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Doctor, I Have a Pain in my Organization

There are plenty of parallels between organizations and the individuals who make them up. An organization is more than just a group of people; it is a living entity, with its own personality, mentality and challenges.

Studying individual human behaviour can give us a better understanding at the organizational level. Let’s take the story of Charles, who has gone to see the doctor.

When someone is sick…

  • Charles, I’m afraid we’re going to have to operate.

Charles is in shock at what the doctor has said. He is at a loss for words and doesn’t know how to handle the news.

  • Is it serious, Doctor?
  • According to recent scientific studies, your symptoms could have three causes: a bowel obstruction, bowel cancer or celiac disease. The data shows that most of the time it’s cancer.

The news is a kick in the stomach. Tears well up in Charles’ eyes. Cancer? How is that possible?

He had been having stomach pain for a few months. Initially he thought it was because of the anti-inflammatories he was taking for his back. It was a common side effect, wasn’t it? It couldn’t be that serious…

But the pain persisted.

Was it his diet? Charles started keeping a daily food journal, even eliminating certain foods from his diet to see what the impact would be. Still the pain persisted.

Could it be stress? Charles tried to better manage his stress, but to no avail. The only constant was the pain.

When Charles finally went to see the doctor, the doctor asked a lot of questions about his pain, symptoms and what he had tried before making a diagnosis.

  • We have to remove the tumour…

After thinking it over for a few days, Charles asked to undergo thorough testing before getting a second opinion. He figured that even though the statistics point in one direction, the real causes of a problem and possible solutions can be different depending on the person.

This seems perfectly logical when it comes to your health. But what about the health of the workplace?

When an organization is sick…

If there is a problem in an organization, data can provide signposts to look for answers. But just as with individuals, data should never be the only information on which to base decision making.

Quite often, when symptoms of dysfunction appear in an organization (or on a work team), they are diffuse, vague and unclear – just like Charles’ stomach pain. It is obvious that something is wrong, but it is hard to pinpoint what should be done to improve the situation.

We hope it will pass. We tell ourselves it is just a matter of circumstance, that it is not that serious. We cross our fingers and hope the problem goes away. Unfortunately, it rarely does: once symptoms are observable, the problem is generally entrenched.

Making an accurate diagnosis

To find the best solutions, we need to take the time to base decisions on a solid foundation. Who better to give us the facts on an organization’s health than the people who work in it every day? Individuals who make up workplaces should also be a priority in developing strategies, because it is their motivation and engagement that are at stake.

A good diagnosis measures the facts and reality by being as objective as possible. This is essential in any effort to generate positive, lasting change.

This diagnostic analysis can take a variety of forms: a survey of all personnel, an investigation into the work climate on the team, the global analysis of your HR data or any other objective method for data gathering. Measuring your unique organizational reality is the only way to identify the interventions likely to be most successful.

The importance of measuring your organizational reality

Certain things can lead to hasty decisions: enthusiasm for a new, innovative approach, the urgency of action, the seriousness of the situation, discouragement, the feeling of having tried everything to no avail…

Even with good intentions, even if the theories, statistics or scientific studies support your effort – and even if the entire world is telling you to do it – the only way to ensure your strategy is the right one is to develop it from the unique reality of your organization and the people who make it up. And you won’t find the description of your reality in a book.

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