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© 2024 N. Dean Meyer and Associates Inc.
Excerpt from www.NDMA.COM, © 2024 N. Dean Meyer and Associates Inc.

Free Interactive Tool: Symptoms-to-Root-Causes Expert System

a tool to help you learn the skill of diagnosing the root causes of leadership concerns

How Organizations Should Work

When addressing organizational performance problems, it's tempting to treat symptoms in the most direct, simple manner. But this isn't always the right thing to do. Treating symptoms can create other problems. Furthermore, treating symptoms has little long-term value. Until their root causes are addressed, problems will crop up again and again.

To fix problems once and for all, leaders must introduce systemic change in the organizational ecosystem.

Systemic change is not a matter of reengineering a few processes, adding a few new functions, or simply preaching the values of quality and customer focus. Executives must do more than fine-tune existing practices, or lead the way on a few high-profile projects.

Systemic change means fundamentally changing the way the organization works, addressing the core drivers of behavior.

There are five systems that comprise the inner workings of organizations. They are:

  • Culture: the behavioral patterns (habits and conventions) generally adopted within the organization.

  • Structure: the definition of jobs and the reporting hierarchy (organization chart), as well as the processes that combine people into teams as work flows across organizational boundaries.

  • Internal economy: the budgeting, priority setting, pricing (chargebacks), project-approval, and tracking processes that determine how resources flow through an organization and to its clients.

  • Methods and tools: the procedures, methodologies, skills, and tools that people in an organization use.

  • Metrics and rewards: the feedback loops that inform people about how they are doing in time to adjust their behavior, and the incentives for improving performance.

The Expert System

This expert system helps leaders diagnose the root causes of their organizational concerns. It's based on NDMA's decades of research on the systems within organizations.

Beginning with a symptom (such as dissatisfied clients or unhappy employees), you can "drill down" through a series of successively more specific symptoms until you find a suspected root cause -- a systemic dysfunction in the organization.

Even if you don't see precisely the issues that are on your mind, this tool will certainly demonstrate the organizational root-cause analysis process, and it may suggest solutions that are relevant to your issues.

Note: This expert system is focused entirely on organizational issues, not on individual performance problems. It's based on the following premise:

If an organization is not well designed, good people will appear to be poor performers; and firing them will only bring in a new batch of good people who will also perform poorly because of the unhealthy organizational environment around them.

Of course, this expert system is not a clairvoyant "answer book." Every organization is unique, and must be carefully analyzed by the leaders who best know it.

The purpose of this system is only to:

  • demonstrate the concept of root-cause analysis,
  • give leaders practice in thinking about systemic root causes, and
  • provide thought-starters for discussion within a leadership team.

This tool is not intended to stand alone. It a companion to the book, How Organizations Should Work. We encourage you to read the book before any serious use of this expert system.

Key Terminology: organization, client, customer....

An "organization" is any group of people working together to achieve a common and ongoing purpose (line of business) that benefits people outside their profession. It may be a corporation or a company, a government agency, a family working on their farm, a volunteer association, or a union. It may seek to make a profit, or it may be not-for-profit.

We use the term "client" differently from the term "customer."

A client is someone outside your organization who consumes the organization's products and services.

When clients buy from you, they are acting as your "customers."

In addition, a group within an organization may sell its products and services to other groups within the organization. When they do, their "customers" are internal, not clients.

In short, "clients" are people outside the organization. The term "customer" includes clients as well as others within the organization.

How to Operate this Tool

Once you start the expert system, look over the list of symptoms, and select the one that best describes your concern (i.e., "click" it to follow the link).

Then, read the discussion that follows.

After the discussion, you may see a list of more specific symptoms. Select one and continue the analysis.

Alternatively, you may see a suspected root cause. Following this link will bring you to a discussion of that organizational system.

Of course, you may always back up and follow another path or analyze another symptom of concern to you.


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