Understanding and evaluating perception: the key to unlocking organisational health

By Werner Momberg

Over time, Mergon Foundation has evolved from purely being a funder, to being a resource partner. Of course, funding is still at the centre of what we do, but there are several, equally valuable resources we make available to our ministry partners. Why? Because our partnership goal is to see healthy, thriving ministries, functioning at their full potential to achieve maximum Kingdom impact.

One such resource tool is our Organisational Self-Perception (OSP) Scan. The OSP Scan is a practical tool for all NPO and ministry leaders, offering an eagle eye’s view of what a healthy organisation looks like. The OSP Scan allows you and your team to reflect on a number of key strategic management practices which drive organisational health. It then attempts to capture your team’s perceptions on how you perform on a number of key health indicators.

We will unpack ways to effectively use the OSP Scan in an upcoming article. Before delving deeper, however, let’s look at why we chose to measure perception specifically

Most organisational health tools measure on a ‘benchmarking’ or ‘performance-based’ assessment. Although this holds great value, research is finding that the role of mindset is equally, if not, more, persuasive in impacting the quality of people’s performance or levels of engagement. We therefore link organisational health more closely to the positive behavioural attributes of a team in response to their perception of the different dimensions in their organisation.

But what exactly is perception?

Dr. Christina Catenacci in her work, Workplace Organisational Behaviour Part II: Perception, defines perception as: ‘the process by which individuals organise and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment’. How one person perceives a situation can be substantially different from another person’s perceptions, and both can be different from what is objectively true. As she explains, ‘Behaviour is based on one’s perception of what reality is, not reality itself.’

Many studies on topics such as consumer behaviour and investor behaviour also explain the link between perception and behaviour. The diagram below shows the relation between perception and behaviour in an organisational setting:

Let’s take finances as a dimension to state the point: A team member might observe the stress of the leader and financial manager working on the budget. Because they aren’t a team leader, they have never been asked for input on expenses related to this area of responsibility. These perceptual inputs are now processed through perceptual filters which in turn shapes sentiment, attitude and behaviour.

The sentiment could be: ‘What I do is not important’; or ‘I never have enough resources to do my work’. This then affects the team member’s work attitude, behaviour and, eventually, impact. The team member’s perception of the quality of financial planning in the organisation is low. His attitude with regards to resources could be a scarcity mentality prohibiting innovation and excellence in terms of his work, or to the other extreme being wastefulness of resources with little or no accountability.

A good management practice may be to involve all team members in gathering input to develop a realistic budget based on resources needed to do the job.

Why understanding perception within an organisation is so important

As a leader, your team’s perception on organisational dimensions such as board governance, financial health and organisational culture, to name a few, will assist you in building healthy management practices in each of the dimensions of your organisation. Understanding perception will also encourage you to improve internal communication and engagement to positively influence perceptual input, which in turn will lead to a positive sentiment, attitude, behaviour and impact.

Our hope is that the OSP Scan will help you to capture the perceptions of your team on the key dimensions that drive organisational health. As you unpack these results you will be able to evaluate essential management practices in each of these dimensions, assisting you to make refinements where needed, but also pay attention to perception management where the lack of communication and transparency negatively shape perception within the organisation.

In our next article on organisational health, we will give you an overview of the key dimensions of an organisation which require both leadership and sound management to ensure organisational health.

Please refer to our previous articles for more information on this topic:

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