4/22 – A Critical Review of Pre-Engagement Organizational Consulting Diagnosis Methods

April-June 2017 / Emerging Scholars

Todd Hatley

Todd Hatley


While there’s uncertainty regarding the success rate of organizational change and improvement efforts, many reports show failure rates of 60-70%. Decker and his colleagues (2012) suggest that change and improvement efforts can be improved by appropriately diagnosing what changes are needed and the organization’s readiness to change. My reading in the areas of organizational development, integral theory, and adult constructive development led me to question the completeness of current approaches to pre-engagement organizational diagnosis methods (PEODM). In this article, I will critically review the current state of PEODM through an adult constructive-development lens. I explicitly seek to uncover organizational diagnostic methods that would benefit from adult constructive developmental concepts and insights. Further, this review will present the rationale for the assessment of adult developmental stages as part of an organizational pre-engagement assessment.

Two key bodies of scholarly literature were included in this review. The first is in adult constructive development, which has a long history in developmental psychology literature. The second is in pre-engagement organizational diagnosis, which is present in multiple scholarly areas. For this review, adult constructive development is defined as the way in which one’s making meaning of the world can evolve over one’s life span. Additionally, I define PEODM’s as those methods used primarily by consultants or change agents with the intention of better understanding an organization prior to the initiation of a change or improvement effort.

I structure this review into four main sections. First, I present the current debate concerning organizational diagnosis that exists in the literature. Next, I provide a brief introduction to the key concepts of adult constructive development as they relate to the organizational and/or workplace setting. In section three, I critically review several PEODMs with the intent of demonstrating the place for adult constructive development within current PEODMs. In section four, I provide support for how adult constructive development can be integrated into PEODMs. Finally, I summarize the key discoveries and suggest next steps.

Pre-Engagement Organizational Diagnosis Methods

PEODMs have a long history rooted in the psychological, sociological and engineering sciences.  Early sociology scholars, like Weber viewed organizations from a formal rational perspective. Scott describes how this rational view later gave way to the open systems view which began to recognize the dynamic interplay between numerous factors. Scott points out that scholars began to combine viewpoints to include “more kinds of factors or forces shaping organizations” (1998, p. 123). Scott suggests that it became increasingly more difficult for scholars to ignore factors such as the impact of environmental factors. This more encompassing view led to the current state of PEODMs, which are multifactorial.

PEODMs attempt to illuminate the current situation and/or realities in organizations so that consultants and change agents can better focus change and improvement efforts. Examples of models used to perform pre-engagement diagnosis include; Leavitt’s Diamond Model (Scott, 1998), Weisbord’s Six-Box Model (Weisbord M., 1978), Nadler and Tushman’s Congruence model (Nadler & Tushman, 1980), McKinsey’s 7S model (Waterman, Peters, & Phillips, 1980), Tichy’s technical political cultural model (Tichy, 1981), Freedman Swamp Model (Freedman, 2013), Burke-Litwin model (Burke & Litwin, 1992), and Galbraith 5 Star Model (Kates & Galbraith, 2007). Some of these models have become corner stones in the consulting and organizational development arena. For example, the McKinsey 7S model’s association with one of the world’s largest management consulting firm McKinsey and Company, has led to its wide-spread recognition and use by business and management students. Similarly, the Burke-Litwin and Weisbord Six Box models are well recognized due to their wide spread use by Organizational Development (OD) practitioners.

Pre-engagement organizational diagnosis debate and concerns

The notion that a pre-engagement diagnosis should be performed prior to intervening in an organization is not without controversy. Bushe and Marshak suggest that organizational development should “focus on changing what people think, instead of focusing on changing behavior” (2009, p. 10), which has been the focus of diagnostic processes and subsequent interventions. Peter Block, one of the most widely referenced authorities on consulting, prefers to use the term organizational discovery instead of organizational diagnosis as discovery tends to focus more on possibilities than problems” (2011, p. 159). Weisbord, founder of the Six-Box model of organizational diagnosis, began to use the terms “snapshot and movies” (2004, p. 214) instead of diagnosis “as a way of reducing” (p. 214) his own subtle reinforcement of self- processes. Why is there such a negative view regarding pre-engagement diagnosis? Bushe and Marshak (2009) provide some context for this debate and suggest three major differences between the historical diagnostic approach to organizational development and a new approach often referred to as the dialogic approach to organizational development. I will review each of these concerns as they will be important to what follows in this review.

