Posts Categorized: Performance Improvement

For the Toolbox

As a new Training Development Officer (TDO) in the Canadian military, I was told by the more experienced officers to build my own "TDO Toolkit". This was to be a selection of templates and job aids to help me with my future employment. TDO’s were mostly responsible for ensuring quality control of training programs, and many of us worked as the lone training specialist in an organisation.

Much of my work involved the development of new job specifications, followed by the creation of training standards for personnel who worked on some aspect of our newly purchased helicopter.

One of the tools that we used was DIF (difficulty, importance, frequency) analysis in determining if we needed to develop training on a specific task. In my first year on the helicopter project, I had to examine several hundred tasks for training suitability. The diagram below shows you a quick & dirty way that this can be done. This is the simple diagram, and there is also a more detailed version that we used, which I can post if there is any interest.

This diagram surfaced as I was preparing a proposal and I thought that someone else might want it for their toolkit. I’ll post some more as I get some time to create digital graphics in SmartDraw.

Practice & Feedback

Albert Ip makes a point that practice does not make perfect.

My daughter’s swimming coach puts it very well: "Practice makes your stroke permanent. If you practise bad technique, you just become a more efficient bad swimmer with the bad stroke. It is even more difficult to unlearn the bad strokes."

At an HPT workshop given by ISPI, one of the facilitators told a story about his daughter, who was a gymnastics instructor. This is the story as I remember it. Her main method of teaching was to provide only positive encouragement after each attempt, without criticism. Just before the next attempt, she would give some corrective advice, like "keep your elbows tucked in this time". This method seemed to work quite well.

She took leave from this role, and was replaced by another instructor who believed in immediate feedback. Most other aspects of the program remained the same. After a year of receiving immediate feedback, the gymnasts’ performance was much worse, and some left the program.

The program went into decline.

Many of us in the training and education profession have been told about the merits of immediate feedback, but this one example has stuck with me over the past two years, and I even try to use it with my children. Don’t give criticism, or ways to improve, until the person has the chance to try it again. If you received negative feedback, without being able to show that you could do it better, you would only feel bad about your performance. This makes sense to me anyway.

I still believe that the only way to develop a skill is through practice and feedback, however when and how the feedback is given is extremely important.

The Talent Myth

In a recent ChangeThis manifesto, Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, states that "The talent myth assumes that people make organizations smart. More often than

not, it’s the other way around." He cites Enron and WorldCom has examples of the continuing quest for the best individual talent gone awry; while Southwest Airlines and Wal*Mart are companies

with inclusive, and more effective business cultures. This search for individuals with star potential, at the expense of the organisation, is what Gladwell calls the "Talent Myth".

They were there looking for people who had the talent to think outside the box. It never occurred to them that, if everyone had to think outside the box, maybe it was the box that needed fixing.

To me, this is just another example of businesses grabbing on to the latest management gimmick to solve all of their problems. It also shows how human performance technology would have been a better approach for these companies in managing their workforce. HPT looks at the alignment between the culture and business operations, as well as the role of individuals within the system. As James Hite describes HPT, " …human performance is placed in context along with other subsystems that constitute the presence of the organization." It’s the relationship between individual performers (especially the "stars") and all of the other components that has to be examined and understood. Or as Earl Mardle says, "Effective Executives are not a product that we can make, but an emergent property of correctly functioning organisations."

Gladwell’s stories of narcissistic star candidates, many being paid more than they were worth, are interesting to view from a performance analysis perspective. A cursory look would show that this misalignment of rewards and consequences could cause systemic problems. HPT may not be glamorous, but it works.

Building Alternatives

Robert Paterson said it a while back, and Brian Alger just mentioned it. I’m referring to this statement made by Rob:

I am beginning to think that this may be the great work – to build the alternatives rather than to try and reform the existing system.

I think that this is a wonderful mission statement – To build alternatives rather than to try and reform existing systems. I know that we have systemic problems in politics, academia and health care, to name a few. Instead of trying to tweak these systems, it may be more fruitful to build alternatives that can serve as examples. This does not mean destroying the existing system (as some may argue that managerial capitalist systems can do this all on their own) but creating prototypes for experimentation and learning. It’s kind of like early American democracy that showed many other people how it could work.


Performance Improvement Resources

I’ve re-posted this as a reference for the audience of the session on Human Performance Technology that I presented to NBCC. You can also follow the Performance Improvement taxonomy links for my comments on this field of practice.

