Any intervention/prescription without a diagnosis is a malpractice in any profession. How can a medical doctor treat a patient without letting the patient undergo a diagnostic or laboratory test, to know what is actually wrong with the person to administer the right drug to cure the ailment? Before a lawyer intervenes on behalf of a client in court, he/she will have to first collect facts from the client and diagnose the legal issues and implications. A company also has legal personality so to be able to fix any “ailment” or even do a general “check up” there is the need to undertake a diagnostic test of the whole organisation.
Organisational Assessment (OA) is a tool the Organisation Development Consultant will use before undertaking any intervention. Kurt Lewis in his three stage change management process talks about unfreezing the system before moving by way of making any changes, intervention, and refreezing. OA is a critical tool in unfreezing the system which if not done will not give the company an end-to-end full “check up” of its situation.
Of course in any profession, experience is built over time so like the medical doctor when the symptoms match a situation she has dealt with before, she will straight away move into intervention without asking for a laboratory test. Also with a company, if there are challenges the expert consultant would move into providing expert solutions because she may have encountered similar issues in her practice. In both cases it may be a “trial and error” approach which may or may not work. The surest way of getting it right for the first time is by undertaking a holistic diagnosis of the situation. This where an OA is useful to unfreeze the system.
THE LIVING COMPANY
Companies like human beings grow and age. In the process of growth the company sometimes become “ill” and from time to time have to undergo a general or specific health “check-up”. Companies like human beings have body parts/elements both internal and external including structure, systems, strategy, shared values, staff, skills, and style. Any of these areas can get sick. You can concentrate and intervene on only that part based on expert knowledge but what if what you are concentrating on is just a symptom of something going wrong in another area of the organisation. You having poor customer service delivery so you start training your staff in customer service when the issue is coming from operations or the procedures. The procedures are not working so you review it when the issue is from the structure. The structure is not working so you review it by changing it when the issue is from the strategy. The strategy is not working so you change it when the issue is from the culture. The culture is not helpful so you bring in an expert consultant to help change it when the issue is from leadership.
Like a patient, solving the organization challenges in piecemeal can not only be costly but does not add much value either.
DIAGNOSING THE COMPANY
The are many models that can be used in undertaking an OA as long as it investigates or covers the assessment of an organisation’s effectiveness, team effectiveness and the culture. The assessments are intended to create the needed awareness on the state of health of the company to self-reflect, promote and stimulate quality improvement in the company. Relying on the assessment results, the company will then need to identify the developmental areas to put in the needed interventions.
An OA with respect to the company’s culture, its effectiveness as an organisation and as a team will give an insight to the management as to whether it is positioned to face the challenges of the shifting patterns of global organisations as learning organisations as espoused by Peter Senge by way:
- Systems Thinking: Where employees understand how the organisation works and have a big picture in their mind as well as picture of their own job so that employees can act in a way that supports the whole organisation;
- Shared Vision: Where there is a common purpose and commitment, as well as an overall plan on which everyone can agree and work towards goal attainment;
- Challenging Mental Models: Where the status quo and current ways of thinking that prevent people from adopting new behaviour or better ways of doing things are challenged;
- Team Learning: Where people are committed to helping the group succeed and work collectively to achieve the overall vision rather than pursuing individual goals;
- Personal Mastery: Where employees know the job, people, and processes they are responsible for at a very deep level thereby experiencing intimacy with their work rather detachment.
and if any, planned interventions with respect to individuals, groups or the organisation itself will be necessary.
- Organisation Effectiveness
There is no single factor which will guarantee organisational effectiveness and there are also various models in assessing an organisation effectiveness such as the Weisbord Six-Box Model which simulates comprehensive performance analysis by examining six elements/areas in the organisation with respect to the Purpose, Structure, Relationships, Reward System, Leadership and Support systems. There is also Mckinsey’s 7S model that looks at seven areas relating to the hard issues in the company such as Strategy, Structure and Systems together with the soft issues of Staff, Skills, Style and Shared Values.
Whatever model adopted should be able to investigate whether or not, goals are clearly defined and there exist strategies to achieve them; staff are well organized; there exist a strong visionary leadership; there are good supporting management systems to enhance decision making; there exist appropriate mechanisms for monitoring performance; good relationships with key external organizations have been developed; there exist a value system with emphasis on performance, mutual support, creativity and flexibility and last but not the least the company has the ability to respond fast to opportunities and threats.
According to Richard Beckhard an effective organisation is one where:
- The total organisation, the significant subparts and individuals manage their work against goals and plans for achievement of these goals.
- The reward system is such that managers and supervisors are rewarded (and punished) comparably for short term profit or production performance; growth and development of their subordinates and creating a viable working group
- Communication laterally and vertically is relatively undistorted. People are generally open and confronting. They share all relevant facts including feelings.
- There is a minimum amount of inappropriate win/lose activities between individuals and groups. Constant effort exists at all levels to treat conflict and conflict situations, as problems subject to problem-solving methods.
- There is high “conflict” (clash of ideas) about tasks and projects and relatively little energy spent in clashing over interpersonal difficulties.
- The organisation is an open system whereby its parts interact with each other and then with the larger environment.
- There is a shared value and management strategy to support it.
- The organisation and its members operate in an “action-research” way, where the general practice is to build in feedback mechanism so that individuals and groups can learn from their experience.
