In culture as in health: a good diagnosis matters

Liz Stanley

Would you trust a doctor who wanted to treat your stomach ache without understanding what was causing it?  I know I wouldn’t.  A good diagnosis will identify the cause and help ensure that the treatment is proportionate, targeted and effective.

It’s exactly the same with culture.  We see the same symptoms in many clients that are driven by totally different root causes and, if you want to see improvements quickly, it’s better to know what you’re dealing with. 

Take an issue many organisations are battling with - weak prioritisation.  It’s painful, because it leads to lack of focus, duplication of effort, overwork and even burnout.  Several of our clients are feeling that pain, but the root causes are different in every one of them. 

For some organisations, weak prioritisation is driven by unrestrained enthusiasm, by a love of what they do and a desire to just do more and more of it!  In other organisations the root causes are less positive.  In one client, for example, there’s an assumption that working harder is heroic.  In another, a strong fear of failure drives the lack of prioritisation, because choosing 3 out of 10 options involves an inherent risk of making the wrong choice.  And for another client, the root cause is perfectionism, because even when the priorities are fixed, people struggle to define right amount of effort to put towards them. 

Each of these issues can provoke the same symptoms, but the treatment they require is different.  So rather than wasting time, money and energy on the problem, it’s more effective to do a real diagnosis and understand the root causes first.  

That’s exactly what our qualitative research methodology helps clients to do.  It moves beyond describing what your culture is (most clients have a pretty good idea of that already) to explain why the culture is the way it is.  It does that by identifying the shared beliefs that drive the patterns of behaviour that, in turn, drive the business outcomes – both positive and negative.  That picture helps you to target your interventions, knowing that you’re treating the root cause and not just the symptom.  

So, in culture as in health, a good diagnostic matters.  

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