We have discussed in our last few blogs the reasons why an organizational diagnosis is performed and looked at a few examples of each diagnosis’ purpose.
But, let’s cut to the chase on why a diagnosis is needed in the realm of I/O Psychology; the real reason for doing an organizational diagnosis is really simple – you must have a diagnosis before you treat a patient for a condition. To provide care for someone without a diagnosis is considered malpractice in the world of medicine. I believe that is true for those who practice Industrial / Organizational Psychology as well. To assist an organization, to bring about change of some type, without diagnosing the current situation is just plain irresponsible. Believe me, there are a lot of “quacks” out there who are hired to facilitate organizational change who skip the diagnosis and end up creating even more problems within the organization. Enough said, don’t you think?
So, given its importance, given the different purposes for doing one, how do you do it? What’s involved and what does the actual activity look like. Let’s explore the basic phases of an organizational diagnosis.
What Organizational Diagnosis Does Not Include
Before we address what an Organizational Diagnosis method includes, let’s explore what an organization diagnosis does not include. A diagnosis is only an identification of the current situation and the reasons why the current situation exists. Reputable I/O Psychologists will not offer a treatment plan with their organization diagnosis report. Why? This is to prevent the practitioner from biasing their analysis to fit into a ready-made solution already developed by the practitioner. Be forewarned, there are people out there who use their own “biased” organizational diagnosis to sell their ready-made solution. Although treatment plans can often look very similar from one client to another, each needs to be driven by the unique situation and personalities of the organization. Each must be tailor made for the client.
I understand that a potential “treatment” plan may be inferred by the results of the diagnosis or even asked about by the client, and why wouldn’t a client wonder what the next steps are. But remember, it is not part of the organizational diagnosis process. The treatment plan is independent of the diagnosis and not part of the organizational diagnosis itself and should only be discussed after a thorough understanding of the current situation has been established and after the client has requested advice or counsel on what the next steps should be. That is the ethical protocol for our profession in my humble opinion.
The Stages of Organizational Diagnosis
Given this, what should an organizational diagnosis include? What are the steps? An organizational diagnosis initiative usually has four basic stages that include:
• Data collection and analysis
• Reporting or feeding back of the findings to the client
Each of these four stages is important and each of these stages potentially has many action steps depending on the complexity of the situation and the scope of the assessment. In the remainder of this blog, we will focus on the first phase – Entry.
The first major step in performing an organization diagnosis is “Entry”. At first glance, it may seem like no big deal – set up a meeting with the client, define objectives and methods, tell them what data you want, define roles and responsibilities, set up the schedule, and make it happen. Unfortunately, the very fact that you are now in the organization and have set up a plan for doing the organization diagnosis in many ways changes the organization’s current state in and by itself. And how the entry is performed can change in a manner that is completely unintended from what the contractual intention actually is.
In the realm of physics, quantum mechanics has some interesting parallels with the diagnosis initiative. In this field of physics, some say that the act of measurement of a system actually changes the system being measured. This occurs because the measurement process itself becomes involved with the system and thus has influence or creates a force that in some way affects the system being measured. Thus, the system changes because we measured it.
This is also true for organizational diagnosis psychologists. As they go into the organization, they can impact the system in a significant fashion unless steps are taking to prevent or minimize this “involvement” phenomenon. For example, the practitioner might want to meet the client away from the organization’s premises, keep his or her initial contacts with the client limited to only a few individuals, prevent any announcement or informal conversation of an impending new organization initiative from occurring, etc. All of this is done to keep the practitioner invisible and incapable of unknowingly creating incorrect assumptions or expectations about what may or may not occur in the future. These suppositions and resulting “grass root” conversations can and do lead to small but significant organizational changes that in no way were actually intended.
Recently I was asked to sit in on a meeting to “just observe” while I was visiting an old client’s premises. No big deal I thought to myself; that shouldn’t create any expectations or false hopes for change. Boy was I wrong. My reputation had preceded me and my presence actually created a set of expectations among the group members that were not intended. The group began to assume that I was going to become an integral part of their endeavor. All of this was based on their knowledge of my practice, my past history with their organization, their respect for my work, and the assumption that my presence was driven by their project alone. When they found that I was not going to be part of the initiative, they reacted to it. There was disappointment, rumors that management wasn’t supporting them, a lull in the energy of the group, and of course a short term slowdown in their project’s output. One simple “entry” flub can and often does have a significant impact.
The activity that occurs during “Entry” needs to be invisible, non-overt, and quiet. And it needs to create clarity about what the objective of the diagnosis is:
• To determine how and why the organization is dysfunctional;
• To prevent dysfunction from occurring;
• Or to prepare for a planned change initiative
It needs to create a document that lists the organization to be studied; it is the whole organization or just a subset of it. The document would also list the objective of the diagnosis. It would also list the method and tasks that will be used to achieve the objective. It will also identify what data gathering is needed for the selected topical areas in question and what data gathering methods will be used such as interviews, surveys, etc. In addition the document needs to define the roles and responsibilities of those managing and contributing to the diagnosis initiative, and what the timeline for all this activity is.
Entry is the first phase in doing an Organizational Diagnosis. Entry is designed to create meaningful conversations with the client that allow the client to explore the objectives, methods, topic area targets, roles and responsibilities, timelines, etc. for the work that the client is considering. It is a time in the relationship between the client and the consultant where is should be safe, unobserved, confidential; where rapport can build and plans can be made. It is a time when the contractual framework for the potential initiative begins to come together through an iterative process of discussion, listening, learning, and adjusting. And while this occurs, it is invisible to the rest of the organization to prevent unintended change.
The end result of this entry activity is a document that details what the “action steps” are for the organizational diagnosis – what, who, when, and how are identified.
If I could convince you of one thing to remember as a result of this blog, it would be this: Poor entry tactics can create false expectations and initiate unintended organizational change without you doing a thing. And when people find that their expectations are not going to be met, it can have a significant negative impact that sometimes is very difficult to overcome. So during “Entry”, quietly and invisibly create a plan that works for you, make your plan detailed, and when you have thought it through and decided that moving forward is appropriate, do so in a quiet methodical fashion. Less fanfare is always better.
In our next blog, we will explore what topical areas an organizational diagnosis will more than likely explore.
So stay with me.
Remember, the tool is coming.
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