If you’re in the training business, and want to broaden your horizons, take a look at performance improvement. Here are two good resources for short articles on performance improvement. PI helps you link business needs with the appropriate learning or training solution. It also provides you with tools to ensure that training does not become the "one size fits all" solution for any human performance issue.

PerformanceExpress is published monthly by ISPI. On the bottom of the navigation bar is a link to back issues.

Harold Stolovitch publishes HSA Express and Performance. I like the April 2003 article on 10 low cost performance improvement solutions, for example:

  • Clean up performance expectations.
  • Develop feedback systems.
  • Create performance support systems.
  • Design simple and effective job aids.
  • Eliminate tasks that interfere with job performance.

Typology Maps for Learning

I have referred to Don Clark’s site many times over the years, as it’s a great resource for instructional design and educational theories. I recently noticed that he has updated it with typology maps, some under construction, so you can watch them evolve. Check out Big Dog and Little Dog’s Bowl of Biscuits and see for yourself. I like the Performance Typology Map.

Now wouldn’t it be nice to have a wikipedia of typology maps that could be collaboratively developed?

Training Basics

From the T&D Blog, here is a review of some basic principles of training from a performance technology perspective:


Dr. Seth Leibler, CEO of the
CEP, says organizations should evaluate their training based on these criteria:

  1. Training is viewed as the right solution only if the cause of a problem is a lack of skill or knowledge. Training is not automatically developed as the solution for every performance problem.
  2. All training requests are analyzed to ensure the right solutions are developed and implemented. In addition to training, all the potential causes for underperformance are addressed: skill, motivational, and environmental resource and supports.
  3. Practice situations in training match the actual on-the-job conditions as closely as possible (It?��Ǩ�Ѣs why off-the-shelf training generally is ineffective.)
  4. Learners receive immediate feedback after each practice to reinforce what is done correctly and coaching on what to do differently.
  5. Skill checks ensure that learners master all essential skills needed to perform to job expectations before leaving training.
  6. On-the-job reference tools (job aids) are developed to provide essential information to performers who only need a reminder of how to do a task.

I slightly disagree with #4, as some research shows that it’s better to provide feedback just before the next practice attempt, as opposed to after the previous one. This way the learner can put into practice the correct behaviour/skill immediately after the feedback is provided.

[Some day T&D Blog may make comments and trackbacks available, but at least there is a permalink]

Strategic Planning for Educational Organisations

I like to use system models when analysing an organisation, especially for strategic planning purposes. This  system model is based on models by Geary Rummler and Roger Kaufman.

I developed this model as a means of communicating with educational institutions. It’s not comprehensive but it gets the conversation flowing. I’m always interested in finding graphical metaphors for the way we work and learn.

From Classroom to Boardroom

Jay Bahlis, President of BNH Expert Software in Montreal, has produced a free, online booklet, From Classroom to Boardroom, that will be a good job aid for performance improvement professionals. It covers step-by-step actions and six strategies for aligning training with business goals. Though not new in its concepts, this booklet is an additional resource that may be helpful, especially for internal initiatives. Some of Jay’s cited references may be of use as well:

  • Ford and Weissbein estimated that less than 10% of training expenditures actually result in transfer
    to the job. By focusing on the most important initiatives, you can reduce waste and maximize the
    impact of training.
  • Broad and Newstrom observed that most of the knowledge and skills gained in training (well over
    80% by some estimates) is not fully applied by employees on the job. And more recently, Robinson
    reported that on average, less than 30% of what people learn (in training) actually gets used on the
    job. By focusing on solutions that resolve clearly identified performance deficiencies you can
    minimize waste and maximize performance.
  • Lance Dublin observed that over 90% of training is conducted through informal means such as web
    searches, chats, reference materials and mentoring. Providing the right information to the right
    individuals at the right time ?��Ǩ?�learning at the speed of work?��Ǩ�� can significantly increase the competitive
    advantage of the organization ?��Ǩ��� allowing individuals to do things they have not been able to before.

Many thanks to Jay for making this available to the community.

Human Performance Improvement

BPTrends‘ latest e-mail advisor (PDF) discusses the relationship of human performance improvement with other business process improvement methodologies.

Those involved in business process change within organizations need to draw on and integrate a wide variety of approaches and technologies, ranging from strategy change systems and process analysis tools, to ABC, BPMS, a wide variety of software automation systems, Six Sigma, and job design. ISPI represents a well-developed source of theory and practice designed to help improve human performance within organizations. It’s a rare process improvement project that doesn’t require changes in management and the jobs performed, or that wouldn’t benefit from better feedback or an improved incentive system. The ISPI is a resource that business process change practitioners ought to be familiar with.