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philosophy and purpose of diagnosis


learning objectives

Discuss the philosophy and purpose of diagnosis in organization development (OD).

Explain the role of diagnostic models in OD, especially the open-systems model.

Describe and apply organization-level diagnostic processes.

Describe and apply group-level diagnostic processes.

Describe and apply individual-level diagnostic processes.

D iagnosing is the second major phase in the general model of planned change described in Chapter 2 (Figure 2.2). It follows the enter-

ing and contracting stage (Chapter 4) and precedes the planning and implementation phase. When done well, diagnosis clearly points the organization and the organization development (OD) practitioner toward a set of appropriate intervention activities that will improve organization effectiveness.

Diagnosis is the process of understanding a system’s current functioning. It involves collecting pertinent information about existing operations as well as analyzing those data and drawing con- clusions about the reasons for current performance and the potential for change and improvement. Effective diagnosis provides the systematic know- ledge of the organization needed to design app- ropriate interventions. Thus, OD interventions derive from diagnosis and include specific actions

intended to improve organizational functioning. (Chapters 10–20 present the major interventions used in OD today.)

This and the next chapter describe different aspects of the diagnostic process. This chapter presents a general definition of diagnosis and discusses the need for diagnostic models in guiding the process. Diagnostic models derive from conceptions about how organizations function, and they tell OD practitioners what to look for in diagnosing organizations, groups, or jobs. They serve as a road map for discovering current functioning. A general, comprehensive diagnostic model is presented based on open-systems theory. We then describe and apply the model to diagnostic situations at the organization, group, and job levels. Chapter 6 completes the diagnostic phase by discussing processes of data collection, analysis, and feedback.




5-1 What Is Diagnosis? Diagnosis is the process of understanding how the organization is currently functioning, and it provides the information necessary to design change interventions.1 It generally follows from successful entry and contracting, which set the stage for successful diagno- sis. Those processes help OD practitioners and client members jointly determine which organizational issues to focus on, how to collect and analyze data to understand them, and how to work together to develop action steps from the diagnosis. In another sense, diagnosis is happening all the time. Managers, organization members, and OD practi- tioners are always trying to understand the drivers of organization effectiveness as well as how and why changes are proceeding in a particular way.

Unfortunately, the term diagnosis can be misleading when applied to organizations. It suggests a model of organization change analogous to the medical model of diagnosis: An organization (patient) experiencing problems seeks help from an OD practitioner (doctor); the practitioner examines the organization, finds the causes of the problems, and prescribes a solution. Diagnosis in organization development, however, is much more collaborative than such a medical perspective implies and does not accept the implicit assumption that something is wrong with the organization.

First, the values and ethical beliefs that underlie OD suggest that both organization members and OD practitioners should be involved in discovering the determinants of current organization effectiveness. Similarly, both should be involved actively in develop- ing appropriate interventions and implementing them. For example, a manager might seek an OD practitioner’s help to reduce absenteeism in his or her department. The manager and an OD consultant jointly might decide to diagnose the cause of the prob- lem by examining company absenteeism records and by interviewing selected employees about possible reasons for absenteeism. Alternatively, they might examine employee loy- alty and discover the organizational elements that encourage people to stay. Analysis of those data could uncover determinants of absenteeism or loyalty in the department, thus helping the manager and the OD practitioner jointly to develop an appropriate interven- tion to address the issue.

Second, the medical model of diagnosis also implies that something is wrong with the patient and that one needs to uncover the cause of the illness. In those cases where organizations do have specific problems, diagnosis can be problem oriented, seeking rea- sons for the problems. On the other hand, as suggested by the absenteeism example above, the OD practitioner and the client may choose one of the newer views of organi- zation change and frame the issue positively. Additionally, the client and the OD practi- tioner may be looking for ways to enhance the organization’s existing functioning. Many managers involved with OD are not experiencing specific organizational problems. Here, diagnosis is development oriented. It assesses the current functioning of the organization to discover areas for future development. For example, a manager might be interested in using OD to improve a department that already seems to be functioning well. Diagnosis might include an overall assessment of both the task performance capabilities of the department and the impact of the department on its individual members. This process seeks to uncover specific areas for future development of the department’s effectiveness.

In organization development, diagnosis is used more broadly than a medical defini- tion would suggest. It is a collaborative process between organization members and the OD practitioner to collect pertinent information, analyze it, and draw conclusions for action planning and intervention. Diagnosis may be aimed at uncovering the causes of specific problems, focused on understanding effective processes, or directed at assessing the overall functioning of the organization or department to discover areas for future




development. Diagnosis provides a systematic understanding of organizations so that appropriate interventions may be developed for solving problems and enhancing effectiveness.