First, Bushe and Marshak (2009) point to the challenge created by the rapid rate of change required of some modern organizations. Many traditional approaches to pre-engagement diagnosis are time-consuming. At times, changes within organizations happen faster than traditional diagnostic processes can capture which can lead to irrelevant or, worse, inaccurate diagnosis and subsequent intervention (Eisenhardt & Martin, 2000). Similarly, McFillen and colleagues point out that inappropriate diagnosis can lead to strategies which “can reduce organizational effectiveness, waste limited resources and, in extreme cases, result in organizational decline and collapse” (2013, p. 224).

The second concern with traditional approaches concerns the problem-centricity of these approaches. Some contend that the term diagnosis suggests that an organization is diseased or abnormal (McFillen, O’Neil, Balzer, & Varney, 2013). Such a focus tends to make organizational agents distrustful and resistant to change (Fuqua, Newman, & Dickman, 1999), which is the converse of what one would hope to create during a pre-engagement diagnosis.

A third concern is tied to the idea of post-modernist thought. Whereas a modernist view suggests that there is an empirical truth that is discernable, the post-modernist stance suggests that truth is a social construction (Bushe & Marshak, 2009). A post-modernist view of pre-engagement diagnosis organization would suggest that a pre-engagement diagnosis cannot be separated from the meaning-making structure of people/individuals within an organization. Also, adult constructive development suggests that individual meaning making varies along a developmental trajectory (Bowman, 1996; Commons M. L., 2007; Cook-Greuter S. R., 2004; Stein, Dawson, VanRossum, Rothaizer, & Hill, 2014). This suggests that the results of a pre-engagement organizational diagnosis cannot be interpreted without consideration of the influence of adult constructive developmental.

Many new approaches attempt to address some of these concerns. To address many of the post-modernist constructivist concerns, Appreciative Inquiry (Cooperrider, Whitney, & Stavros, 2008) suggests that change is best supported by creating appreciative conversation.  However, even within the appreciative context, there is still a desire to understand the reality of organizations. As an example, Southern describes a framing inquiry approach to discovery that is meant to “…support shared understanding and clarity of direction” (Southern, 2015, p. 1. Chapter 12).

As will be presented as this review progresses, an additional concern is that pre-engagement organizational diagnosis as described in the literature fails to consider the importance of adult constructive development. Prior to spelling out this concern it is important to provide a brief introduction to adult constructive development, especially as it relates to the organizational and/or workplace setting.

Adult Constructive Development Theories

In this section, I provide a brief introduction to adult-constructive development to set the context for the remainder of this review. While many in society appreciate the biological, psychological and social changes that take place as children mature, many believe that development simply ends in early adulthood and remains constant throughout the remainder of one’s life. However, several scholars (Commons, Krause, & Meaney, 1993; Cook-Greuter S., 1999; Dawson-Tunik, Commons, & Wilson, 2005; Loevinger & Wessler, 1970; Torbert W., 2004) have demonstrated that individual psychological development can continue throughout one’s life. James Mark Baldwin was the first scholar to suggest the idea that individuals develop through sequential developmental stages or structures (Bladwin, 1904).

To appreciate the idea of adult development, it is important to clarify several terms. First, is the concept of developmental structures and stages. The Oxford Dictionary of Sociology (Marshall, 1999) describes structures as recurrent patterns. Similarly, the APA defines a stage as “a relatively discrete period in which functioning is qualitatively different from functioning during other periods” (American Psychological Association, 2015, p. 1023). While there are numerous types of structures and stages in the academic fields of psychology, structures and stages as they apply to development are unique as they tend to develop sequentially through qualitatively differentiated sequences which become increasingly more complex from stage to stage (Commons M. L., 2008).

Commons (2008) references two types of developmental complexity. The first he describes as “horizontal complexity” (p. 308) which are the skills required for a given task. Fischer (1980) describes such skills as falling within a task domain. Commons (2008) describes the second type of development as vertical or hierarchical development. This second type of development is more complex and involves the assimilation of multiple, lower level tasks in such a manner that it creates a new, more encompassing way of [making-meaning] or new task domains. Scholars have described multiple vertical development domains, examples include cognitive, ego, and moral development. In addition, the impact on leadership and decision making has been studied for each of the mentioned domains.

Key Developmental Neo-Piagetian Perspectives in the Organizational Context

Scholars have described multiple lines or domains of development. Examples include Loevinger (Loevinger & Wessler, Measuring ego development: Construction and use of a sentence completion test, 1970) and Cook-Greuter’s (1999) stages of ego development, and Kohlberg’s (1977) stages of moral development. For this review, these different domains of development will be referred to as lines of development (Wilber, 2000). Next, I will introduce several lines of development that have been used in some manner within the organization or workplace environment.

