It’s Time To Ditch Assessing and Start Sensing

This one’s for all you leaders out there who are wondering what the point is to all the engagement, organizational performance, culture and learning assessments that we put ourselves through year after year. I mean, we get some data from them, that’s sort of vague and general and then we talk about it for a while. Sometimes we get a committee or task force going to try and fix things or improve our scores, but those fade away until next time.

Don’t get me wrong, the intentions behind assessments are good ones! It’s important to look inside and see how we’re doing, give people a chance to have a voice, see where there are challenges we need to address. It’s a good and noble cause. But here’s the thing… most assessments don’t tell us a lot that turns out to be useful, they’re not engaging and often feel like a drag to complete, the questions don’t get at people’s real experiences on the ground and there’s often no way of knowing how to act to address any issues that come up from the results, so we just get that committee together and move on.

What if we flipped assessment on its head and started thinking about the whole thing differently? What if we engaged our own people in listening, sharing, connecting, creating together to find out how we’re doing and what would make us even better? We call this sensing. It literally means to become aware of.

Imagine this:

●     Instead of spending tons of time and money learning about your deficiencies only to have to get a committee together because now they actually have to learn the stories of people’s real experiences behind the scores… You get proactive understanding of what people’s real experiences are and ideas to make the hard things better, right upfront.

●     You get focused on what matters fast so you can be more responsive.

●     You get people connecting across the organization regardless of position to share real stories on the ground, giving everyone who participates a more meaningful understanding of their work and a voice in making it better.

How does it work? Twice a year an interview team goes out into your organization and shares 20 minute conversations with questions that matter and takes good notes. Anyone can lead an interview regardless of position, so you’re creating ownership from the start. A sense making team gets all the notes and finds experiences, ideas and patterns that are shared and those that are unique to one team or a few people. Once the results are in, decision makers may choose any number of actions including forming project teams around challenges or opportunities that emerged from sensing. Since sensing gets at real ideas from real people, there is already traction from within about how to create new possibilities. Over time, as people learn the questions, the conversations happen more quickly and more often.

Sensing is kind of meta, because as you’re getting all this rich and relevant information, you’re also getting the side effects of people having meaningful conversations and sharing stories with each other, giving people regular chances to have a say in the things that matter in their own words and contexts and creating a chance for the whole to align and learn together from all the parts of the organization. When we connect sensing and sharing we get a whole lot of learning that turns out to be really useful.

Teams can do their best when they know how they’re doing. We can only make our best decisions when we’re clear on where we are and where we want to be. Sensing gives us that chance in a way that’s more organic, more connecting and useful than assessments could ever be. We don’t need to be told by a cookie cutter survey how we’re doing. We need to recognize that everything we need to know is right there within our people, waiting to be connected and shared with the right kinds of conversations and a couple cups of coffee.

Interested in Thrive At Work Sensing for your team or organization? Get in touch with us! Visit our website: or Email Jen at:

Our Thrive at Work sensing structure is designed around questions relating to: culture, learning, leadership, engagement and impact. We customize questions with you depending on the kind of information you’re looking to discover. We recommend sensing on a regular basis, ideally every six months to keep you and your people continuously proactive, responsive, growing and aligned. We create with you multiple options for people to participate including: interviews, focus groups, surveys and texting. We train and facilitate interview and sense making teams and guide you through every step of the process.

Sensing helps you:

  • Discover what’s shared
  • Know how you’re doing and what’s working well
  • Uncover actionable ideas to make you better
  • Identify and prioritize what matters to your people
  • Find out what beliefs are held about learning, potentials and constraints
  • Prepare and create context for planning, new work, growing and learning
  • Track progress and new growth opportunities over time
  • Build trust through hearing perspectives and following through with actions to value those perspectives
  • Create ownership by engaging everyone in shaping their workplace
  • Engage and teach people the work of listening and sharing in an ongoing way
  • Communicate essential messages of progress and impact through the interviews and conversations
Jen Margolis

About Jen Margolis

My passion is helping people find and use their strengths to move toward their biggest vision. My career began as a community organizer with refugees and grew to designing and facilitating programs for international professionals including grassroots women leaders in Egypt. These experiences led me to management consulting focusing on strategic planning, leadership development, community and education based program development and executive coaching.

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