IE TIG Week: Combining Evaluation with Process Improvement for Organizational Improvement by Jessica Cargill

Hi, I’m Jessica Cargill, Program Director for Evaluation for the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases at Texas A&M University. In my role, I provide leadership for the evaluation of programs, our strategic plan, and organizational effectiveness initiatives. Prior to my current position, I worked in a medium-sized healthcare system leading process improvement projects. As a matter of fact, it was process improvement that helped me realize my love for evaluation, as the two disciplines are quite similar and have much to lend one another!

A specific organizational improvement project I am working on concerns employee engagement. After conducting an internal pulse survey, our organization was able to determine that communication from leadership was a particular area where we should focus some improvement efforts.

Using the bottom up approach advocated by Lean and other process improvement frameworks, we brought together small teams of employees (without leadership present!) to engage in the Plan, Do, Check, Adjust cycle. First, we defined the problem and conducted a root cause analysis, asking ourselves, “Why do we think communication is poor?” Then, we brainstormed countermeasures which could address the root cause. This comprised the “Plan” phase. Now, we are testing out our countermeasures for the next 3 months (for the “Do” phase), at which time we will “Check” our success by sending out another, shorter survey. If we see improvement, we may look for another topic to focus on; if we don’t see a change, we will reconvene the team and start the cycle again, to “Adjust” our approach and try to find something that works.

My favorite thing about this project is that we are working to improve employee engagement by actively engaging our employees and empowering them to find the solutions to organizational problems. This team-based, bottom-up approach to organizational improvement is why I believe that this project and others like it have been met with enthusiasm and optimism in my workplace, helping us begin to build a true culture of improvement.

Hot Tip:

  1. When discussing sensitive topics, make sure teams are thoughtfully selected to allow for open and honest communication. Sometimes this means meeting with leadership separately, or by placing more reserved individuals with others they are friendly with.

Rad Resources:

  1. Anyone can facilitate improvement projects, Lean Black Belts not required! gives a good introduction of the PDCA cycle and has some user-friendly templates for brainstorming and planning improvement projects of your own. Adapt these to suit your needs and workplace culture.
  2. Lead with Respect by Michael Balle is a readable, narrative-driven book which teaches how to think about organizational improvement from the bottom-up.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Internal Evaluation (IE) Topical Interest Group Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our IE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 thoughts on “IE TIG Week: Combining Evaluation with Process Improvement for Organizational Improvement by Jessica Cargill”

  1. Julie Bancroft

    What a fascinating project, I too believe that process improvement is a very valuable part of evaluation that has such a great impact on its participants.

    Collaborative inquiry between colleagues, as well as the project you’re working on, which involves bottom-up improvement, increases employee engagement which, in turn, empowers employees and results in their professional development.

    However, I make the assumption that the leader in question in your project has a shared leadership style and has acknowledged that there’s a problem in communication, buying into the idea that it’s something that they can and would like to improve upon.

    I’d like to know what your strategy would be in such a project if the leader had a more traditional, directed leadership style and was not supportive of a collaborative, team-based environment, thus giving you more of a challenge to build a culture of improvement within the company?

    Can I assume that your organization wouldn’t take on such a project because of the potential for push-back from the company leader? Or would you have simply looked for another topic to focus on? How do you determine the capacity of a company for accepting to participate in a culture of improvement mindset if this culture has not yet been (fully) established within the company?

    I thought your Hot Tip was right on point for an environment in which learning is laterally shared, and I’ve taken note of your Rad Resource for my future endeavors in administration. Thanks so much.

  2. Thank you for a great article. Transparency and communication are some of the issues that my organization faces at times. It is a wonderful idea to involve employees from the beginning and allow them a open and safe environment to discuss their concerns and as you said without leadership present. I am wondering though, what is the role of senior leadership in improvement process? Could a similar process be completed to see what their point of view of the issues are? In the “Check” phase what kinds of changes are you looking for and how are they being measured?
    I do think that ground up approaches to organization changes are the key to their success. People of often forget that senior leadership must be on board but you absolutely must have buy-in from your employees to make the new culture change a success. Thanks again for a great article.

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