Diagnosis – The Key to Effective Organization Development

A warded lock.

Image via Wikipedia

Diagnosis is the key!

And why? Because if you get the diagnosis wrong, everything else goes wrong. When a doctor misdiagnoses, the patient usually dies. Ditto for organizations.

A good diagnosis is way beyond an X-ray, it has to be like an MRI or a CAT Scan. So what are the key tips to ensuring this:

  • Don’t just accept the first thing you hear – validate it by speaking to more people
  • Ensure you cover a broad cross-section of individuals, across teams, levels, and divisions/locations
  • Have a mix of one-on-one dialogs as well as Focus Groups
  • If you can sense people are uncomfortable with voicing opinion, that itself is a diagnosis! And if this is the case, use some other more confidential method of gathering information
  • Ensure you don’t allow your own preconceived notions to affect your diagnosis – we’re all human, and prone to forming quick judgments, be self-aware enough that you avoid this
  • Ensure you don’t get swayed by the opinion of power centers. Most often it is the power centers themselves who’re the root of the issue
  • It is a good idea to sometimes include vendors/partners/customers as part of a diagnosis

Ensure you validate the diagnosis when done, with the key leadership team.

How to diagnose:

  • One on one discussions
  • Focus Group Discussions
  • Research – read survey reports, market trends, share price index of the organization, P&L trends, market-share (for example, if you did this for Nokia, you would realize that they don’t have the capability to respond quickly to a changing marketplace. The next level of understanding would be that the leadership team is unable to create this capability)
  • Use non-verbal techniques. Ask people to enact skits or draw posters that depict what’s working and what’s not.
  • Use all your senses. What does your gut tell you? What do you see – cleanliness and order or disorder? Are people and meetings mostly on time or not?

Personally I find Appreciative Inquiry to be one of the best ways to have a diagnosis conversation. For more understanding of Appreciative Inquiry, follow the link. My AI mentor is Sushma Sharma, who is probably the best practitioner in India.

All the above ingredients will add up to a complete diagnosis, and enable you to come up with a more complete solution.

Here’s an example from one of my early engagements. This was for an American company that had recently setup an off-shore center in India. They were facing a lack of effective response from the Indians. I was told to put together a program for ensuring Indians understood American culture and language more effectively.

I decided to diagnose further. I invested time in speaking to the Indian teams, then the American teams, leaders in both India and the US. And I finally realized that since we were replacing Americans with Indians, head for head. The Americans were against the India operation.

No one had told the American teams why the organization needed an India center viz. our primary customer had indicated that if we didn’t cut cost with an India option, they would take their business elsewhere.

To aggravate these issues, Lou Dobbs was putting up his list of American companies that outsource, on CNN primetime daily. John Kerry was using outsourcing as his primary plank for the US election.

On the India side, the Indians were not keeping to time, were missing meetings. Were being insensitive to what the Americans were going through.

This more complete diagnosis helped me realize that this was not a language or culture issue. It helped me realize that it wasn’t just the Indians who needed to be worked on, but that we needed a more global more inclusive solution.

It also helped me identify what the key impact measures of this intervention could be.

Key of an ancient warded lock

Image via Wikipedia

What have some of your diagnosis experiences been like?

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About gurprrietsiingh

CxO-Level Executive Coach Change consultant. Tai Chi learner Beer Lover Aspirational Parent and Partner Sci Fi reader Mistake Maker Challenger
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12 Responses to Diagnosis – The Key to Effective Organization Development

  1. Gautam Ghosh says:

    Diagnosis is a great skill.. not just for OD but for all HR (and possibly management) roles.

    It answers the basic question: Why should we want to do this? Is “this” the right thing to do, at all?

    • gurprrietsiingh says:

      Excellent Gautam! You’ve put it better than I have..and so clearly and succinctly.. Appreciate this!

  2. sushma says:

    I like the way you have created the thinking process.
    I would just like to add deep listening and observations are key to good diagnosis .
    The other piece is attachment /detachment as an Od consultant .
    Diagnosis needs powerful questions which connect with people and builds trust . It has the quality of resonance ,subtlty,directness and empathy ,all rolled in the questions .
    Thought I would add to your flow .

  3. gurprrietsiingh says:


    What can I say…you are the mentor after all! Listening deeply, with all your senses is the key. Not just the ears, but the eyes, the heart, the gut.. Only then will an OD consultant be in resonance with the organization (not the client – It is so easy to resonate with the client and forget that actually our role is to be honest to the needs of the organization)..you helped elicit this insight!

    Thank you!

  4. Vipul says:

    Is there something similar to “Preventive Diagnosis” – to find out problems before they occur in the organization ?

    • gurprrietsiingh says:

      Well, it is possible to spot something that has the potential to blow out of control. It’s like spotting the smoke emerging from a dormant volcano and putting preventive processes in place. It’s more early sensing than preventive diagnosis.

      Employee engagement surveys are a proactive method of identifying issues. However, they’re rarely core to an organization. Issues that are core are usually to do with DNA, culture, style etc. and require a much deeper diagnosis, as well as a synthesis versus the analysis of an engagement score.

      Hope this helps!

    • gurprrietsiingh says:

      Hi Bruce

      Since I’m not a member, I was unable to sign-in to view the entire PDF. However, after reading the abstract, the little I can comment on is – I do believe traditional methods of diagnosis are being replaced by newer constructs. And newer mindsets, I might add. Processes that are more inclusive and social in nature are replacing old hierarchical methods (even in OD). And then there’s technology, I believe OD practitioners have a long way to go in their ability to leverage technology. As an example, consider having a diagnosis conversation with an avatar in SecondLife! Or piloting a change intervention in SecondLife as a prototype before you try it in RealLife! Hope this helps!

  5. Tim Douglas says:

    Gurprriet, that is close to the best model process I have seen for an OD diagnosis. I especially appreciate the added value of the embedded links, with very helpful details on Focus Groups and AI.

    I have often said I wish that before people spent hours working out solutions, they would just spend a few more minutes to ensure they’ve identified the right problem! You have given everyone very accessible means to do just that.

    Thank you.

  6. gurprrietsiingh says:


    I am honored to receive such acknowledgment. Being a tough critics of others’ work, I am naturally harder on myself and thought of several things I could have written better!

    I’m glad you found the links useful, I thought it best to provide as much detail as a link, and keep my post brief (today’s attention spans, you know!)

    Thanks for keeping your word and dropping by to leave your comments, I appreciate it a great deal!

  7. Pingback: Questions – What you ask, is what you get.. | LearnOD

  8. Neetubala says:

    Very good insights on “DIAGNOSIS as a key to effective OD!”
    Well! I could not agree more with you on your comment, “Issues that are core are usually to do with DNA, culture, style etc”. Besides all the much valued inputs shared here, my experience is that somehow we still see organizations having fear and anxiety related to the process of DIAGNOSIS itself, as having the right capabilities to act upon that has been diagnosed is so critical to the success of any such intervention in the first place; further if organization fails to deal with the outcomes of the DIAGNOSIS, it may simply backfire as now you have made your employees aware of the problem adding to their panic by not being able to get started quickly to address the issues!!!??? . As a consequence “employee loses hope, ironically, as a result of the awareness created”; drawing an analogy, medically it may trigger “cardiac arrest” cases whereas in the organizations all that it triggers is “key talent attrition” depleting and diluting the available talent that is developed over a considerable amount of time, incurring high cost and huge efforts both! So being equipped with the right capabilities, be it skills/competencies, money, infrastructure, resources, systems, is somehow a precondition before attempting to have such an intervention. Thanks!

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