- Team Effectiveness
Effective team is characterized by the following behaviours (Stoner and Freman, 1992): participation, shifting of leadership roles, problem solving, risk taking and creativity. There is the need to know if staff are involved and interested in the work they are doing as well as free to express their feelings. Whether or not, leadership within the group shift from time to time and based on expert knowledge rather than on formal status or position? Is there mutual trust and are staff prepared to take risks? Is there regular review of team performance and are mistakes examined freely without personal attacks? Are decisions reached by consensus? Do staff have the capacity to create new ideas? and are disagreements fully discussed and either resolved or lived with?
- Organisation Culture
According to Schein (1985), to shape the culture of an organisation to allow positive change to occur, the organisation must “unlearn” previous unworkable beliefs, to open up new inputs and “relearn” new assumptions and behaviours. It is pertinent to note that no organisational culture exists on its own. Every organisation will display a dominant culture, but will also contain fragments of other cultures usually in the form of sub-cultures. It is also extremely important to keep in mind that no culture is the “right” culture. Any culture can be functional or dysfunctional. The culture in place in an organisation must fit with the competitive environment and allow the organisation to meet its goals and missions. The distinguishing feature of leading organisations is their culture, the norms and expectations that encourage performance oriented behaviour rather than security and mediocrity.
What is important for a company is to diagnose its organisational culture, identify the strengths and weaknesses and make a balance among these cultures or promote those which are more relevant for the company in relation to the demands of the internal and external environments. It is believed that organisational cultures are initially created by the founders of the company based on personal beliefs about how to interact with the environment and about the natures of reality, people, activities, and relationships. (Stein,1985).
As the company grows with a workforce diversity there might be the need to adapt a more appropriate culture and the need to diagnose the existing culture. Organisational culture can be diagnosed following different approaches/models and my preferred approach is that of Harrison (1992:31-39) and EMI (2002), which takes into account four types of organisational culture: Power, Role, Achievement and Support.
A power culture emanates from centralized power in a charismatic leader who brings courage to the fainthearted and clarity to the confused. This leader is wise and benevolent, acting decisively and unilaterally, but always with the best intentions for the company and its staff. The leader takes care of, reward and protect loyal followers, demanding but fair and clear about what is required. People who get ahead are loyal and put the leader’s wishes before their own needs.
In a dysfunctional stage, power cultures can produce an inefficient company where everyone waits for approval before moving forward on an idea. This is seen in companies that have become too large for one person to maintain all the control and authority. Employees may also spend too much time playing political games and trying to curry favour with the boss instead of actually working. Members of this type of culture often become burned out, and disloyal employees face a hostile and oppressive environment.
A role culture is a highly structured environment where individual performance is judged against written description and as long as employees meet requirements, they are safe. People are rewarded for playing by the rules and reliable, dependable service to the company; inefficiency and confusion are reduced by clear objectives, systems, and procedures; personal abuse of power is reduced by rules limiting arbitrary use of authority; authority and responsibility of jobs are clearly defined, minimizing power struggles and turf issues; work methods minimize variability of performance and reduce the need for individual decision-making.
In a dysfunctional stage, role cultures can create a company with automatons that simply follow the rules and have very little concern for that which is not in their prescribed area. This mentality creates an environment where cooperation and collaboration are non-existent and a person’s talent may go unused. Change comes very slow in role cultures and those within the culture may become afraid to take risks.
An achievement culture is one where people work hard to achieve goals and better the group as a whole. This culture generally consists of highly motivated people who need little to no supervision. People share a sense of urgency in attaining worthwhile goals and values; they feel they are working for something bigger than themselves; people feel stronger and better for being a member of the group; it raises their self-esteem; the rules and regulations are not allowed to get in the way of doing the work; people work long hours without complaint; there is high morale, a sense of oneness with a sense of being unique and different.
In a dysfunctional stage, unfortunately members of an achievement cultures tend to burn out on their work. It may be difficult to establish control if the need arises as the culture cultivates individuals. Members may also become highly competitive with each other and the mindset of “whatever it takes” can lead to dishonest and illegal behaviour.
A support culture acts like a tiny community whereby mutuality, service and integration are observed and consist of good communication and excellent service both internal and external. In such cultures people support one another in the work; they go out of their way to cooperate; they value harmony; they make sure conflicts are resolved and that everyone is on board; they give their time and energy to others, they are available, they care, they listen; they trust that they are viewed as individual human beings by the organisation; appreciate one another and acknowledge one another’s contributions. They have a sense of belonging, feel accepted by those they work with and like spending time together.
In a dysfunctional stage, the needs of the individuals are placed over the needs of the organisation. Due to a commitment to consensus, decisions come slowly. Support cultures tend to not be very task oriented with too much time spent together fostering personal differences that often hinder work and ruin the excellent service that is a hallmark of support cultures.
The company has many parts that come together to keep it in existence. Any challenge being experienced in one part may be as a result of an issue in another area and until diagnosis “laboratory test” is done, an understanding and appreciation of what is really going on in the company will never be known with certainty until an organisational assessment is done.
Of course, during times of crisis like a patient in an emergency ward, using expert knowledge, one will need to stabilise the situation by may be putting the patient on a drip and medication based on the symptoms from acquired experience. Same in a company, expert knowledge will be immediately needed in addressing a situation so the company like the patient does not die. Once consciousness is regained by arresting the situation you will agree that a full diagnosis is needed to know the root cause of the challenge to improve upon the general health and wellbeing of the patient or company.
OA is an indispensable tool in having holistic view of the health of the company to improve and transform a company through a system wide intervention to eliminate and cure the root cause of the problem and not just the symptoms.
The author holds a DBA in Leadership & Organizational Change, is a Certified Management Consultant & Organization Development Practitioner. (Contact: [email protected])