Developing a Baseline

From Organization Development Practice

Earlier this year I consulted on an organizational change project with a client organization that was interested in both strategic planning for future growth and shorter-term planning to improve performance against current organizational goals. This was a rather ambitious project and the results were truly inspiring! After speaking with senior leaders within the organization (our “steering team”) I incorporated their desires and feedback into the following model which was used for the project:

This model is fairly complex, so I’d like to draw your attention specifically to “Phase II” during which my research assistants and I “triangulated” the status quo.  Essentially what that means is that we looked at the same phenomenon from a variety of different angles, or specifically in this case, using a variety of different research techniques. The phenomenon in question was the current state of the training and development programs in place within the organization. 

It may seem counter-intuitive that the research team would spend so much of its time investigating the status quo. I mean, everyone in the organization believed they understood the status quo well-enough that they would gladly talk at length about it whether or not they were invited to do so! (A little snark, but hey, I’m a good listener, really!) A well-developed baseline is an integral part of project management for a variety of reasons. Baselines are also important in research, experiments, and during the personal development journey.

Baselining Yourself

The change model above demonstrates how greatly important it is to learn as much as you can – and at a deeper level than your everyday experience – about a current condition prior to attempting to change it.  This concept is a direct continuation of the discussion on Data-Driven Personal Growth, where I mentioned “turning subject to object”.  My main point in that post is that we typically have a poor understanding of a current condition because we typically do not actively measure it objectively.  What my research team found in our organizational change project was that even though many members of the organization thought they understood the current condition of their training programs, when we started researching – taking measurements – there were a lot of suppressed emotions within the organization that were holding back performance.  Once everything was out in the open and the REAL baseline had been defined, the organization could move forward. 

How can you expect to get to where you want to go if you don’t truly know where you are?

In the same way, you will likely have some emotional baggage that will try to weigh you down during a time of change.  Often, the uncertainty experienced during change will allow these dormant emotions to bubble to the surface, and if left unchecked, your change effort may fail completely. Gaining a deeper understanding of your current – and even subconscious – emotional state is extremely important, but developing a personal baseline also gains you the ability to make comparisons over time.  Say, you make a measurement today and a measurement in a month, now you can compare the two measurements to assess whether or not you’re moving in the right direction! If you failed to develop a baseline in the first place, your ability to assess your own progress would be greatly impaired.

Words of Caution on Personal Baselines

“Well, let’s see, right now I’m a mess. A total basket case. I can’t even do my job because I’m so dumb…”

Nope. Not that. The negative self-talk isn’t helping anyone. (Reminder to write a post about negative self-talk)

When you’re developing a personal baseline, you must remember to keep it Appreciative. Anchor your desire to assess your current state in the knowledge that it is an important step to take in order for your change effort to be successful.  Anchor yourself further with the knowledge that only the BEST kind of people care about self-improvement enough to intentionally stretch their comfort zones like this.  You have to be honest, but don’t hate on yourself. Talk to yourself no more aggressively than you would talk to a loved one or a good friend. This is self-reflection, and just like I mentioned in Growing the Roots of Change, you truly need a self-reflection practice; such is a huge step forward on the personal development journey. Journaling is still a great idea, although I prefer meditation.  I know that different techniques work better for some people than others, so I cannot recommend a particular method of self-reflection, but I do advise giving it a shot and researching different techniques.  (Reminder to write a post about self-reflection methods)

If you’re comfortable with asking for help with developing a personal baseline, or if you struggle with negative self-talk, it may be wise to work with a coach or even a friend who you know is willing to be honest with you.

This practice should be healthy and helpful, so keep that in mind as you begin, and I have no doubt that you will be in great shape!

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