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Analyzing Human Performance: Part 1

Tuesday, February 3, 2015
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Every learning and development professional will inevitably receive a request for training from a manager anxious to improve departmental performance. The manager calls and says, “I need a (fill-in-the-blank) training for my (fill-in-the-blank) team so that they can (fill-in-the-blank) better.” A typical example is, “I need a sales course for my widget sales team so that they can sell more widgets.”

What the manager really wants is improved performance (more widgets sold), not the training. Training is just the default solution for the performance problem. If there were a pill that would induce the salespeople to sell more widgets, then that is what managers would ask for!

Training is one of the best solutions for not knowing how to do something. If lack of knowledge and skills to accomplish a task in a competent manner is the problem, then training is likely one of the solutions, along with structured on-the-job training and support, feedback, and supervised practice.

But what if the performer knows how to complete the task? Then, the trainer or performance consultant must analyze the performer group, the performance environment, and the department goals and desired outcomes to discover the correct causes of the performance problem.

Analyzing human performance is the art and science of discovering what drives the current performance level, and applying the correct solutions to achieve the desired performance level. Performance consultants use a number of tools and approaches to assess the discrepancy between actual and desired performance. Asking questions—the right questions, of the right person, at the right time—is one of the best tools in our analysis toolbox.

Interviewing the business unit manager helps clarify the desired outcomes, understand the current situation, and uncover the manager’s perceptions of the factors that support or inhibit performance. This interview should uncover the needs, the scope of the project, the metrics used to measure current and desired performance, any constraints on the analysis, and the expected timeline.

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The interview with the manager is also a great opportunity to identify key performers. Key performers exemplify the level of performance that the manager would like to replicate throughout the department; thus, key performers might also be called exemplars. If the key performer is selling 100 widgets per day more than the average performer, it makes sense to discover how that key performer is achieving this highly valued outcome.

A structured observation and an interview with the key performer can help you uncover the reasons for high performance. The performance consultant should prepare for the structured observation by reviewing current job descriptions and other documents that clarify the job role, desired outcomes, and accomplishments. 

When interviewing the performer, be sure to ask questions about work environment, tools and resources, job aids, information, internal and external incentives and consequences, key work processes, and outcomes of those key work processes.

Observe the key performer doing the job, if possible. Clarify the key outcomes for the job, success criteria, importance, and difficulty, in addition to any barriers and facilitators. Look at the condition of the workplace, the effectiveness of the setup, any modifications to the workspace, and tools or equipment used. Also, ask the key performer to identify alternatives for various decision points in the process.

Most performance consultants use interviews and structured observations during every performance analysis.

In Part 2, I’ll discuss some of the other common tools used in analyzing human performance.

To learn more, please join me for the Analyzing Human Performance Certificate program March 4-6, 2015, in Alexandria, Virginia.

About the Author
Geri is president and principal consultant of Geri Lopker & Associates LLC. Her international client list includes corporations, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and Fortune 100 companies. Geri has been a performance consultant both as an internal area director of operations for a large healthcare agency, and as an external consultant with clients big and small. Geri has more than 20 years of experience working in the areas of systems, finance, change management, leadership, communication, strategic planning, team building, and customer relations. Geri earned a master's degree in human resources and organization development from the University of San Francisco. She earned the Certified Performance Technologist (CPT) certification in 2003.She earned the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) in 2007. She teaches the nationally acclaimed Human Performance Improvement in the Workplace Certificate series. She has also earned the HPI Certificate. She has received the Total Trainer Certificate from OC-ASTD and is senior faculty for the Total Trainer program. Geri is a past president of the International Society for Performance Improvement, Orange County Chapter. She is also a past president of ASTD’s Orange County chapter.
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