During my 30+ years at Stamats I’ve probably been involved in 500 or so assessments of one kind or another. Whether an in-depth strategic audit or a simple conversion about how to create a more effect marketing department, the key to finding out what’s going on is to identify that set of core questions that offer understanding and provide direction.

While my specific questions may change depending on the audit being undertaken, I’ve learned that they generally fall into five broad categories:

  1. What’s working?
  2. What’s not?
  3. What’s confusing?
  4. What’s missing?
  5. What should we change?

Let me offer a little detail.

What’s working?

This is the most revelatory of all the questions. Not only am I seeking to know what’s working; I want to know if my client actually knows. Answering this question requires that you have a clear goal in mind and some means of measuring progress. It also means that you have a basic understanding of cause (what you did) and effect (what impact it had).

There is a subtext to this question. Not only do I want to know what’s working, but I want to know why it’s working. I also want to know if the understanding gained from evaluating successful can be applied to new initiatives. In some cases, success is not fixing what’s not working but doing more of what is. In some cases, success is not fixing what’s not working but doing more of what is. Click To Tweet

What’s not?

Again, not only do I want to know, but I want to know if my client knows. I am also gauging whether or not the client is agnostic about what they are doing. If a client is emotionally wedded to a specific activity regardless of its effectiveness then I am likely dealing with a client that lacks objectivity.

I love working with agnostics.

What’s confusing?

It is really hard to keep things simple. As a result, a big part of any evaluation is looking at the processes, procedures, and people to see if everything/one is in sync. People are often confused about institutional priorities and how they fit into those priorities. We know, too, that these priorities often shift. Procedures evolve. Decisions are delayed, or made over again. Conflicting ideas are often not adjudicated. The well-meaning left hand is too often out of touch with the well-meaning right hand. Anything that can be done to simplify and clarify goals and objectives will have an almost immediate and positive impact.

Anything that can be done to simplify and clarify goals and objectives will have an almost immediate and positive impact. Click To Tweet

What’s missing?

This is my blank slate question. I want to give people and chance to dream a bit. Everyone has a “if only we had time”, “staff”, or “money” list. I want to know that list.

A little pie in the sky is okay here. It is better to broaden the horizon than to put up fences.

Of course, as they answer this question I am thinking “replacement.” In other words, what do we need to drop to add something new?

What should we change?

I usually phrase this question “If you left this job today, what changes would your replacement immediately make?” “If you left this job today, what changes would your replacement immediately make?” Click To Tweet

I’m trying to light a fire with this question. I’m helping them act on their best instincts. There is no reason to wait. Let’s just get on with it.

Well, there you have it. Five questions that will help generate insight and provide direction. I hope they serve you as well as they have served me.

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