Schuitema’s experience over the years, both doing Leadership Diagnostics and coaching managers in doing so (inter alia in mining, manufacturing, banking and the hospitality industry) has produced a number of insights with respect to the use of the Leadership Diagnostic methodology. They are as follows: -
· Leadership Diagnostics should be done with benevolent intent. That is, not as some kind of witch hunt or as an effort to apportion blame. Leadership Diagnostics do in fact have a noble purpose. It is to enable enhanced future contribution all the way up the line. As such the methodology’s primary function is to grow leaders at every level in an organisation.
· Leadership Diagnostics should be done on both positive and negative exceptions. This helps to dispel the myth that a Leadership Diagnostic is essentially punitive in nature, used by management as a means to censure and discipline people.
More importantly doing a Leadership Diagnostic on positive exceptions can help to cultivate excellence in an organisation. Ascertaining what an exceptional performer does (be it a Picker in a warehouse or an Operations Executive) and the Means, Ability and Accountability factors which support them in their excellent performance can yield vital selection and development information for an enterprise.
Similarly determining what each person in the line did to effect an exceptional result (for example a dramatic improvement in safety performance) can ensure a perpetuation of the positive outcome into the future and/or a replication of excellence in other areas.
· Leadership Diagnostics can be both reactive and proactive. A Reactive Diagnostic is by definition an analysis of the past. Its value lies in the learnings afforded by the event/outcome which has already taken place. A Proactive Diagnostic on the other hand can be used to improve on past performance going forward into the future. In the case of a proactive diagnosis a stretch goal is set, after which the Diagnostic determines what specifically needs to be done by whom (including each person up the line of command) to ensure that the desired outcome is achieved.
· Organisations reap the greatest dividends from the methodology when the tool is used with a specific purpose in mind. An organisation may for example elect to do Leadership Diagnostics only on safety incidents (disabling injuries and even near misses) in order to improve its safety performance. Conversely an organisation may decide to do a Diagnostic on every complaint they receive from a customer because product quality is the burning issue in their business.
One client undertook a number of Leadership Diagnostics on a variety of exceptions in their business, ranging from ‘incorrect stock quantities on their MRP system’ through to ‘machine downtime in the Sheet Metal Shop due to the unavailability of material’. From the dozen or more exceptions that were analyzed over a two week period they were sufficiently equipped to put together a strategy and action plan to address the core leadership issues in their business.
· The more specific the incident or the result which is chosen for analysis the better. This is because finding solutions to the specific exception per se is actually not the reason for the Diagnostic. The specific exception is purely a vehicle for getting to grips with the key command issues which are evidenced by the exception. Being appropriate means addressing each of the command issues which any Diagnostic evidences, not fixing the specific exception.
· Leadership Diagnostics highlight the importance of “watching the game”. A Diagnostic is only as useful as the quality of information on which it is based. Quality information can only be garnered by spending time in the field gathering the facts, through direct observation and asking questions of all involved. It is useful, by the way, to get a range of different perspectives when doing a Diagnostic. Often someone who is unfamiliar with the situation, but who knows what Means, Ability and Accountability questions to ask, can provide the most penetrating insights.
· The Leadership Diagnostic needs to be done all the way up the line, preferably to the most senior level in the organisation. This is because what is done/not done, seven levels removed from the actions which directly caused the exception, can often constitute the most critical cause. What senior managers do / don’t do in a situation is often the ‘bulls eye”, the 20% of causes which accounts for 80% of the results.
This is confirmed by the fact that remedial actions taken high up in the hierarchy tend to have a far bigger impact than those taken at lower levels. To take only one example, improving the Hazop System on Site in the case of the chemical manufacturer mentioned previously would have a considerably higher impact than holding the injured operator accountable for not wearing his PVC raincoat.
· In the case of Reactive Diagnostics, concerted and systematic remedial action needs to be taken post the diagnostic. The required remedial actions, based on the Diagnostic, must, moreover, be owned and driven by line. Unless this is the case, Leadership Diagnostics may produce some interesting findings but nothing more than that. Sadly Schuitema has seen far more documented Leadership Diagnostics than those which have been acted on. When this is the case Leadership Diagnostics stand the risk of becoming an academic exercise, rather than a means to significantly strengthen an organisation’s line of command.
· Not all Means and Ability issues are valid. Often people proffer Means and Ability issues to avoid being held accountable for their carelessness or deliberate malevolence. When they are in fact ‘excuses’ they should be treated accordingly.
· Improvements in contribution can be realised most quickly when the issues impeding contribution are Means or Accountability issues. Ability issues, by definition, take longer to address. The Machine Shop inspection backlog example is a case in point. A dramatic improvement in throughput was realised very quickly, simply by putting the requisite means in place which would enable the inspectors to do what they were there to do; pass or fail components in the production process.
Responding to exceptions in a Business by doing Leadership Diagnostics on them is almost counter intuitive. Managers typically react to exceptions by taking action to reduce the affect of the exception and, further to this, instituting a control to prevent the exception from coming back again.
Managements’ actions have short term benefits, in that the symptom typically goes away but has no lasting effect. Moreover management’s desire to personally fix the result as quickly as possible often leads to what we at Schuitema refer to as a ‘collapsing of the line’. In jumping over the heads of Managers / Supervisors in the line to get to and fix the result management effectively disables the line of command below them.
Client organizations who have reaped the greatest dividends from the Leadership Diagnostic methodology have deliberately cultivated the use of the methodology in their organizations. They have made the doing of Leadership Diagnostics mandatory and have tasked managers at all levels with reporting back on the findings of their Diagnoses on a regular basis. One client even set a standard for the number of Diagnostics done every month on the site and kept score of how well they performed against the standard.
As with everything else reward follows contribution. Initially doing Leadership Diagnostics seems to be hard work and this is true. The benefits which accrue, in terms of significant improvements in the caliber of leadership in a business, are however more than worth it.
Afia Mansoor is a thinker, writer and a mother. She conducts workshops on Family and Personal Excellence. She holds an MBA from the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi and currently resides in Islamabad with her husband and three sons.