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ATD Blog

Dear Performance Consultant: Know the Business of Your Business

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Successfully applying a performance consulting approach requires working in partnership with a client. A client is defined as a leader in the organization who is responsible for achieving a business goal and who has the authority to change the performance of a group of employees in order to achieve that goal. Sometimes, in today's highly matrixed, distributed, and integrated workplace, there is a client team. However, the same responsibility and authority must be present within the members.

To be credible partners, performance consultants from talent functions must be able to correctly interpret stated business goals, navigate the competitive context in which those goals must be met, and help clients connect-the-dots between business goals and initiatives at the top of the organizational chart with the day-to-day work of employees at the bottom. In other words, performance consultants must continually grow their knowledge of the "business of their client's business." Here are some steps you can take to grow or enhance such knowledge.

Assess Your Current Organizational Knowledge

Consider which of the following questions are relevant to your organization. Of those, how ready are you to answer them? Which point to areas where you'd like to grow your knowledge?

  • What is the business model by which the organization generates revenue and profits, and provides value to its customers?
  • What operational metrics are used to measure the health of the organization, including the goals and actual results?
  • What strategic plan and initiatives are being implemented to support the organization’s goals and requirements, and how was this plan formed?
  • What core processes are used to fulfill the organization’s mission and achieve the results needed (for instance, order fulfillment process, sales and marketing process)?
  • What are the values and cultural norms that are not only espoused by the organization but that are also supported through behavior?
  • What is the profile of the customers for the organization’s products and services?
  • What is the level of maturity of the business and its products and services?
  • Who are the organization's primary competitors, and what are the various competitive pressures that the organization is facing?

Assess Your Current Industry Knowledge

The questions below will be more or less relevant depending on your work context. Which questions point to areas where you'd like to grow your knowledge?

  • What is the marketplace within which your organization competes?
  • Which organizations that are the key players in this market?
  • How does your organization differentiate itself from others in the same industry?
  • What forces and factors impact your marketplace? These are factors that are outside the control of your organization but can challenge success.
  • What governmental regulatory requirements must your organization meet?
  • What are the primary market segments are sources for current and future customers for your industry and organization?
  • What financial and non-financial industry benchmarks can be used for comparison with your organization?

Create a Plan to Grow Your Knowledge

To become a better performance consultant and a more credible partner to your clients, be intentional about growing your knowledge of the business of your organization. Start by selecting just one question from each list above and make it a goal to develop your own answers. Set a reasonable timeframe for accomplishing this goal and recruit someone to hold you accountable to that timeframe.


There are a number resources that can help you answer these questions. Internal resources include: your organization's website, intranets or SharePoint sites, L&D programs and corporate learning portals, and Slack or other social media groups or forums.

External resources include: industry review sites like Hoovers, trade publications, and government reports.

Make Your Client Your Coach

Perhaps the best resource for learning about the business of your client's business is your client. You can ask your client to become a coach. This is not taking up your client's time by asking them to provide information; instead, you're asking the client how they grow their own knowledge. What websites do they frequent? What periodicals do they read? What forums do they subscribe to? With your own research you can become a partner fluent in the data and information your client considers most valuable.

Some of you may feel that growing your knowledge of your client's business will require a great deal of effort. But you do not need to tackle every question at once. After all, business changes and you'll need to keep pace over time. Instead, make learning more about your business a small part of your weekly routine, and you'll accumulate a great deal of knowledge over time.

About the Author

Chris Adams is a performance consultant and instructional designer with more than 20 years of experience helping clients engage people, apply processes, and implement technology to improve human and organizational performance. He is currently a senior consultant for Handshaw Inc. in Charlotte, North Carolina. Chris was co-inventor of Handshaw’s award-winning software, Lumenix, one of the first content-managed platforms for e-learning. He has been a featured speaker for a number of ISPI and ATD chapters, and has presented at regional and international conferences such as Training Solutions, The Performance Improvement Conference, and the Coast Guard Human Performance Technology Conference. Chris holds degrees in mass communication and instructional systems technology and is currently a doctoral student in the instructional design and technology program at Old Dominion University. 

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