Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Organizational Diagnostic Models

An effective diagnostic model allows identifying reliable data to help clients better understand their company’s strengths, deficiencies, and opportunities for improvement, to later articulate a targeted intervention and measurement strategy. To effectively improve organizational performance, as well as individual and group development, Organizational Development (OD) practitioners must be knowledgeable of quantitative and qualitative methods, as well as, the different diagnosis models to choose the most appropriate, given the intervention’s objectives, resources, and organizational culture and context.

This blog examines two relevant organizational diagnostic models, and compares and contrast their application and usefulness to support the implementation of OD interventions. The six-box model, a very popular and easy to use model centers the diagnostic analysis on six organizational factors: the organization’s strategy, structures, rewards, internal relationships, helpful mechanisms, and leadership. The second model, the sharp-image diagnostic, develops specific models to fit the characteristics of the intervention. The model includes four steps to scan the organization and identify critical areas for closer examination.

Both diagnostic models derive from the action research approach, and involve clients across the process to obtain
adequate commitment and support to subsequent implementation and measuring stages.

The six-box model
Weisbord’s six-box model contains six elements to focus the organizational diagnosis: the organization’s strategy, structure, rewards, internal relationships, helpful mechanisms, and leadership. Surrounding the six box model is the environment, although it is not included in the model. For each dimension, the model includes specific questions.

Weisbord’s six-box diagnostic model centers the analysis on areas of dissatisfaction as the starting point, identifying organizational outputs with which both external customers and internal producers are dissatisfied. Then, participants find the causes of dissatisfaction in the six elements of the model. Internal producers are the key decision makers to solve those areas of dissatisfaction.

Harrisom and Shirom (1999) describe that the model center on the identification of gaps. “For each of these boxes, consultants are encouraged to diagnose the following types of gaps: (a) gaps between what exists now and what ought to be: (b) gaps between what is actually done and what employees and managers say that they do (i.e. gaps between the official and emergent aspects of organizational behavior): and (c) gaps among organizational units and layers –including gaps within and between boxes” (p. 102).

The leadership dimension positioned in the center is connected to the other five factors, because Weisbord sustains that leaders play a critical role in the organizational effectiveness.

Weisbord’s six-box model has been widely used by OD practitioners, because is easy to use and easy to understand by clients. However, the simplicity of the model is also a disadvantage, because the model lacks a solid theoretical foundation to determine the real existence of gaps, and their degree of influence over the whole organizational effectiveness. Furthermore, the model fails to provide a solid course of action to close identified gaps given the internal arguments of dissatisfaction.

Sharp-image diagnosis model
Harrisom and Shirom (1999) combine the open-systems and political frames with a more sharply focused model to conduct an organizational diagnostic. “…practitioners of the sharp-image diagnosis start with a broad scan of an organization but then select core problems and organizational challenges for close-up examination” (p. 18).

The sharp-image diagnosis model employs two or more theoretical perspectives to analyze the underlying causes of identified problems or challenges, and their interrelations with other subsystems.

The sharp-image diagnosis includes four critical steps: 1) the gathering of data to identify specific problems or challenges to focus subsequent analysis, 2) the use of theoretical models targeted to the specific needs, 3) the development of a diagnostic model to identify the root causes of ineffective outcomes, and feedback on relevant data to clients.

The first step helps to identify data related to the organizational problems or challenges, analyzing relations between consultants and clients, and cultural traits of the focal organization.

The data gathering process is conducted using the open systems frame, the analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT), and the analysis of stakeholders. In the second step, OD practitioners prioritize organizational problems or challenges to maximize the impact and benefits of the intervention, focusing on the more important areas, and examining links with other socio-technical systems.

In the third step practitioners develop a model tailored to the needs of the intervention. Harrisom and Shirom (1998) emphasize the need to develop a reliable model for the analysis of gaps “These models summarize the factors that produce central organizational problems, such as the inability to provide services or products that satisfy customers, or the failure of the organization to obtain competitive advantage within its environment” (p.21). The authors caution on the use of existing models due the limitations they may bring to particular situations, instead, they provide useful guidelines to develop a customized model “To construct diagnostic models, consultants usually have to supplement their diagnostic data with available evidence and insights from the organizational and management literature and with their own experience and intuition….In addition to provide a valid explanation of the sources of organizational problems, diagnostic models need to identify feasible points of intervention to alleviate problems” (pp. 22,23).

In the fourth step of the sharp image diagnosis model, OD practitioners provide feedback to clients focusing on ways to minimize inefficiencies, cope with challenges, and increase organizational effectiveness. Harrisom and Shirom (1998) reinforce the importance of feedback to facilitate the implementation of organizational changes, by unfreezing the status quo, reducing resistances, and channeling client’s decisions toward actions that produce the maximum organizational effectiveness. Additionally, during this step, OD practitioners obtain client’s ownership with the diagnosis results, and commitment for the implementation phase.

