Key to Improving Performance: Baseline Assessments

To be competitive on the tennis court, golf course or effective working out at the gym it is an accepted practice of business owners and senior executive leaders to engage a coach or trainer to help them do better in their selected sport or activity.  The first session is used to evaluate basic movements so that a “baseline” ability can be diagnosed.  An action plan is then developed to create new body action, follow-up sessions scheduled to develop muscle memory along with periodic “assessments” to determine progress from the baseline toward a new level of performance.

In today’s highly competitive global business climate it is imperative for organizations seeking high performance to have every business process operating at an effective level. You would think it would be common for owners and senior leaders to engage a business coach or trainer to strengthen their business performance. However, their is a lot of resistance to engage a coach or trainer to assist in diagnosing areas of the organization that are not operating properly (i.e. golf back swing, tennis backhand, incorrect breathing when lap swimming, etc.) and developing an action plan for improvement. This is particularly true of founder/owners who are still engaged in day-to-day operations.

Force Fit Solution
This may be due to high priced consultants who bring their method (and agenda) to a company without understanding what the real problems are but force fit their solution into the company.  This often results in mixed results and, worse, the loss of a major investment (money, resources, opportunity, image) to improve the company. Implementing the wrong plan, despite how good it looks on paper, will always result in missed expectations.

Owner/Management Resistance
Or, it may be due to significant resistance by the owner and management team to defend their current business practices, not listening to outside observations by experienced professionals or probing lower levels of the organization for feedback that will point out serious problems.  Consequently an unwilling or defensive management team will always defeat even the best plan.

Dedicated Organization
Some organizations can be effective doing it from the inside the company but it requires a major investment and dedicated staff.  Most businesses are not large enough to dedicate the resources to do it right.  Smaller organizations that try to do it while operating the company have difficulty with objectivity when measuring results, devoting sufficient time to the process, identifying cause and effect, performing timely reviews and communicating plan updates.

Self-assessment Solution
An approach that has emerged as an effective way to neutralize the effect of a predetermined method (or outcome) or a defensive management team is for the leadership team and key employees to use a self-assessment survey that measures current business practices with industry best practices.  The end product is an assessment or baseline that diagnoses which practices that represent either strengths (capabilities) or weaknesses (constraints). By examining what is and is not working the leadership team can understand how to maximize the effectiveness of its most successful areas of operation and shore up areas that are dysfunctional or underperforming.

Their are three significant results using this approach:

  1. High Team Ownership: Shortcomings (current practices compared to best practices) are the result of opinions from the organization and not someone from the outside.
  2. Lower Internal Resistance: Defensive attitudes are disarmed by self-evaluation.
  3. Action Plan Adoption: Leadership team is more willing to adopt and implement measures to improve business practices.

Action Plan
Even the best organization has difficulty processing what emerges from a baseline assessment.  It is difficult for the senior leader to lead a session designed to process the assessment. Information fundamental to developing an effective action plan is based on transparency within the team.  Team members need to feel free to share their thoughts openly as to how they answered the survey and even the best leader moderating the discussion can suppress knowledge key to improving a specific business practice.

An experienced business professional (using the athletic coach or trainer example above) can serve as a moderator in a session and create the transparency needed to forge perceptions, misunderstanding and ideas into an action plan.  This person would have experience and skills to engage the group and keep the dialog going on key subjects so that weak areas are fully revealed.  This would be conducted in a workshop session targeting the weakest practices first where improvement would bring immediate impact to the business in the short term.

A very important element objective of this process is to identify areas where significant operating groups or key performers were not aligned in their understanding and implementation of a best practice or its role in meeting business objectives.  When key employees or departments do not have the same understanding, execution or commitment to a best practice then you have important functions of the company working against each other (misalignment) which will handicap business performance.

Baseline Tools
Baseline tools exist for the organization, leadership development, board governance and sales.

  • Which is the one for you? . . . This begs the next question.
  • Where’s your pain?

All organization can benefit from using each one of these assessment tools along with the proper action plan from the assessment.  In many cases using the sales baseline as a first step as it addresses an important issue for many businesses – revenue production.

Take advantage of the resources available in the market to know where you are and where you need to be.  Don’t let pride or the belief that you are so different there is nothing out there that addresses your particular business.

Get a good coach or trainer that you trust to help diagnose your business inefficiencies and improve the effectiveness and return of investment of your key resources.

A disciplined approach – coaching, training, assessing, measuring – to prepare your self to compete on the golf course, tennis court, triathlon should also be part of each business function of your company.


Click here for more information from Brice Consulting on baseline assessments.

Other sources of information about baseline assessments:


  1. I run into issues with baseline assessments in my work in employee compensation when I prepare market analyses for my clients. Typically it’s when I’m working with new clients, and I ask them to assess the roles they want reviewed in relation to competitive salary data. The salary surveys used will usually have multiple levels of a role, and they need to match their roles to these surveys. Although I caution them, invariably they will match many of their roles too high, for example, matching a mid-level accountant to a senior level accountant in the survey. I then do the analysis, and the results show these roles as underpaid. That causes them to reassess their earlier matching which then usually brings their pay more in line with the market after I do my analysis for a second time, costing my client an additional amount. All of this indicates to me there are definite issues with accurate assessments, and in my work, the market rates brings a real dose of reality.

  2. I have found similar issues with clients either being overly critical or too generous in the grading of their understanding, adoption or execution of an industry best practice. Due to the number of questions involved (>100) in the assessment survey we use a broad profile of the client is captured. When additional members of the team are also included greater depth of the organizations profile is revealed. This information is then used in the workshop used to air the “issues” and develop an effective action plan. Since the answers in the assessment were the result of their self assessment I find it is very productive working with a management team to identify root causes of practices that are poor performing or dysfunctional. The assessment/action plan process is positioned with the client up front so that their expectations are reasonably set.

    The relationship with the client is then not only valuable in creating an action plan but also in educating them on how to apply best practices, creating a healthy dialog within the organization (supervisor/employee or peer-to-peer) on performance, and to improve their self analysis of how their strategic business practices are performing in supporting their business objectives.

    I did not intend to suggest in the article that the self assessment alone was sufficient. It still takes an experienced professional working with the management team and key employees involved in the assessment to craft an action plan that they are heavily invested in, addresses their issues, and will have impact in the near term.

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