Moral development

Lawrence Kohlberg is well known for his work in moral development. Kohlberg derived his theory of moral development by integrating the moral philosophy of John Rawls with the developmental psychology of Piaget (Reams, 2014). This led to the development of a three-stage model with two sub-stages at each level. Kohlberg and Hersh (1977) describe the following stages:

  • Pre-conventional
    • Stage 1: Punishment-and-obedience
    • Stage2: The instrumental-relativist orientation
  • Conventional
    • Stage 3: The interpersonal concordance orientation
    • Stage 4: The law and order orientation
  • Post-conventional
    • Stage 5: The social-contract, legalistic orientation
    • Stage 6: The universal-ethical-principle orientation

Kohlberg’s theory of moral development has been used within the organizational setting. A recent example is research by Xu, Caldwell and Anderson who set out to investigate the relationship between moral development and the transformational insight of leaders. While this investigation did not show exclusive proof of a relationship between moral development and transformational leadership insight, it did demonstrate evidence of a complex relationship between moral development and “trust, commitment and followership” (2016, p. 83).

Kohlberg’s measurement of moral development is performed as a semi-structured interview known as the moral judgment interview. However, a testing instrument known as the Defining Issues Test (DIT) has been developed as an alternative mechanism for measuring moral development. Thoma and Dong (2014) provide a review of the psychometric properties of the DIT and note its commonalities with the Model of Hierarchical Complex, which I will address further.

While there are examples of the use of moral development within the context of the organizational setting, popular PEODMs do not specifically address moral development. A pre-engagement understanding of moral development could provide consultants with a better understanding of the moral reasoning capabilities and ethical behavior of both employees and leaders.

Ego Development

Jane Loevinger (1976) was interested in trying to understand the difference between the character and human nature of individuals. This led to the development of an ego development theory which describes the changes observed in the areas of impulse control, interpersonal style, conscious preoccupations and cognitive style. Each of these concepts increase in complexity as one progresses sequentially through qualitatively distinct stages. Loevinger and Wessler (1970, p. 9) refers to these stages as:

  • Prosocial Stage (I-1)
  • Symbiotic Stage (I-1)
  • Impulsive Stage (I-2)
  • Self-Protection Stage (Delta)
  • Conformist Stage (I-3)
  • Self-Aware Stage (I-3/4)
  • Conscientious Stage (I-4)
  • Individualistic Stage (I-4/5)
  • Autonomous Stage (I-5)
  • Integrated Stage (I-6)

Loevinger and Wassler (1970) derived a testing instrument, known as the Washington University Sentence Completion Test (WUSCT), to assess the relative individual stage of ego development. While the initial version of the WUSCT and the resulting scoring manual for the test was developed to score ego development among women, the second edition of the scoring manual includes tests for both men and women (Hy & Loevinger, 1996).

One of the issues that Loevinger encountered during the development of the WUSCT was that her sample included few individuals in the late stage category. Cook-Greuter’s (1999) research was aimed at extending and refining later stages of Loevinger’s ego development to include later stages of development. This refinement led to the development of a new version of the WUSCT called the Sentence Completion Test Integral Maturity Assessment Profile (SCTi-MAP). While the SCTi-MAP retained the properties of the first eight levels of the WUSCT, this new version expands on the late stage of ego development and provides increased scoring resolution for late stage development.

Cook-Greuter makes a case for understanding the stage of ego development of employees. Specifically, she suggests that higher stages of ego development can aid leaders in the way that they interact, support, challenge, and coach employees (2004, p. 8). An understanding of these factors may provide significant insight as part of a pre-engagement organizational diagnostic process.

While Loevinger’s (Loevinger & Wessler, 1970; Loevinger, 1976) and Cook-Greuter’s (1999) work have been used in the organization context, it is Torbert’s work that places ego development firmly within the organizational setting. Merron, Fisher and Torbert (1987) developed a new version of the ego development based on Cook-Greuter’s (1999) SCTi-MAP. Torbert and Livne-Tarandach accomplished this by revising the wording of sentence stems to make the verbiage more amenable to organizational agents. Additionally, Torbert (2004) modified the category labels to make them more business oriented. Instead of referring to stages of development, Torbert chose to refer to stages as “action-logics” (p. 78). The most recent version of Torbert’s ego development test describes eight action logics and is known as the Global Leadership Profile (GLP). The seven action logics that are relevant to adults and leadership these include: Opportunist, Diplomat, Expert, Achiever, Individualist, Strategist, and Alchemist (Rooke & Torbert, 2005).

