Survey vs. Diagnostic - How Are They Different?

by Dr. Naresh Makhijani & Stanley Labovitz

bloomberg oil price

Each new day comes breaking news about events occurring on every corner of the world. Many of these events cause shifts in our society, whether politically, economically, technologically, or culturally.


Recently, gas prices have seen a steep increase, causing various repercussions (e.g. people spending more on gas, opting for public transportation, online stores having to charge more for shipping costs, and so much more). Shifts like this impact us as individual and as organizations. New obstacles are constantly popping up for businesses. To add to that, the needs and expectations of stakeholders are constantly changing with the current events. This poses as a challenge for executives to identify the various issues that materialize, and spot ones that aren’t visible on the surface.  Executives have to be prepared to address these dysfunctions to sustain their business and continue to grow. Therefore, it is critical to check in with stakeholders to understand the state of the organization and identify immediate opportunities for improvement. 

When we are posed with such a task, many of us usually think of surveys as the answer.  After all, the Global Online Survey Software market had an estimated value of $5487.4 Million last year, with a growth rate of 10.3% (Research and Markets, 2022). Survey is a popular research methodology to measure and evaluate specific components of an organization. They allow for feedback and opinions from a predetermined audience. Results from surveys can be used to spark discussions, and can guide decisions to improve various areas of business. There are several types of surveys, such as: Employee Engagement, Employee Satisfaction, Organizational Culture Survey, etc. The frequency by which these surveys are conducted varies per company, but logically they should be done routinely, in order to capture the ever-changing perceptions, and monitor improvements.

However, surveys come with some disadvantages, the most prominent being that they do not provide a clear base for action. They help show that there are gaps in the organization, but do not give actionable insight. Along with that, many surveys capture very specific parts of a company that, but unable to capture the current state of the company as a whole. The results of surveys can often be overwhelming, especially if performed at the frequency necessary. With the results, it can be easy to focus on the negatives, and every small problem can seem like an urgent fix, without it being entirely productive towards the strategic goal. Especially when a situation deteriorates, and the urgency to pushes leaders to improve the most minute of symptoms, which can actually hinder progress. Many employees also experience what is known as “survey fatigue,” leading them to answer randomly and not truthfully. This usually happens when leaders repeatedly push employees to answer surveys, and nothing changes after the input has been submitted, leaving employees feel their time wasted. So, what can we do about this?

Some of us may have heard of the term ‘Diagnostics’ within this topic. It is as clear as it gets: to identify the problems that are facing the organization and pinpoint the causes so that management can design solutions. The biggest use of organizational diagnosis process is that it induces action, which means it is useful to find answers to multiple components of the organization. 

Diagnostics take a step further, it allows you to see the state of the organization, showing you how aligned the organization is and how much room for improvement there is. Diagnostics expose the roots of the dysfunctions; it shows the blind spots. This allows you to treat the problem by its disease, and not simply the symptoms. 

Diagnostic tools differ in features, but ones like Predixxa employ predictive analysis, tying all the items to the goal, to automatically determine which change and/or transformation should be done most urgently, and which projects seem important but are not. Many organizations conduct surveys and see the results, but then focus on changes that do not improve existing issues, and do not bring the organization closer to its goal. A good diagnostic tool will also bring focus on each individual manager. They take care of everyday operations and employees, making it important to understand how others perceive the managers, and how they can improve. As Beer (2011) expressed, ineffective leadership acts as a silent killer of an organization’s effectiveness, thus, all leadership positions must be ensured of their quality. They are fundamental for building a strategy to bring your organizational closer to alignment. 

A few years ago, a government hospital in Indonesia decided to conduct a survey to know the quality of their patient care, internal customer service, and various backend divisions. When the survey scores were presented, the executives were only interested with how well the organizations scored, as it was linked to their bonuses. This meant that they weren’t interested in taking action. That is the fundamental difference between a survey and a diagnostic; with the former, people tend to focus more on the score, whereas diagnostics heavily focus on improvements and where strategy can be made to improve. It focuses on strategic actions to be taken and it gets everybody aligned to the key goals, and for the case of the hospital, both for people dealing with patient and those providing internal service. 

Change is the one thing in life that is always guaranteed, adapting to it is critical. Some things may have made sense in the past but are no longer useful, and some things were never useful but were considered to be. Listening, understanding, and acting upon new insight is necessary for everyone, and every organization. Therefore, it is crucial to run a diagnosis of your organization to recognize the dysfunctions present, and strategize the actions needed to take your organization to another level.