Misdiagnosing Organizational Aches and Pains

When our grandparents went to the doctor, they described their symptoms, the doctor conducted an exam, ran some tests, made a diagnosis and prescribed the recommended treatment.

Today, patients come into the doctor’s office having already researched their symptoms on WebMD, diagnosed their condition, and researched the various drug alternatives. Before the doc even sits down, they say, Doc, I have a case of Cooties and I need a prescription for Cootiebegone.

This is great when the diagnosis is correct. The patient is already well-educated on the conditon and their treatment alternatives and can carry on an educated conversation with their physician. But when the patient’s self-diagnosis is wrong, the doctor must both correct the diagnosis and educate the patient on their error.

I find that small and mid-sized business owners sometimes misdiagnose their organzations’ condition. They recognize the symptoms and they know where it hurts, but they often attribute the symptoms to the wrong organizational “disease.”

The most common misdiagnosis occurs when business owners tell me they have a recruiting problem. The pain or symptom they are experiencing is related to vacant positions that are costing them money or putting a strain on the rest of the team. The disease, according to the owner, is that they can’t find good people.

If they invite me to conduct an organizational assessment, I might find that a) they are growing rapidly and are having a hard time finding qualified people to fill newly created positions fast enough, or b) they have a handful of positions that are revolving doors.

If they are company a, then the owner may have properly diagnosed the problem as a recruiting problem. But most are company b, who don’t have a recruiting problem, they have a management problem. They’ve had and lost people who could have been good, but chose not to be. Unfortunately, company history usually records that every ex-employee was a bum from day one, so getting owners to admit they have a management problem is difficult.

Another example occurs when organizations think they need a new performance review form or platform. If the company has a low-trust culture, it doesn’t really matter whether they use a 4 or 5 point scale or whether the review is memorialized on-paper or on-line. They have diagnosed a performance management problem when they may have a organizational culture problem.

It is difficult to treat organizational “diseases” if they have been misdiagnosed. The first step toward the cure is taking an honest look at what is really happening.

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