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To review or not to review?

To review or not to review?

Should charities review their organisational strengths?


James Turner, Associate Director at Rocket Science, looks at the pluses and minuses of organisational reviews

“We shouldn’t be reviewing what we do, we should be doing what we do…”

I know this feeling well. Outside of Rocket Science, I am a trustee at a small charity in the North East. The charity does great work helping children and young people in need. And the thought of taking senior staff and trustees away from this frontline work to review our organisational set up doesn’t feel quite right. It’s both a luxury we can’t afford and a diversion from what we should be doing.

However, these thoughts and feelings are all based on the notion that a review is time-consuming. What I can promise you is that it doesn’t have to be that way! A Rocket Science review can be a swift review! To misquote Bruno Mars, don’t believe me, just try it… Any charity or voluntary group can access our free VCS Assist tool on our website. I joined Rocket Science in November 2014 and part of my due diligence (which mainly involved looking through their web-pages…), I gave this tool a go in my role as a trustee.

The first thing that I found out is that, although the tool states that it’s for use by employment and skills VCS organisations, 95% plus of the questions are valuable to any VCS group. In fact, I think that out of over 40 questions, only two are specific to employment and skills groups.

Secondly, I found out that it was indeed quick. The introduction page states that to get the most out of it, you should spend 60-90 minutes completing the survey. However, I feel that is at the top end of the time it takes. Certainly a quick overview can be done in 15-20 minutes.

Most importantly, the results of the survey are valuable. Really valuable. After giving the VCS Assist tool a test run, I felt compelled to talk to the chief exec at the charity where I’m a trustee: “You’ve got to look at this! It’ll help us pinpoint staff development needs for the next year. And it will pinpoint what we are good at and where we know we are not so good.”

This last point is key – I think most people who are heavily involved in a charity, whether as staff or trustees, will have an intuitive but unformed sense of what they are good at. However, a strengths review helps to clarify this sense. You can really see what elements of governance, management, HR, finances and so forth are the issue.

And, finally, there are a couple of points where no review or tool can help you. You are on your own! First, there are two schools of organisational development, destined never to agree. You might be a believer in the Theory of Constraints – in layperson’s terms, you are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. Or you might believe in strengths-based performance management – making the most of what you are already good at. But either way, an organisational strengths review can help you target the best things to focus on.

Secondly, using a tool like the VCS Assist tool might be enough for your organisation. Or you might want to do something more thorough – involving more staff, comparing views on organisational strengths and working together to draw up an action plan. Of course, either approach is valuable. The key is to ensure that the return on the investment of time remains high with a more thorough approach. And modestly, of course, I’d suggest that Rocket Science can help find that right, more-thorough approach…

And it’s there that I’ll finish. I know only too well that reviewing doesn’t always feel like doing. But with the right sort of review, I strongly feel that you can do much more. And do it much better, too.

You can download the tool here

Follow James on Twitter @JamesRocketSci