Workplace assessments have emerged as a popular and very useful tool to proactively address and respond to concerns in the workplace. It is quite often used to gather information about culture, practices, or behaviours in the workplace, to identify the cause of conflicts, or to identify potential opportunities for improvement in particular areas. Whatever your reason may be for initiating a workplace assessment, we have identified some key considerations when preparing for the assessment that will aid you in achieving the desired result or obtaining the desired information.

1. Who will conduct the assessment? One of the first determinations to be made is who will conduct the assessment. Will it be done internally or externally? If internally, then by whom specifically? If the aim is to assess the efficacy of operations or non-controversial new changes in the workplace, perhaps such a review can be done internally. However, if the review is triggered by internal conflicts or is impacted by trust concerns, then maybe you want to consider an external and independent reviewer. An assessment is only effective if there is active participation by those with the relevant information. Therefore, you want to create a process that fosters a sense of trust and confidentiality.

2. Source of the desired information Another important preliminary consideration is the source of the desired information. For this, you want to determine the target group, for example, the staff of the entire organization or the staff of a particular department, etc. If, for example, the concern is discrimination in the hiring practices within a particular department, then there may be no real need to extend the scope of the review to the entire organization. That being said, you always want to be open to the possibility of extending the scope of the review. For example, if the review of the department reveals a more organizational problem, then at that point, you may want to reconsider the scope of the review.

3. Best way to obtain the information You want to ensure that you utilize the best method or combination of methods for data collection. Some of the common tools available include interviews, surveys, and focus groups. The chosen method depends on multiple factors. If the group from whom information will be collected is small, then there may be no need for a survey. Perhaps one-on-one interviews or even a focus group may be more appropriate in those circumstances. In my experience, a focus group is not always the best option if sensitive information will be discussed. Not everyone will feel comfortable sharing openly in a group setting. On the other hand, there are some who feel more comfortable sharing in the presence of their peers where there is a feeling of support. In larger groups, however, it may be difficult to have individual interviews or focus groups. In those instances, I have found surveys to be a very useful tool. Our general approach is to include the option for participants to share their contact information in the event that we wish to speak with them about their survey responses. This is an effective way to narrow the number of interviews that may be needed. As an external reviewer, I find that clients appreciate this type of consideration because it invariably also involves cost management for them.

4. Policy or legislative requirements Assessments are often not triggered by any legal requirement; however, as part of the preliminary process, you still want to review and consider any legislation, policies, collective agreements, or protocols that govern the operations of the organization. This is because you want to be sure that the process undertaken does not violate any applicable protocols or requirements.

5. Confidentiality Sometimes, there may be skepticism around participating in an assessment. That may be because participants do not know whether there will be any repercussions for their participation or whether their identities will be disclosed. For that reason, confidentiality becomes a big question – will they have an opportunity to participate anonymously, or will they have to disclose their identities to the assessor? One of the things that you can do to create a sense of security is make a commitment to share the information in such a way that they will not be identified as the source of the information. In our experience, with this kind of assurance, there may be less reluctance to participate or even to disclose their identity to the assessor. Ultimately, one of the benefits to knowing who the participants are is that it allows the assessor to potentially follow up on any information shared that might require further investigation, such as an allegation of harassment or any other breach of policy.

6. Communication given to participants Unfortunately, this is a consideration often overlooked by organizations. I find that organizations are usually zealous to tackle a concern, but in their exuberance, they seek to commence the process without properly communicating with the intended participants. The potential effect is that there may be reluctance to participate, and by extension, a reduction in the quality of information obtained. This might be due to a misunderstanding that the process is an investigation or, as discussed above in 5, that there may be adverse repercussions for their participation or that their identities will be disclosed. Before commencing the assessment, I recommend that adequate information about the process be shared with the intended participants. That communication should give insight into who will be conducting the review, the reason for the review, the review process, and the assurance of confidentiality. We encourage transparency in the communication because if people get the feeling that they are not being given the full story, it can undermine trust in the process.

A workplace assessment is a great tool that you can use to get to the root of some of the issues in your workplace, but you want to ensure that you take the necessary steps to set the process up to succeed. Like many other things, preparation is key. So, do not allow your enthusiasm to tackle the issue at hand to cause you to overlook the key considerations.