Using the LDP (an early version of the GDP), Torbert and colleagues have demonstrated that CEOs who score at later action-logics are more prone to ask for feedback on their performance and that ego development explains 42% of the variance in CEO ability to lead an organizational transformation (Rooke & Torbert, 1998). This work is important in that it sets the context for development within the organizational setting and it provides a specific description of leader behaviors within each action logic stage. Torbert’s more recent work extends the idea of leader development to “organizational development or “organizational developmental action-logics” (2004, p. 126).

Like other versions of ego-development testing, the GDP does not require a face-to-face interview. However, currently all forms of ego testing require individual scoring by an individual who has completed either a classroom or self-training program. Currently, a self-training and scoring manual is only publically available for the WUSCT (Hy & Loevinger, 1996).


Robert Kegan (1994) derived a model that describes the sequential development of meaning-making. Kegan describes the evolution of meaning making as five levels on increasing “orders of consciousness” (p. 7). Kegan’s Subject-Object Theory, suggests that we all live in the context of our immediately subjective reality. It is when we can step back and objectify this subjective reality that development takes place. Such objectifying allows one to better understand and manage one’s intentions. While Kegan’s model describes five “orders of consciousness” (p.7), only the final three are commonly encountered and discussed in the adult and organizational environments. Kegan’s three later orders of consciousness include:

  • Stage 3: Socialized Mind (Dependence);
  • Stage 4: Self-Authoring (Independence); and
  • Stage 5: Self-Transforming Mind (Interdependence).

Multiple scholars have used Kegan’s (1994) Subject Object Theory to evaluate various components of organizations such as leadership, motivation and mentoring. For example, Lewis and colleagues (2005) used Kegan’s theory to conduct a longitudinal study of West Point cadets. It was posited that a better understanding of cadet perspective taking would provide insight into cadet leadership ability across their college years. These researchers found that in many cases students who were expected to think abstractly had not developed this level of developmental complexity. These findings demonstrated the need for additional support during the student’s early college years.

More recently, Helsing and Howell (2013) use Kegan’s (1994) theory to evaluate the understanding of meaning-making structures of fellowship students of the World Economic Forum. It was hoped that a better understanding of fellows’ meaning-making capacity would help ensure that young fellows are not given tasks which are beyond their capacity. The finding found that fellows who scored the highest on the SOI also scored the highest on the other leadership assessments. Hence, reiterating the importance of developmental assessments in leadership development.

Another example of the use of Kegan’s theory within the organizational context is Bowman’s (1996) use of the theory to investigate the interaction between the developmental level of individual organizational actors and the developmental level of leaders. While the relationship between individual actor developmental levels and leader developmental levels has not received much attention, the general interaction between individuals and leaders has received significant attention. This expansive body of knowledge is referred to as leader-member exchange (LMX) theory (Graen & Uhi-Bien, 1995). Recently, Valcea and colleagues (2011) suggested a link between LMX and adult stages of development when they used the model to describe three stages of leader-employee sense making structures. The authors contend that there is dependent order within relationships. During interactions, either the leader or the follower’s individual development is impacted by the other party. As individuals move to higher developmental levels, the leader-follower exchange can develop into an independent order. At the emerging independent order of development, both leaders and actors are dependent upon each other to support their individual development and the development of the relationship. Finally, as both the actors and the exchanges evolve to higher levels of development, relational exchanges can evolve to the interdependent order. At this inter-dependent order, both actors and the exchanges depend on the dynamic exchange as a source to support the continued individual development and further evolution of the exchange. Valcea and colleagues conclude by proposing two major impediments to individual development, these include “lack of challenge in one’s environment” (p. 606) and “lack(s) of support for development” (p. 606). Since supportive reciprocal leader-follower exchange attends to both impediments, it stands that it would be efficacious to understand such dynamics as part of a pre-engagement organizational diagnosis.

Another example of the use of Kegan’s (1994) model within the organization context involves Buenhagen and Barbuto, Jr.’s (2012) investigation of the link between order of consciousness and motivations. Their initial findings suggest that as “individuals transition through the order of consciousness that they become more deeply engaged in the meaning and purpose of the organization or cause” (p. 42). Additionally, the authors found that leaders who demonstrate higher orders of consciousness are better capable of supporting followers.

One final area in which Kegan’s (1994) model that may be useful in a pre-engagement context involves using the theory to support mentoring relationships. McGowan, Stone and Kegan (2007) provide a detailed account of how Kegan’s model can be used to support mentoring relationships. The authors point out that most organizational agents would be expected to “fall somewhere on a Stage 3-4 continuum” (p. 423). Additionally, the authors indicate the importance of creating the appropriate “holding environment” (p. 404) which will best support growth at each of these stages. An understanding of both factors can aid in the creation of an environment that most optimally support an individual’s development.

