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Posted by on Apr 22, 2014

Assess Before You Diagnose

PillBottlesI opened my copy of Performance Improvement recently and was excited to read “An Ounce of Good Assessment is Worth A Pound of Analysis and A Ton of Cure” by Roger Kaufman. It is only natural for managers and executives to diagnose their organizations. They want quick answers. The sooner they can figure out what is causing a problem, the sooner they can focus on getting “real work” done.

When I go to the doctor, I am the same way. I’ve already Googled my symptoms and think I know what’s wrong. I don’t want to spend time talking about the different possibilities. I want to focus on how I can cure my ailment. What I really want is a shot or pill that can fix me quickly! It’s frustrating when I leave the doctor’s office with nothing more than an order for a diagnostic test. But, I know that it’s the right approach to gather additional information to make a correct diagnosis.

Organizations work the same way. Stepping back to gather information takes time. It takes resources. It requires clear thought. An assessment is simply a tool that helps you collect the information so that you can accurately diagnose what’s going on and then find the right solution.

Does this mean that assessment has to be a costly, time-consuming endeavor? Of course not. Many ways exist to gather information—interviews, focus groups, online assessments, surveys, observations, and existing metrics. You might conduct a few interviews with key stakeholders.  You could invite five or six people to a focus group or spend a day observing employees on the job. You also might use an online assessment or survey, which are great ways to get information from many people in a relatively short amount of time.

I learned from Dr. Kaufman’s article that investing the time to accurately diagnose the problem is not a new concept. In 1975, another leading scholar in the field of instructional design and performance improvement, Joe Harless, wrote a book called An Ounce of Analysis is Worth a Pound of Cure.  Today, people still want to rush to find a quick solution without spending time to analyze the problem. The next time you think you might be self-diagnosing a problem in your organization, stop to ask yourself a few questions:

  • What are other possible explanations for what I am seeing?
  • What evidence do I have that my explanation is the correct one? Am I relying on anecdotal evidence, such as a handful of personal observations or what others have told me?
  • How can I collect information that will help me reach the right conclusion?

If you think an assessment will help you better understand an organizational problem, seek assistance from an expert. Find someone who can advise you on how to collect the information you need for an accurate diagnosis. Performance improvement specialists—sometimes called human performance technologists, assessment specialists, instructional systems technologists, or industrial/organizational psychologists—will know the latest and most efficient way to proceed, often drawing on their experience and lessons learned while helping with other organizations.

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