Brett Whaley (Flickr Creative Commons)

Brett Whaley (Flickr Creative Commons)

During the course of my career as an Industrial / Organizational Psychology practitioner, many potential and actual clients have inquired about and contractually entered into the methodology of “organizational diagnosis”.   In the next several blogs, we will explore what organizational diagnosis is, the reasons why organizations perform them, and what we should expect as an outcome of a diagnostic event.

Organizational diagnosis is a process based on behavioral science theory for publicly entering a human system, collecting valid data about human experiences with that system, and feeding that information back to the system to promote increased understanding of the system by its members.  The purpose of organizational diagnosis is to establish a widely shared understanding of a system and, based on that understanding, to determine whether change is desirable.  (Clayton Alderfer, Vol. 11, No. 3 June 1980 PROFESSIONAL PSYCHOLOGY pg. 459)

One of the unintended consequences of performing an organizational diagnosis is that it tends to create some expectations, or at least momentum, that a change initiative is forthcoming.  Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

An Example of Dysfunction

From my experience, there are usually three reasons a client may want to perform an organizational diagnosis.  The first reason is because the organizational is dysfunctional, performing poorly, and management wants to know why.  A sense of this can be discerned from the following example.  I was asked by a client on the east coast to perform an organizational diagnosis.  They couldn’t understand why their competition down the highway was growing like crazy and they weren’t.  I performed the diagnosis, prepared the feedback report, and then scheduled a meeting to share or feedback my findings to them.

One set of findings came from a cross section of their customers.  Their customers found my client’s product to be not only inconsistent, but often out of spec.  They also said the client would deny the problem instead of working with them to find a solution.  In contrast, customer’s view of the competitor down the road was surprisingly different than my client’s view.  Customers said this of the competitor, “their product is consistent, always in spec, and if they have a problem, they call to inform us what is happening and what they are doing to make sure we are not impacted.”

Another finding that was shocking – the workforce in the plant was permitted to work even when they were in an altered state (drunk or high or both).  And what was shocking was that this policy came from top management.  Evidence of this policy, even if only informal in nature, existed: a third shift supervisor had been reprimanded recently by the VP of Operations for sending her crew home when 75% of them were either drunk or high.  Obviously this has an impact on the safety and productivity and of course on the quality and consistency of the product.

This is what I call a “messed up” organization.  The diagnosis feedback session did not go well of course, because it revealed the problem the client had was caused by the management team itself.  Management was looking to blame it on their “dumb” customers, their poor supervisor team, and on the frontline employees.  The top management team knew they had a problem, but they did not believe the problem was them.  Consequently, they went into denial that the root causes of their dysfunction were found in their own leadership behaviors and policies.

Others (employees, supervisors, middle managers, etc.) who participated in the diagnostic event began to create their own personal expectations, or  developed “a hope”, that something would change for the better.  Of course, management did not change a thing; all employees became more frustrated and angry and customers less and less satisfied.  They were out of business within two years.

Dysfunctional Organization Reason for Organizational Diagnosis

The above example is representative of the first reason clients contract an organizational diagnosis.  The client knows or suspects that their organization is dysfunctional or “ messed up” and wants to know what their current situation is precisely, why it is what it is, and wants to have good information so that they can create an effective plan for making it healthy.  Initiating the diagnosis is a healthy reaction to a poor situation.  The client is hoping that the causes of their illness can be identified and corrected quickly.

Your Takeaway

My hope in writing this article is this: that as a leader in your organization you realize that you can only fix what you can see.  If the problem is hidden, if the root causes of the dysfunction are “swept under the carpet”, if pride prevents top management from admitting that they may be part of the problem, dysfunction and  poor performance will continue and it may continue until it has consumed the body like a cancer.  Leaders look into the reality of their situation and, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, they learn, they assess, they plan, and they change the course of their destiny by eliminating the root causes of their problematic situation.

The Next Blog – The Second Reasons

In our next Blog, we will review the first reason and explore the second of the three reasons for performing an Organizational Diagnosis (to be preventative):

  • To determine how and why the organization is dysfunctional
  • To prevent dysfunction from occurring
  • To prepare for a planned change initiative.

After we have explored the topic of organizational diagnosis, an organization health survey will be provided to you so that you can do a basic diagnosis within your own organization.

So stay with me. The tool is coming.


Misty River Consulting is here to assist you identify the root causes that create your current situation and assist you develop a plan for improved performance.  Email or call us:

  • 715-687-8818




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