Finally, as it relates to PEODMs, it is important to note that Kegan’s Subject Object Theory is evaluated by way of an interactive interview. Lahey and colleagues (2011) have created a detailed guide to facilitate the training and use of the Subject-Object Interview (“SOI”). This makes instruments relatively assessable and economically feasible for use by consultants who are willing to invest the time needed to learn and score the interviews. While this approach may provide more nuanced data than traditional organizational surveying methods, it is important to remember that interviews can be a very time-consuming process as is the scoring process. This may further limit the utility of the SOI as part of a pre-engagement assessment, especially when it is desirable to understand large numbers of individuals.

General Domain Theories

Fischer, a student of Kohlberg, derived a Dynamic Skills Theory model that “attempts to provide tools for the prediction of developmental sequences and synchronies at any point of development” (1980, p. 477). While Fischer’s approach has received minimal attention in the organizational setting, it is noteworthy for three reasons. First, Fischer provides explicit details of what should be considered a “task domain” or level (p. 484). Secondly, he offers a comprehensive set of transition rules that illuminate what is involved in transition from one level to the subsequent level. Finally, as will be noted below, Fischer’s Dynamic Skills Theory was one of the inspirations for a recent assessment approach put forth by Dawson and Wilson. However, prior to reviewing the contributions of Dawson, it is important to consider the contributions of Michael Commons.

Commons, also a student of Kohlberg’s, developed a more general approach to measuring development. Like Fischer’s (1980) approach, Common’s model is designed to be used as a way of measuring stages of any sequence of simple, as well as, complex tasks. Commons, as with Fischer (1980), provides explicit details of the rule that govern stage transitions. More recently, the model has been referred to as the Model of Hierarchal Complexity (MHC) (Commons M. L., 2008) .

The MHC has been utilized in a multitude of different ways that demonstrate its applicability to the area of PEODM. The following table provides a succinct review of some of the most relevant contributions to the organizational setting.

Dawson (2004) systematized language content analysis based on using Commons’ MHC and Fischer’s skill theory to create the Lectical Abstract Assessment System (LAAS). The LAAS divides skill levels into 14 skill levels based on hierarchical complexity as evaluated using “linguistic performances” (Stein & Heikkinen, 2009, p. 123). In addition to being able to score at the stage level, the LAAS has the capability to measure within level distinctions when used in conjunction with content specific cues.

The LAAS has been used extensively in the area of leadership assessment. Most notable is a comprehensive longitudinal leadership development that used the Lectical Decision Making Assessment (LDMA), a content specific version of the LAAS, that was used to assess the decision-making capacity of “over 800 city leaders across the full range of management levels in government” (Stein, Dawson, VanRossum, Rothaizer, & Hill, 2014, p. 10). The assessment results of the LDMA were then used to inform the developmental curriculum for these leaders. At the end of the 9-month, 40-hour development program leaders showed greater growth throughout the program (2004).

Originally, the LAAS was administered and scored manually. However, Dawson and Wilson have now developed a new version of the LAAS which can be scored electronically by a computerized algorithm. This new scoring algorithm has been shown to be very effective with a Kendall’s correlation coefficient of .93 (p. 153). This is an important advancement as it increases the efficacy of using the LAAS as part of a pre-engagement organizational diagnosis.

Requisite Organization

Canadian psychologist turned management theorist, Elliott Jaques makes a case for the importance that organizational structure plays in an organization’s success. Jaques developed a managerial hierarchy theory that delineates organizational structure into levels or strata. Each stratum is based on the amount, role and task complexity that is required for any given employee level. Jaques and Clement contends that one of the most defining characteristics of the degree of role and task complexity involved at a given level is largely dependent on the time horizon required for the task at that level. As an example, CEOs require the capacity to consider issues that may affect the organization’s future for more than 10 to 20 years into the future (Jaques & Clement, 1994).

Jaques’ concepts are very consistent with the task complexity works of Commons (2008) and Fischer (1980). While Jaques’s concepts have received less attention than some other works described above, they provide many clues as to the importance of a pre-engagement understanding of an organization; especially as it refers to organizational structure, division of labor and task assignments. It requires interviews and trained scorers just as Kegan’s approach does.

I have briefly introduced adult constructive development as it applies to the organizational and workplace setting. As was demonstrated, the area of adult constructive development continues to evolve and interest in the organizational environment continues to grow. In the next section of this review, I will move to a discussion of the PEODM literature.

