Making Me Money

Limitations of Organization Capacity Assessment (OCA) tools

Since April of 2002 I have been involved with Strategic Planning, Restructuring, Re-engineering, Organization Revival, Organization Analysis, Organization Capacity Assessment and Organization Development projects across sectors and boarders. Most of the tools that ate used for this purpose can be traced back to a few general tools which were made famous in the latter part of the twentieth century. Increasingly I have felt the need to further customize these tools in a way that they become more relevant to the current context. This customization has been happening in the past and continues at a faster rate at present.

The single biggest reason that I attribute for this need is that; today we live in a technological age which has some peculiar characteristics. The characteristics are that we need to innovate and improve not only our products but also how we do things inside the organization at a faster rate. This is nothing new; most of the thought leaders of our time have made big bucks selling this message repackaged with additional jargon. These characteristics currently affect most of the knowledge based industries. However as time goes by their affect on every organization be it government, private or development sector will grow exponentially.

As mentioned above since we have to improve the way we do things inside an organization we run into the human dimension of things. We are also aware of the “change management” that needs to happen inside the organization to facilitate the “keeping up” with the changes that drive our organizations toward bigger and better things. However we don not consider that some of the changes required may be limited by the knowledge / intellectual capacity of the staff (here staff include owner directors, CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, and CKOs). In some organizations we may have staff that has reached the limit of their intellectual prowess. When an organization reaches this level it is said to have arrived at the door step of “mediocracy”

The current tools that most of our contemporary consultants use for organizational diagnosis will not help identify this issue of “mediocracy”. However there are some characteristics that are peculiar to these organizations where they have reached the glass ceiling of intellectual limitation / mediocracy. Let me take a few cases from assignment that I have done in the past and elaborate this.

The 1st example that I would like to take is an ICT company that started over 25 years ago. The organization has been fairly successful in keeping up with the changes in the ICT technology; and has been making above industry average, earnings per share. However in the early 21st century there was a need to re-strategize to keep up with the faster pace of change in the ICT technological environment. I was invited to develop a new strategic plan for this organization. By this time I had already identified some of the key markers of an organization that has reached its pinnacle based on the intellectual capacity of its staff; and I was able to identify them in this organization during my first meeting with the senior management of the organization. I suggested to the Managing Director who invited me that the organization not only needed a new strategic plan but it also needed a corporate renewal plan and a VRS. This suggestion was not looked at favorably and I was asked only to develop a strategic plan.

The markers that I identified were:

1. The organization starts adding parallel value chains to the existing organization structure.

2. Organization does not move forward or backwards in the value chain

3. The organization does not spawn new businesses that are “stars” / neither are they known for any innovation (other than the innovation of some of the principles / 3rd party brands that they may represent)

4. History of young star performers leaving the organization on a continuing basis

5. Boasting of people (the young starts) who have left the organization and gone to achieve great things as been trained at this organization.

6. Long serving staff in a particular discipline / technology / expertise

7. Some staff that leave the organization after a few year (not the stars) join the organization again as a manager or a senior in the same field of expertise

8. Staff talk of the same obstacles that they face every year (one years experience repeated over many years) as opposed to innovating / re-engineering / work-a-rounds to overcome obstacles

9. Large number of managers based on technical areas as opposed to value addition

10. Staff do not take up higher education or professional development

11. Average age of staff moves parallel to the age of the organization

The above 11 markers as identified by me is a clear indication that the organization has run out of ideas and the incumbent staff are not able to get the organization out of the hole that it has dug for itself. They need fresh blood and a new playing field to continue being profitable. In its current state it will just survive but never reach its former glory / heyday it enjoyed in the beginning of its existence.

The 2nd example that I would like to take is a research organization set up to do applied economic research. This organization too has been in existence for over 30 years and had enjoyed considerable success in the early part of its existence. This organization too displayed the following common markers as identified by me earlier.

They were:

  1. Long serving staff in a particular discipline / technology / expertise
  2. History of young star performers leave the organization on a continuing basis
  3. Boasting of people (the young starts) who have left the organization and gone to achieve great things as been trained at this organization.
  4. Some staff that leave the organization after a few year (not the stars) join the organization again as a manager or a senior in the same field of expertise
  5. Staff talk of the same obstacles that they face every year (one years experience repeated over many years) as opposed to innovating / re-engineering / work-a-rounds to overcome obstacles
  6. Large number of managers based on technical areas as opposed to value addition
  7. Average age of staff moves parallel to the age of the organization

In addition they displayed the following:

  1. Doing (research) work in traditional / theoretical / safe areas as opposed to doing applied / non traditional / contentious issues based research (Not competing in your space as mentioned in the mission but trying to compete in the space that you perceive to be good at / running back to mama so to speak; relying on your academic training as apposed to innovation)
  2. Contempt / arrogance towards younger organizations (doing applied research) and relying on the age of the organization and past performance as a mark of value (of research) as apposed to quality, (rigor), and relevance to current context.

The above may be considered anecdotal by some; but over the past 8 years across 19 countries I have come across these markers with increasing frequency across private, government and not for profit / development sector organizations which are not considered to be in the knowledge driven sectors.

The question is; are we at the stage that this initial varying degree of prevalence of the markers in other sector may become the norm across organizations and sectors? Only time will tell. However, I am convinced that we are seeing the beginning of another divide that will start another wave of brain drain as organizations start to realize this phenomenon and start to poach intellectual staff from all over the world.