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Diagnosis Contract

A diagnostic contract is not the same as the contract to undertake the OD project. It is essentially a contract for carrying out the diagnostic activities. It is devised to formalize the diagnostic process before the data gathering activity is carried out by the practitioner. The purpose of having a contract for data-collection, analysis and feedback of data is to provide clarity and commitment between the organization members and the practitioners, at the same time, to set the context of diagnostic process.

The organization members need to feel trust and confidence towards the practitioner for them to be fully engaged and participative in the diagnostic process. The quality of diagnostic data is highly dependent on the quality of interactions between the practitioner and the organizational members. It becomes rather important for both the practitioner and the client to have utmost clarity about the aspects influencing the quality of the ‘client-practitioner-organizational members’ relationship. The quality of this relationship is a determinant of the quality of the information gathered as well as the smooth execution of the diagnosis process and study of the phenomenon.

It helps the practitioner and the client, to gain as much clarity at the outset of the diagnostic phase itself. Some practitioners are especially particular about having a clearly defined and described diagnostic contract, written, documented and signed. The diagnostic contract serves to bring clarity and commitment in the diagnostic process.

The process of clearly stating the expectations, wants, requirements, scope and exceptions for the purpose of the diagnostic contract, takes both the client and the practitioner to undergo a journey of introspection and reflection about the purpose, commitment and boundaries. The underlying feelings, issues, fears, resistances, anxieties, assumptions, motives etc. are surfaced to a large extent. Such discoveries allow the practitioner and the clients to address them well ahead of time, so as to not have these emerge in a shocking manner latter during the process and disrupt the smooth execution of the diagnostic process. The clearly defined clauses help manage many ambiguities for the practitioner, the client, the sponsor and the participating members of the organization.

Secondly, most of the organizational members who are required to be part of the diagnostic process, either as respondents, participants, or support, are usually not included in the process at the time when the practitioner enters the organization for the OD project. The diagnostic contract also helps such members have a better understanding of the purpose, context and boundaries of the practitioner being inducted into their existing organizational eco-system. It also opens the space for dialogue and building trusting relationship between the practitioner and the organizational members.

For the practitioners, it provides a firm ground of authority to seek information from the members. At the same time, it conveys to the organizational members, the responsibility which the practitioners carry, of handling the information with confidentiality. A contract specifically drafted for the diagnosis conveys the seriousness of the diagnostic process and evokes a psychological commitment from all stakeholders. It also extends the responsibility, of diagnostic study process, to the client and organizational members as well, not just the practitioners. Given the clarity it brings, the commitment it enhances and the opportunity it creates for building trust, the chances of the organizational members taking ownership of the process is also enhanced. The participation from organizational members becomes more likely to be smoother than otherwise. The pace and norms are also set forth.

The contract of diagnosis may contain basic agreement clauses or may be very elaborate, depending on the mutual discretion of the client and the practitioners. It is a beneficial practice to include all or much of these essential elements in the diagnosis contract:

  • Practitioner, Project (diagnosis) and Purpose:
    The contract typically provides professional information about the practitioners’ credentials and other professional information relevant to their work in the organization. It serves the purpose of introduction and familiarity with the practitioner among the participating organization members.

The goals, objectives and the purpose of engaging the practitioner for discovering organizational information is mentioned in the contract, along with the expected outcome of the diagnostic process. Some contracts also mention the summary of the diagnosis project, including the details about the intent, relevance and the importance of undertaking the diagnosis.

The contract mentions the broad scope and coverage of the diagnosis. There may also be a mention of how the diagnosis will be undertaken and completed; the process flow of the diagnosis project. The contract also informs how the data will be gathered and that the gathered data and its analysis will be shared with the respondents and the client though feedback process.

  • Roles, Responsibilities and Boundaries:
    The roles and responsibilities of the client, the practitioner and the participating members of the organizations, during the diagnosis process, are clearly mentioned in the contract. This is important so as to curtail ambiguity and assumptions and enhance accountability and ownership. The client who has hired the practitioner is clearly identified in the contract; the client here is not the organization, but the role holder in the organization/department who has engaged the practitioner for carrying out the diagnosis.

The relationship and role boundaries are also defined in the contract. Boundaries of task, process, reporting, sharing information etc. may also be included. It is strongly recommend to clearly state that participation in the diagnosis process is a voluntary engagement; coaxing or forceful extraction of information from the members is overstepping the boundaries of OD practice.

  • Data and Confidentiality:
    Since the Diagnostic Contract is created with the objective of enabling clarity primarily about the data-collection, it must provide utmost clarity about all aspects related to the data-collection. It must inform about how is the data relevant to the organization’s change objectives and strategy, how the data may be collected, what would be done with the gathered data, who would be able to access the data, how much of data would the respondent or participating members be able to access, in what form the data would be accessible to the organization members etc. Especially, informing the participants that after gathering and preliminary analysis the data would also be shared with them for further analysis/understanding and to collaborate with them in finding solutions of the identified issues, in the form of feedback helps gaining the commitment of the participants, It also encourages them to participate wholeheartedly and increases the likelihood of their providing most of the relevant data honestly and with more openness.

Other important clause that is to be explicitly stated is the confidentiality clause. It is of utmost importance, for the practitioner as well as the participants in the data collection process, to honor and uphold the confidentiality of the data provided by the participants. By far it is the most crucial aspect of the diagnostic contract, as it sets the norms of personal and professional values and ethics while data gathering, recording and sharing. Also, it handles issues of privacy and reliability which the participants in any change initiative would carry as threats or are likely to have fears and anxiety about.

Assuring the participants, through the contract, that the information which they share and disclose would be treated with confidentiality and wherever the information is required to be quoted, it shall be done maintaining the anonymity of the respondents. It conveys to the participants that sharing the data will not cause harm to their employment, position or image and thus enables the participants to provide authentic data without much holding back.

  • Resources, Support and Commitment:
    The contract also mentions the resources of time, people, money, space, logistics and support functions, mandated by the practitioner and diagnostic team, to undertake the data collection, analysis and feedback of data. The contract acts as a commitment by the client and the participating members, to provide such resources and support, to the practitioner and the diagnosis team to carry out the diagnostic activities.

The contract mentions the approximate time investment required from the members of the organization and seeks commitment from the respective managers to commit to release their team members’ for such duration. It is also mentioned how many people would be required to form the core team or work group or the number of assisting staff required for carrying out the diagnostic activities, as well as the profiles of such team members. The responsibility of ensuring availability of such resources and the time and effort of the respondents would be of the client and organization members.

In case, there are any specific expenses which the practitioner anticipates, apart from their fees, must be mentioned in the contract, e.g travel expenses, stationery, purchase of diagnostic instruments and questionnaires etc. The support function requirements like secretarial or administrative support, meeting room or conference area, tele-conferencing or video-conferencing support etc. are also mentioned. This enables the organization members to plan and prepare accordingly, so as to cause least disruption in the execution of organizational functioning and responsibilities, as well as, to let the organization budget the resources efficiently.

In addition to these essential elements of the contract, many practitioners also provide the client with a detailed diagnostic plan. However, the plan is usually shared only with the client and the sponsor initially and then with the diagnostic team.

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