Pre-Engagement Diagnostic models through an Adult Developmental Lens

While explicit evidence of adult constructive development is scant in the PEODM literature, places wherein it may provide useful insight will be described. In this section, I will take four of the most popular PEODMs and point out where adult developmental insights could be useful. In addition, I will provide supportive examples of such insights from the adult constructive development literature.

Each of the following models was chosen for review due to their unique significances. Weisbord’s Six-Box (Weisbord M., 1978) model is still routinely used by organizational development professionals. The McKinsey 7-S model (Waterman, Peters, & Phillips, 1980), due to its popularity and association with one of the world’s leading strategy consulting firms, is still being utilized, the Nadler and Tushman’s Congruency Model (Nadler & Tushman, 1980) as it draws attention to the importance of fit and the Burke-Litwin (1992) model due to its depth and empirical basis.

Weisbord’s Six-Box Model

Weisbord based his Six Box method on the premise that “most organizational theories are either “1) too narrow to include everything” (1976, p. 430) , or “2) too broadly abstract to give much guidance” (p. 431). With this in mind, he attempted to move from the assessment of individual and group diagnostics to a more inclusive systems diagnosis. Weisbord’s  Six Box Model arranges important pre-engagement items into six categories. While Weisbord fails to mention adult constructive development as an element, each of the components of the model could benefit from adult constructive development insights.

The first category involves the purpose, goals and objectives of an organization. Weisbord suggests that organizational purpose, goals and objectives be assessed in terms of the fit, clarity and agreement. Whether an organization’s purpose, goals and objectives exist formally or informally they impact an organization’s success. From an adult constructive development perspective, as Buenhagen and Barbuto, Jr. (2012) pointed out individuals at a higher order of consciousness tend to more deeply embrace meanings and purpose, which would tend to influence areas such as strategic planning and objective setting.

The second category of the Six Box Model is organizational structure. This category involves evaluation of the organization’s formal reporting structure, the division of labor and work planning functions. Each of these can be better understood when viewed through a developmental lens. Commons (2008) suggests that individual workplace behaviors are the result of a dynamic interplay between individual development and social factors. Koplowitz (2008) reiterates this idea by pointing out that task complexity plays a role in determining the decision-making ability that should be expected at different levels of an organization. This is an important consideration when trying to determine if an organization has the correct reporting structure, division of labor and deciding how work will be carried out.

Weisbord’s next category involves the evaluation of organizational relationships. This involves considering the amount of and the type of collaboration as well as evaluation of the organization’s ability to constructively deal with conflict. This can involve collaboration between employees and leaders or interactions between employees. Recently, Valcea and colleagues (2011) suggested a link between LMX and adult stage of development. Keeping with Kegan’s (1994) constructive-developmental approach, Valcea and colleagues divide LMX sense-making structures into dependent, independent and interdependent orders of relationship. Each of the successive stages of relationship better serves the development of an individual’s personal development. As Stein and colleagues’ (2014) work points out, individuals who score higher on the LAAS appear to be better at collaboration and tend to deal with conflict in a more constructive manner.

Weisbord’s fourth category is rewards. Evaluation in this category usually includes consideration of the type of reward systems currently in place and then comparing it to what might be considered as an optimal reward system for the given organizational environment. While many explanations for motivation have been put forward, most fail to take development into consideration. Harrigan and Commons (2015) suggest a link between adult constructive development and motivation. They describe two types of reinforcers, “primary reinforcers” (p. 24) which are more primitive items such as food, sleep and social stimuli  and “secondary reinforcers” (p. 24) which are items that individuals learn to desire. Cook-Greuter also suggests that “concept of feedback” (2004, p. 7) and the “methods of influence” (p. 7) vary with individual levels of development. McGowan, Stone and Kegan go even one step further and describe specific mentoring approaches that help create the most appropriate “holding environment” (2007, p. 404) for individuals at different levels of his orders of consciousness.

Weisbord’s fifth category involves the evaluation of an organization’s leadership. For this category, Weisbord provides few specifics, instead suggesting that one use his/her preferred leadership model. Recently, McCauley and colleagues (2006) reviewed several studies that have used various developmental stage models to evaluate aspects of leadership. Many of these studies only provide suggestive relationships between leadership and adult development. However, as was described in section 2, Dawson’s LAAS has been used to assess the decision-making capacity of “800 city leaders across the full range of management levels in government” (2014, p. 1). The assessment results of the LDMA were then used to inform the developmental curriculum for these leaders. At the end of the 9-month, 40-hour program leaders showed growth in the areas of problem solving, perspective-taking and decision-making.

