You need the right lever to move an organization

Klaus Wittkuhn wrote an excellent article on the systemic approach required in human performance analysis in the March 2004 edition of Performance Improvement published by ISPI.

A key concept in the article is that you cannot engineer human performance. Human performance is an emergent property of an organization, and is affected by multiple variables. Therefore Witthuhn suggests to first address the “Steering Elements”. These “ensure that the right product is delivered at the right time to the right place”, and include – Management, Customer Feedback, Consequences, Expectations and Feedback. Once the steering elements have been addressed, then look at the “Enabling Elements” – Management (again), Design, Resources and Support.

Only after the steering and enabling elements (the non-human factors) have been aligned, should we look at work performance. The rationale here is that it is only within an optimized system that we can expect optimal human performance. As Wittkuhn states:

It is not an intelligent strategy to train people to overcome system deficiencies. Instead, we should design the system properly to make sure that the performers can leverage all their capabilities.

After several years, I still find this is the most succinct operationalization of performance technology that I have read.

A major lesson here for the training/HR/learning & development fields is that all the courses and training in the world will not overcome system deficiencies. Perhaps this is why the training department is usually not part of the C level (executive) conversations in most organizations. Even if training does its job, there’s a good chance it will be ineffective in  a flawed organization. I had this realization many years ago, which is why I focus on organizational models and systems design. Training is not an effective lever for organizational change and neither is HR for that matter.  In case you were wondering, that’s why these departments are often ignored by key decision makers.

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