Organizational Diagnosis and Assessment: Bridging Theory and Practice


Michael I. Harrison & Arie Shirom

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: Foundations

    Part II: Focal Areas

    Part III: Applications

    Part IV: Bridging Theory and Practice

  • Dedication

    We dedicate this book to our families and especially—

    To Jo Ann Harrison and to the memory of Miriam Shirom


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    The subtitle of our book, Bridging Theory and Practice, helps convey our objectives for the book and reflects the book's origins in our own work on both sides of the theory-practice divide. Most broadly, we want to show how applied researchers, consultants, managers, and policymakers can enhance their ability to diagnose organizational problems and challenges by drawing on a broad spectrum of current organizational research and theory and by examining organizations through divergent theoretical frames. We believe that our multiframe approach to diagnosis can contribute to decision making by practicing managers, in addition to improving diagnoses conducted by behavioral science consultants. Hence, our book should be useful to management educators, as well as to consultants and scholars of planned change.

    More specifically, we seek to contribute to the theory and practice of planned change by developing a new approach to diagnosis that we call sharp-image diagnosis. Unlike the very broad forms of diagnosis that characterize much work in organization development, sharp-image diagnosis focuses directly on the forces that produce symptoms of organizational ineffectiveness and shape an organization's capacity to cope with critical challenges. This form of diagnosis can produce very powerful and useful findings without exhausting the resources of clients and consultants.

    We have also sought to develop approaches and models for diagnosis and assessment that reflect the changing nature of the workplace, including important developments that have received limited attention in traditional treatments on diagnosis and assessment for planned change. These include organizational decline and other life cycle transitions; gendering; workforce diversity; the spread of interdisciplinary teams, flatter hierarchies, networks, and other new forms of work organization; growing reliance on information technology; and the growth of mergers and other types of strategic alliance among organizations.

    In these ways, we hope to help managers, policymakers, and consultants break out of unproductive ways of thinking about organizational challenges. In addition, we seek to foster critical evaluation of managerial fads and fashions. At the same time, we propose to organizational theorists that they periodically apply a simple reality test to their work: Can their ideas help consultants, decision makers, and other organizational stakeholders find workable solutions to critical problems and challenges? Can their theories help decision makers learn how to handle future challenges?

    The book's origins lie in the confluence of streams of work that each of us has done as academic researchers, consultants, applied researchers, university teachers, and trainers of managers and consultants. In the past few years, we have each been involved in analyses of health systems and health system reforms. These experiences made clear to us the potential contribution of diagnostic studies of macro systems to debates about major public policy issues. Moreover, our encounters with policy formation in health systems brought home the importance of strengthening diagnostic thinking and inquiry among makers of public policy.

    We owe thanks to the following people who read drafts of book chapters or related papers: Peter Bamberger, Jean Bartunek, Jo Ann Harrison, and Dafna Izraeli. Thanks also to Sam Bacharach, Dov Eden, and Bruce Phillips for discussing with us some of the ideas presented in the book. In addition, we would like to thank Ms. Ettie Rosenberg for her help in preparing the figures that appear in the text.

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    About the Authors

    Michael I. Harrison, Associate Professor of Sociology at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, is head of the Graduate Program in Organizations and former department chair. After receiving his B.A. from Columbia and his doctorate from the University of Michigan, he taught at SUNY, Stony Brook. He has also twice served as Visiting Associate Professor in the School of Management at Boston College and has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Business School, the Institute for Health Policy of Brandeis University, and the Nordic School for Public Health in Gothenburg, Sweden. Professor Harrison has worked as a consultant and has conducted research in a wide variety of organizations in the public and private sectors. His research on health professions and organizations, planned change, organizational analysis, and social institutions has been published in many prominent academic journals. His first book, Diagnosing Organizations: Methods, Models, and Processes (1994) made a major contribution to defining and advancing diagnostic practice. He is currently completing a book on Implementing Heath System Reforms in Europe, to be published by Sage, London.

    Arie Shirom is Professor of Organizational Behavior and Health Care Management in the Faculty of Management of Tel Aviv University, Israel. He received his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He has twice been a Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan and at Cornell University. He has published extensively on organizational stress, organizational diagnosis, labor relations, and health care administration. He is currently a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Organizational Behavior and several other periodicals. He also has distinguished himself in organizational consultation, applied research, and policy development. From 1988 through 1990 he served as a member of Israel's State Commission of Inquiry into the Functioning and Effectiveness of the Health Care System. His current research in organizational behavior focuses on work-related stress and its effects on performance and health; theory construction in organizational diagnosis and development; and using diagnosis to enhance effectiveness in health care organizations.

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