Weisbord’s final category highlights the need to evaluate other mechanisms which may be useful to understanding an organization’s health. These include items such as how an organization coordinates its key functions, monitors performance and how an organization deals with challenges. Additionally, Weisbord notes the interconnectivity of assessment categories. The importance of these categories and the interconnectivity between categories amplifies the need for a system view of organization and has led to several models to help capture the dynamics of organizational systems. Some of these models are described below.

Nadler and Tushman’s Congruence model

Another approach to pre-engagement organizational diagnosis is Nadler and Tushman’s congruence model.  The congruence model was designed to assess the fit between (1980, p. 43):

  • Individuals and the organization;
  • Individuals and the task they perform;
  • Individuals and the informal structure of the organization;
  • Task and the demand of the organization;
  • Task and the informal structure of the organization; and
  • Formal structures and the informal structures of the organization.

The overarching hypothesis of the model is that the greater the fit within each of these six areas, the healthier the organization.

Many of the elements within the congruence model are items which are described as components of Weisbord’s Six-Box model and key propositions of Jaques’s requisite organization (Jaques & Clement, 1994). Much like Jaques’s approach, the congruence model as it relates to the use of adult constructive development and pre-engagement diagnosis is the approach’s emphasis on fit. The adult constructive developmental literature contributes to the idea of fit in several respects. As it relates to individual versus organizational fit, Cook-Greuter suggests that this “interplay between person and environment” (2004, p. 4) is important and that both contribute to development. In terms of the fit between individuals and task, Fischer (Fischer, 1980), Commons (2008), and Dawson (2004) highlight the connection between development and task performance. Finally, McGowan, Stone and Kegan (2007) point out the importance of fit between the individuals and their environment. Each of these are examples of how Weisbord’s model could benefit from being viewed through a developmental lens.

McKinsey’s 7S model

The McKinsey 7S model as originally described by Waterman, Peters and Phillips (1980) is an outgrowth of the practical consulting experience of the world-renowned consulting firm McKinsey and Company. The 7S model outlines seven factors in a way meant to emphasize the interconnectivity of these factors and to emphasize the importance of each. The seven factors of the 7S model include strategy, structure, systems, style, staff, skills and superordinate goals.

While there are similarities between the McKinsey 7S and Weisbord’s Six Box model, three of the factors deserve specific attention. First, the 7S model emphasizes the importance of strategy. From an adult constructive development perspective, development takes place through a transition from simple sets to mappings of sets and then to systems and metasystems (Commons, 2008). This would suggest that later stage leaders may have an increased capacity for appreciating the systems and interaction between systems which may lead to the formulation of more encompassing strategies. Jaques and Clement (1994) also point out that dealing with complex problems requires at least systemic parallel processing capability, which is only developed in later stage developed leaders.

A second important unique aspect of the 7S model is style. Waterman, Peters and Phillips (1980) point to multiple factors that should be considered under the heading of style. These include both the personality of the management team and the organization’s culture. Both of these factors have connections to adult constructive development. First, as Kuhnert and Lewis (1987) point out, Kegan’s (1994) orders of conscious can be thought of as a constructive personality theory. Wilber’s (2000) AQAL theory goes even further and suggests that personality and development are two of many elements that provide unique insights into individual’s thoughts and behaviors.

A third factor of the 7S model, impacted by constructive development, is skill. As Fischer (1980), Commons (2008), Jaques and Dawson (2004) point out skill complexity, both from a skill’s specific and general skill’s perspective, tends to develop hierarchically. Additionally, each go further and note the importance of not assigning tasks to individuals beyond their level of task complexity.

Finally, Waterman, Peters and Phillips (1980) describe a category known as superordinate goals.  The authors describe superordinate goals as “higher order” (p. 24) guiding principles that exist in some organizations. These can exist as a vision, a purpose or set of shared values. Kegan (1994) and Torbert & Associates (2004) argue that late stage leaders are more capable of creating shared vision. Again, as with the Weisbord Six Box Model, the McKinsey, 7S model could benefit from the insights that could be provided by adult constructive development.

Burke-Litwin model

One of the problems with all the diagnostic models reviewed to this point is that while they recognize the interconnectivity between model variables, they are each essentially descriptive in nature and fail to specify cause and effect relationships between variables. Another major critique of previous models is that they fail to place significant emphasis on the influence of external environmental factors, the importance of which is well-documented in the literature. Additionally, whereby previous models tend to leave underlying organizational theories to the discretion of the user, Burke and Litwin (1992) base each variable on existing empirical evidence.

