We sometimes engage in organization development (OD) activities before we know what is causing us to believe that we need to make the organization better. We tend to be more comfortable trying to identify and remove the symptoms rather than the causes of any barriers to excellence. We must avoid this tendency lest our efforts fail to produce required or expected results. We must conduct a thorough and accurate diagnosis, which is a search for causes, before we recommend OD interventions, which should be designed to remove these causes or minimize their negative effects. If we do this well, we will be able to help answer the question, “What is happening in the organization that is erecting barriers to excellence?”

This search for causes has always been an important part of my profession. Decades ago, the thing I enjoyed most about aerospace engineering was what we called troubleshooting. When the computer or simulation for which I was responsible was not working properly, I enjoyed identifying and removing whatever were the causes of the dysfunction. Even more exciting to me was conducting the diagnosis in such a way that it produced options for removing the causes. Once identified and explored, the most viable options tended to emerge. Fortunately, I was able to transfer my skill at and passion for troubleshooting (diagnosis) from engineering to OD consulting. Instead of looking for reasons that electrons were not ending up in the right place or flight tests were not following the predicted pattern, I now look at reasons that organizations are not working as well as they could.

The Primary Tool – There are probably as many tools used to facilitate diagnoses as there are OD consultants or other practitioners who conduct them. My personal favorite is the JPEAssessment, which we developed over 30 years ago for that very purpose. I use it to help answer two important questions: “What now?” and “What next?” The JPEAssessment is administered to those in the organization who are aware of and potentially affected by barriers to their excellence. The results identify those factors within the organization that are affecting participants’ energy and , by extension, their level of “engagement.”

The Diagnostic Process – Regardless of the tools used, results must be analyzed individually and in the aggregate to determine if the identified barriers tend to be unique to certain individuals or if they tend to be systemic. These results can then be used to focus and facilitate discussions among participants to add clarity and verify the “accuracy” of participants’ perceptions. Participants are able to voice their issues and concerns, and they share with and learn from each other how to eliminate the causes. This process brings the causes into sharp focus, and options for removing them are developed. This allows “organizational leaders” to consider these options and select the most viable ones for further exploration and eventual implementation.

No matter which tools or processes we use, it is important that we search for the causes rather than chase the symptoms. Offering options for removing these causes will maximize the likelihood that recommended interventions will be focused on activities that are likely to produce the most valuable and beneficial organizational and individual outcomes.