One of the main limitations of sharp-image diagnosis is what at the same time constitutes its main strength: the lack of predefined tools to carry-out the organizational diagnosis. The sharp-image diagnostic model requires experienced OD practitioners to develop customize diagnostic models, targeted to the objective, needs, timeframe and other characteristics of the OD intervention, and the organization. Additionally, OD practitioners play an active role in the feedback process to help clients better understand the diagnostic results, and advice them on a OD intervention to produce maximum results.

Main similarities

Both, the six-box model and the sharp image model are based on the action research model. French and Bell (1999) propose action research as the primary model for OD interventions “Action research involves three processes: data collection, feedback of the data to the client system members, and action planning based on the data” (p.100).

The focus on inefficiencies to center the diagnostic is another area if similarity between the two models. Harrisom and Shirom (1998), emphasize the solution of ineffectiveness to bring greater benefits to organizations “Solving problems stemming from ineffectiveness can contribute more directly and dramatically to organizational survival and short-term success that can the enhancement of effectiveness (p. 20)

Main differences
The six-box model is a predefined, straightforward, easy to use, and easy to understand model with predefined areas and questions to focus the analysis, while the sharp-image diagnosis model is more elaborated, requiring OD practitioners to develop customized models to carry-out the diagnosis intervention.

Given its simplicity, almost anyone can use Weisbord’s six-box model, while the sharp-image diagnosis model requires experienced OD practitioners to develop customize diagnostic models.

The sharp-image diagnosis model is broader in scope because it attends the internal and external aspects of the organization, while Weisbord’s six-box model focuses on the internal aspects only. The sharp image diagnosis model scans the whole organization in search of gaps or challenges, including the internal and external interrelated elements. Although the environment is illustrated in the six-box model, the analysis of factors external to the organizations is excluded. Weisbord’s six-box model centers on the identification of internal organizational gaps -strategy, structure, rewards, internal relationships, helpful mechanisms, and leadership.

Application and usefulness
OD diagnostic models draw from the action research practice, where clients are involved and take an active role in the different stages of the diagnosis process, including the definition of objectives, stakeholders, activities, and timeframe to gather and analyze data. The role of the OD practitioner is paramount to guide clients in the organizational assessment process, including the selection of the diagnostic model, the definition of activities, the feedback of results and the implementation of following actions to improve organizational effectiveness and individual and organizational development. To support my argument I will use the selection of the diagnostic model, although the sharp-image diagnosis has more advantages over the six-box model, sharp-image may appear too complicated to understand on clients looking for a short-term and focused approach, then OD consultants may guide clients on the advantages and disadvantages of each model.

By increasing client participation in the diagnosis process, OD practitioners also increase the application and usefulness of the diagnostic intervention, since clients will better understand the identified gaps and areas to focus further implementation interventions. Moreover, consultants must use a valid feedback model that allows the communication of results in a non threatening way.

Harrisom and Shirom (1998) state that good diagnosis models help clients increase their understanding of the organizational gaps that require attention, and the required resources to better focus change interventions. The authors consider a good diagnostic model specifies its level of analysis, its limits, the interaction between variables, effectiveness criteria, and evaluative standards. Additionally, the authors emphasize that diagnosis models must analyze the internals and externals of the organization, reflecting macro contingencies and macro processes to support the managing of change, and increase organizational effectiveness.

While Weisbord’s uses a straightforward, easy to use, and predefined model focused on the organizational strategy, structure, rewards, helpful mechanisms, relationships and leadership. The sharp-image diagnosis model uses four steps, and customized models to gather, analyze, and channel data to clients.

Despite their differences, both models derive from the action research field that employs a systematic process to gather, and analyze data, to later implement corrective actions to eliminate ineffective areas.

The study of organizational diagnosis models is paramount for OD practitioners, because diagnostic models help to reveal key organizational gaps, and critical areas to focus. Moreover, this analysis emphasized the role of the OD practitioner as an advisor, helping clients identify the most appropriate diagnostic model -given the intervention objectives, and the organizational culture, and using feedback mechanisms to channel results in a non-threatening mode to later focus targeted OD interventions at the effective management of change, and the improvement of the organizational effectiveness.

French, W., & Bell, C. (1999). Organization development: Behavioral science interventions for organization improvement. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Harrison, M.I. & Shirom, A. (1998) Organizational Diagnosis and Assessment : Bridging Theory and Practice, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


  1. Mr. Justo:
    Thank you for your clear and thoughtful definitions with solid references of organization development. In answer to your question about a favorite intervention, I would have to say: Strategic Planning. Organizations that embrace this discipline see alignment, clarity of direction, energy, and cohesiveness as a result. Performance goals and Balanced Scorecards as well as role definitions flow from good planning. I am curious about Scenario Planning as a practical tool. I know Royal Dutch Shell has led in this method yet most organizations cannot devote sufficient time to this approach. Does a proven modified Scenario Planning method exist? I would like to incorporate this method into my strategic planning work.

  2. Well I am doing research of my MBA and topic of my thesis is "OD intervention which helps in process streamlining". Kindly help me in this regard because I have no idea about ODI.

    kindly send me detail on