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Diagnostics: Taking the Organization’s Temperature

A few weeks ago, after a morning run, I felt pain flare up in my foot. Soon, it hurt to take a single step. I tried the simple remedies—heat, elevation, and ice—for twenty-four hours, but they weren’t bringing much relief. While I sat on the couch, I did what everyone does these days—checked my symptoms on WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and Cleveland Clinic.

I narrowed my symptoms down to tendonitis, a sprain, or a stress fracture. Without an x-ray and possibly an MRI, there was no way to be sure. So, I limped my way to the doctor’s office, to get a professional diagnosis.

In this situation, I knew something was clearly wrong. My body was signaling pain, but I couldn’t interpret the cause on my own. I needed an expert who had the right tools and training to evaluate my condition and recommend the proper course of treatment.

When a business unit leader seeks external thought leadership, it’s frequently driven by pain. Something’s not right within the organization, and they lack the internal skills, experience, or availability to properly treat their ailment. Sometimes, the leader can point to worrisome organizational metrics trending in the wrong direction. Other times, the leader senses a problem that’s not even tracked on internal dashboards or scorecards. In either case, the business unit leader looks outside the organization because the root cause cannot be diagnosed internally. They’re looking for expert decision making from the thought leader, like an individual with a swollen foot turns to an orthopedist.

An enterprise-ready thought leader must conduct diagnostics confidently and skillfully—whether they lead it themselves or through a specialized consulting team. As the engagement proceeds, it’s important to:

Choose Your Tools Carefully

A diagnostic’s value originates in the strength of the diagnostic tools. When you walk into a doctor’s office, the x-ray machine and MRI are calibrated and ready-to-go. Similarly, thought leaders need a set of diagnostic tools which have been thoughtfully created and validated. These tools should originate from your content and align closely to your model.

Your diagnostic should provide a dashboard which allows you to evaluate the organization. Where are the strengths they can leverage? Which symptoms are appearing? What opportunities are there for improvement?

Remember, your thought leadership content can’t solve every problem. There will be many issues outside your expertise. Therefore, your diagnostic tools should help you identify (and avoid) these surprises. If you try to solve a problem outside of your expertise, you’ll only be buying client disappointment down the road.

Send the Right Signals

When we’re in the exam room, the clinical staff of doctors and nurses actively shape our experience. They’re following procedures built on research—evidence based medicine. With their words and actions, they’re constantly signaling that we’re being treated by people who have the necessary expertise and experience.

Similarly, when you and your team conduct a diagnostic for a client, you want to send signals throughout the process that instill confidence. Your clients will be familiar with these types of engagements. They routinely work with external consultants and vendors. Therefore, it’s important that you navigate the diagnostic process fluently—from kickoff calls, logistics and scheduling, to on-sites, report preparation, and final delivery.

Prescribe the Right Intervention

Some thought leaders hastily rush to diagnose and prescribe interventions—even before the diagnostic is complete. Seasoned experts sometimes fall into this trap when they trust their instincts over the data. Often, this hubris leads to a misdiagnosis. Remember, even when doctors have a strong suspicion, they wait for the test results to come back before they make their diagnosis.

Emerging thought leaders face different challenges in the diagnostic phase:

  • they feel uncomfortable trusting their diagnostic tools;
  • they’re eager to please the client (and repeat what they think the client wants to hear); or
  • they want to prescribe a solution that fits what they can offer.

When performed properly, the diagnostic process allows experts to assess the situation, identify the root cause, and prescribe interventions to address the situation.

I booked an appointment with my doctor a few days after my injury. A lead apron and a few prods later the doctor told me to take ibuprofen and start some gentle stretches. No breaks, no cancer, just a case of tendonitis with instructions to take it easy for a few days. On my own I wouldn’t have known whether to keep it elevated or to amputate, but under a professional eye I was back to my run in no time.

Bill Sherman works with thought leaders to launch big ideas within well-known brands. He is the COO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Bill on Twitter

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