Burke and Litwin recognize the importance of practical applicability of an organizational diagnostic model. Based on the need for a PEODM that connected to existing organizational theory, the Burke-Litwin Model was formulated by incorporating Litwin’s (1968) original research on organizational climate with Weisbord’s Six-Box Model (1978), McKinsey’s 7S Model, and Nadler and Tushman’s Congruency Model (1980) to create a 12 variable model that incorporates the best of previous models with the empirical basis that existed at the time the model was created. While the model is significantly more complex than previous models and more difficult to apply, it is also better suited for empirical exploration and is better balanced between science and practice.

The 12 variables the Burke-Litwin Model (1992, p. 528) include:

  • Mission and Strategy;
  • Leadership;
  • Organizational Culture;
  • Structure;
  • Management Practices;
  • Work Unit Climate;
  • Systems (Policies and Procedure);
  • Tasks and Individual Skills;
  • Motivation;
  • Individual Needs and Values; and
  • Individual Organizational Performance.

Martins and Coetzee (2009) recently conducted an exploratory study to evaluate the utility of the Burke-Litwin model. They concluded that “apart from increasing the involvement of employees and management and therefore, the ownership of data, the organizational diagnostic process, model and techniques employed also helped to create a very strong platform for future organizational improvement actions” (p. 155). This would make the Burke-Litwin model a good foundation for the creation of a developmentally informed PEODM. This leads to three important questions. First, what specific areas of the Burke-Litwin model would most benefit from an understanding of the developmental complexity of an organization’s people? Second, which developmental lens would best inform pre-engagement diagnosis. And third, what assessment huddles would one have to overcome to assess many people?

Next Steps

I set out to critically review the PEODM literature to uncover the presence of adult constructive developmental concepts and to investigate how PEODMs could benefit from the integration of an adult constructive developmental lens. While none of the PEODMs reviewed explicitly include adult constructive developmental constructs, many do include components that could benefit from the insights that could be provided by a developmental lens. Areas that may benefit from a development insight include leadership, work atmosphere, task performance and moral reasoning. Such insight would provide organizational consultants and change agents with a richer understanding of the current capabilities of an organization, which could be used to scaffold new processes and technologies in a way that would make them more accessible to an organization’s people.

This review points to the need for further research in the area of developmentally informed PEODMs. As was demonstrated, PEODM constructs are often ill-defined and lack empirical evidence. Unfortunately, much of the research in the area of PEODMs lacks links between outcomes and to methods making it difficult to easily integrate constructive development into existing models. While some have suggested that PEODM be abandoned, it is my contention that the insights gleaned from a developmentally informed pre-engagement assessment could be of significant benefit to consultants and change agents. This reiterates my desire to create a PEODM that is informed by adult constructive developmental theory.

Integrating Developmental Insights into a PEODM

The wide-spread use of adult developmental constructs as a tool to aid in the pre-engagement assessment of organizations will require further research and application in the fields of organizational behavior, development, leadership. A first step to initiating such integration and use is the creation of awareness of the potential benefits that could be gleaned by both scholarly communities. This review and my subsequent research are intended to help create such an awareness.

The creation of a developmentally informed PEODM prototype will require several steps. First, one will have to decide if it is desirable to create an entirely new PEODM or to create a developmentally informed version of an existing model. Based upon my research, I would propose the use the Burke-Litwin (1992) model as a foundation and to evolve each component to include developmentally informed insights. Here, I provide an example of the Burke-Litwin Model that may benefit from a developmental insight.

Second, it will be necessary to determine which developmental model will be used to evaluate the desired developmental insights. This decision will be a bit more complex. It is possible that some of the constructs of interest have already been developed and that one could partner with the developers of such instruments. Alternatively, one could utilize a model such as Common’s MHC and develop each developmental construct from scratch. This process will be a bit more complex and will be much more time consuming. Finally, unlike many of the historical PEODMs it would be prudent to test the evolved PEODM to ensure that it both a valid representation of developmental constructs and that it is possible to empirically assess the overall efficacy of the model.

Regardless of the PEODM used as a foundation or the constructive developmental model chosen as a basis of the developmental constructs, this review demonstrates the potential benefit and feasibility of a developmentally informed PEODM. While development of such a model will be a time consuming and complex task, the potential benefits that this type of pre-engagement diagnosis could provide consultants and change agents could be invaluable.

About the Author

For over 20 years, Todd Hatley has worked to help individuals, teams and organizations conquer their toughest challenges and realize their most ambitious goals Todd is currently working to complete a PhD in Organizational Systems at Saybrook University. In addition, Todd serves as full-time faculty for the Tillman School of Business at the University of Mount Olive and is the CEO of Integral Performance Solutions (IPS), a management consulting, coaching, and training firm that bases its practices on Integral Theory.


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