partner needs to have depth of experience, be committed to, and have demonstrated success in providing a balanced and fair report. A well-written report will convey and outline recommendations for closing potential gaps and related timelines. This enables the organization (and regulatory agency) to have insights into the functioning, willingness and agility of the leadership team to adjust, resolve specific concerns or contribute to the ongoing success of the organization.  

In searching for a partner to conduct the assessment and to facilitate your decision-making process, your organization will want to:

  • Request the firm’s level experience in conducting management assessments. Also, identify the industry or industries in which the firm specializes.
  • Evaluate the knowledge, skills and experience of the proposed engagement team members.
  • Gain an understanding of the fact-finding process to be used and materials necessary to be provided.
  • Identify which management team members the service provider recommends participating in the assessment process. When choosing team members, consider desired outcomes from the assessment.
  • Seek references from other organizations who have worked with the service provider. 
  • Understand the length of time the assessment will take in relationship to the investment. Know that the lowest cost provider may not always have the depth of experience needed or that the regulatory agency may require. Select the provider that will bring the greatest value to the organization and team.
  • If you are mandated to conduct an assessment, the approval of the regulatory agency is usually required.  
  • Evaluate if the firm providing the assessment can assist with post-implementation support. 

What do I do with the results?

First, read the assessment and foster discussion with the appropriate leaders within the organization. The assessment provider, as part of the engagement, can provide a structured platform to foster this dialogue.  

The report frames the often-unspoken thoughts of leadership and others who may have participated in the fact-finding and interview process. Leverage the unbiased nature of the assessment to create fresh perspective, to step outside of traditional conversations and to challenge role assumptions.

Second, take action to implement the recommendations. The final report can serve as the foundation for having discussion about the necessary actions that need to be taken to strengthen individuals, the leadership team and the organization. And, as mentioned, pull in expert advisors to assist in the implementation of recommendations. 

Wipfli can help you perform a management assessment. Click here to learn more.

Read more: 

How talent assessments can ID your future leaders — and retain mission-critical employees

Board governance – Highly effective boards and the strategic mindset

Align performance management and compensation systems

Talent and change


Julia A. Johnson
Director, Organizational Performance
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