I recently wrote that with increasing complexity and interconnectedness, we all need to be better detectives in order to make sense and understand our world. The field of human performance improvement is a systemic method of doing detective work to find out how people perform in an organization. W. Edwards Deming stated that, “I should estimate that in my experience most troubles and most possibilities for improvement add up to the proportions something like this: 94% belongs to the system (responsibility of management)”.
Yet most organizations put the responsibility for workplace performance solely on individual competence, focusing on training as the solution to all performance issues. For example, compliance training is a standard response by industry regulators when dealing with human performance issues. This fails to examine the entire system, which is bad detective work, because — it’s the system, stupid.
“Over the long haul, even strong people can’t compensate for a weak process. Sure, some occasional success may come from team or individual heroics. But if you pit a good performer against a bad system, the system will win almost every time.” —Rummler & Brache
If you are wondering why work is not getting done as desired, first look at the system. I provide an example of looking at nursing care after being asked to develop an e-learning course. My analysis determined that training was not the solution. Better job aids and more resources at work were instead developed, after some detective work outlined in the performance analysis. I later published my performance analysis process (PDF) as a job aid. If you do not understand the entire system, then any intervention — including training — is merely addressing symptoms and will likely be a waste of time and money.