Diagnose and Survive – How to Assess Organisational Health

June 24, 2012  

Last week in our post “Diagnose or Die” we explored the criticality of assessing organisational health. This week we show how health can be accurately diagnosed in a way that allows organisations to gain true insight into what they need to do to maintain their well being.

Our starting point is the notion of “requisite complexity”, which says that in any model of reality there is just the right amount of (requisite) complexity to achieve the purpose of the model. While we are all for keeping things simple it seems to us that there is much more to organisational health than has been presumed by the diagnostics that are generally available. What we believe is needed is a whole body scan capable of showing in one shot how the different aspects of health are impacting on each other, so that organisations can quickly take remedial action to improve overall well being.

In response to this need The Systemic Agility Alliance has developed an assessment that takes a complete and holistic snapshot of the whole organisation, and that can stimulate a deeper dialogue about what is and is not healthy. In doing so we have been guided by the following specific principles:

  • It is necessary to question representatives of the whole organisation so as to elicit the deep felt opinions of leaders and performers alike.
  • It is also necessary to question a statistically sound sample of the whole organisation – top down, bottom up and sideways.
  • The tool should avoid “management speak” that may only be understood by a few. At the same time all definitions must be clear and free from ambiguity.
  • The diagnostic process has to be “safe” so that people feel able to give their views and opinions as candidly as possible.
  • It must be possible to determine the extent to which what is measured is also important to the individual organisation.
  • The organisation’s leaders must own the diagnostic and be prepared to talk openly about what they have discovered.
  • In using the diagnostic the organisation’s leaders must promote a “no blame” culture to ensure that the identification of problems signals opportunity for renewal rather than retribution.
  • Results need to be clear and targeted so that there is little ambiguity about where the problems may lie.
  • The findings of the diagnostic must be easily accessible to all and used to encourage systematic and innovative re-thinking so that the organisation can quickly find its own solutions to any problems or areas of poor health it unearths.
  • In learning from the diagnostic the organisation should retrain itself to continually monitor its health and re-think how to stay healthy in the future – that is, it must embed the ability to “Diagnose, get fit, stay fit”. Retraining the body and changing learnt behaviours is key here to sustained health.

We have worked hard to develop a holistic diagnostic tool that responds fully to all these needs, and that reflects our overall philosophy on the enablement of organisational change. We believe that organisations learn more from diagnostics if they are performed with them, as opposed to on them. We also appreciate that diagnostic processes can be intrusive and become a burden on people within the organisation. Much time can be devoted to the gathering of data and opinion that is often familiar and well understood, and that actually generates little in the way of new insight or fresh perspective. Information collected by a diagnostic has to be accurate and meaningful; but a client will not benefit much if the data does not significantly enhance future decision-making capability. Diagnostic tools should therefore be inspiring as well as rewarding.

The result of our development work is the on-line Organisational Health Check, which has been structured around the Systemic Agility Framework©, illustrated below.

The Framework highlights seven practices that any organisation striving for organisational health must be built around. We have also identified the attributes that we believe are essential to sustained organisational health and performance. We introduced these practices and attributes in a previous post; they are summarised again below.

The framework and the Health Check questions encourage participants in the diagnostic to adopt a fresh perspective when assessing the qualities of their organisation. Specifically the Health Check presents a series of statements that capture the essence of organisational health, as defined by the seven attributes and seven practices, creating 49 unique data points around which detailed analysis and interpretation can be based. Participants are asked to respond to each statement in terms of the degree to which they agree that:

  • The organisation possesses the quality described
  • The quality described is important to the performance of the organisation.

Analysis of the responses, and the variation in responses across participants, provides deep insight into areas of strength and weakness. Responses can be disaggregated according to the characteristics of participants, to further understand the nature of these strengths and weakness. In this way the diagnostic can provide a rich picture of the health of an organisation, which its members can then use to define a programme of positive action.

It is the ability to research the collective health of the organisation which makes this process robust, holistic and systemic. Of course, the more we use the tool the more we learn about the intricate nature of organisational health, and what it takes to achieve and sustain it. As our database builds we continue to refine the tool and its application. This is an essential part of our own persistent innovation. Nevertheless, we see this tool as already providing a huge step forward, as we can now look holistically at organisational heath, eliminating the need to use several separate diagnostics that then need to be melded together. Our client work has shown us that the diagnostic is capable of providing the required complete scan and of stimulating real learning about the organisation and what needs to be improved. It has proven to be an effective catalyst for change.

While always stressing the importance of this holistic approach we do of course appreciate that organisations need a deep understanding of the individual constituents of organisational health. In future posts we will visit each of these in turn and explore what they mean individually to the collective heath of the organisation.

Ciarán Beary

Ciarán is a skilled facilitator and story-teller. Of our founders, he takes a keen interest in designing facilitative processes that work. His favorite quote is “Be all you can be”. Based in the UK, sometimes you can even find him there. More about Ciarán