51 – An ABEF OSA. What is it and do you need one?

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                               900 words


The Australian Business Excellence Framework (ABEF) provides a systematic way to think about your organisation and its improvement. It identifies seven categories of organisational activity that are systematically analysed when you conduct an organisational self assessment (OSA) to determine the approach, deployment, results and improvement. This examination of approach, deployment, results and improvement is called the ADRI cycle and it is similar to PDCA and other improvement cycles except that it focuses on outcomes not actions. So, that is what it is.

Do you need one? (And, more importantly, what will you get if you have one).

The purpose of an OSA is to understand where your organisation is at. It is a really big effort to look at your organisation and understand it as a system. This may not be the way you normally see it or seek to manage it. When you do an OSA, you can score your performance using a rating scale and set goals for improvement against that scale. But the numbers don’t really matter. It is what you learn about how your organisation works and how it is being managed that is really useful. If you work in local government, you will probably learn that you are not ‘adrified’ and that there are certain drivers for activity that pop up everywhere.

When I say you are not ‘adrified’, I mean that for all of the activities in your organisation you have not set out to state your approach or intent, plan its deployment, measure its success, and then use your results to improve the approach. Some activities will be better than others but I wouldn’t mind betting that you are not doing it across your entire organisation, and completing the cycle, and doing it all the time. Even areas of the organisation that everyone normally associates with systems and plans don’t scrub up that well. For example, finance often has an approach (i.e. make sure all the money is accounted for properly) that is deployed through the finance system, and measured through periodic management reports, and, when problems are identified, the system is tweaked. But this is not a strategic organisational approach to financial management. The driver is not ensuring that the organisation as a whole uses money in the best possible way to achieve its current and future needs. This brings me to the drivers.

As a subscriber to the systems thinking, I usually look for what is driving a system or process. What is the institutionalised reason for what you see happening in people’s practice and their behaviours? For local government, the drivers become crystal clear as you sit through hours of evaluation and analysis to complete an OSA. Here they are:

  • Legislative compliance – the most comprehensive evidence of adrification can be seen in activities where compliance is required and measured. For example, finance, human resources, health and safety, customer service and records management. There is a clear and obvious accountability to external authorities, such as the audit committee, Office of Local Government, Ombudsman or the Courts. Powerful systems have been set up to control what people do to eliminate or reduce risk.
  • Problems – we don’t always recognise problems but when we do, and if they have significant consequences, we can be quick to address them and put in place a solution. Usually that solution will also be controlling and seek to avoid risk.

That is really it. You might ask about things like organisational strategy and customer or community value. Do they drive what is happening? Well, they do feature but usually when they also fit into one of the two drivers. It is very difficult to find examples of big picture, long-term, ‘on the balcony’ thinking for the whole organisation in relation to the future and the community that isn’t linked to a legislated requirement or an obvious problem. Some of it does happen. Most of it doesn’t complete the ADRI cycle or apply to the entire organisation. It is often highly reactive and organisational strategy is built around a series of reactions to something or someone.

An interesting example is the human resource function. In local government, we often say that our strength is our people, that we are a service industry, and that our people interacting with the service recipients are critical. We invest significant effort into training and development. But how strategic is the whole process? Is there a workforce plan that sets out the capabilities required now and in the future to successfully achieve strategic goals (the approach)? Are recruitment, training and retention linked to those workforce capabilities (deployment)? Are we measuring our success in creating and maintaining those capabilities (results)? Does the workforce plan get updated (improvement) in an inclusive process that builds on learning and meets the needs of the whole organisation? You can probably answer these questions for your organisation.

So, do you need an OSA? I think everyone does. What you will get, at the very least, is a wakeup call and a basis for more effective management of the organisation. It will give leaders a better idea of where the organisation is at and what it will need to do to become a high performing organisation. It will help managers to allocate resources to the right priorities. It will link the organisation firmly to the value it needs to create to meet customer and community expectations.