ATD Blog

How to Interview for Accuracy on HPI Projects

Monday, June 2, 2014

Many of you may already have learned how to implement ASTD’s HPI model to understand the business goals an organization wants to reach, the performance gaps it needs to close to do so, and the barriers to desired performance. Methodologies like Performance DNA, which ASTD teaches in the Analyzing Human Performance course, include carefully-designed questions you can ask to drill down and secure the critical information.

But simply having the right questions to ask does not automatically guarantee success, because the answers to these questions are gathered using interview techniques. The better you are at interviewing, the more likely you are to capture the information needed at the right level of detail. The person without good interviewing skills will come off like a robot, asking only the questions on the page and often, ending the interview in defeat.

The HPI Interview—A Different Animal

When we conduct interviews on an HPI project we are not just asking a series of linked questions, nor is this “just a conversation.” Instead, we are seeking very specific information that will enable us to make decisions about how to close performance gaps.

There are many factors that control and shape the information we get from the interview: the performer’s assumptions about why we are there, their proximity to the actual job being discussed, the environment we create for the interview, and our own preparation for it. In addition, we must be practiced and comfortable with the vocabulary of the HPI interview (for example, outcomes, work processes, etc.), because we may need to define these terms for the job performer we are interviewing. Success will also rely heavily on our ability to encourage good responses, at the right level, and to test for accuracy from the job performer.

Here are two things to think about as you prepare to conduct your next HPI interview:


Be aware of communication issues that affect your success.

The output of the HPI interview is only good if it is accurate. Without accuracy, the interview is a failure and a waste of time. Effective communication between two people is not a given; it can be even trickier when you are interviewing someone you have never met about a job you have never done. It seems simple—you ask a question, and the job performer gives an answer. But a lot can go wrong, because many things are happening within seconds of posing a question:

  1. The performer reflects on their understanding of the words and concepts used in your question.
  2. The performer must recognize the significance of information they know and think about the information sources (thoughts, feelings, ideas) available to them to answer the question.
  3. The performer encodes (translates his or her knowledge into communication) and sends the response using words, nonverbal techniques (a shrug, for instance), or paralinguistic utterances (for example, saying “uh-huh”).
  4. You receive the message, but may need to use feedback mechanisms to signal your understanding or misunderstanding, and to ask for more information.
  5. You receive the additional clarifying information you need for your cognition and understanding of the response.

And finally, as much as we would like to think that our questions are the only thing that matters, the performer will have other things on his or her mind that can interfere with communication and interview success.


Use interview techniques to confirm accuracy.

Communicating effectively and ensuring accuracy of data from the interview requires effort. Some job performers are hesitant to say, “I don’t know,” and feel compelled to provide an answer, even one that may not be accurate. Here are four techniques I use to confirm accuracy during the HPI interview:

  1. Feedback—Good HPI interviewers watch body language carefully as they are asking questions to make sure the person understood the question. They also listen closely to make sure the question has really been answered. If you fear the question was not understood, or the information you are getting back is not at the right level, or the answer provided is not really an answer to your question, give appropriate feedback to keep them on the right track (for example, using body language and follow-up questions, directing them to the right level of responses needed). Remember, you are in charge of the interview and the results you achieve.
  2. Repetition—Many HPI interviewers are hesitant to repeat or rephrase their question. They fear the job performer will respond negatively if you seem to suggest that they did not understand something. In fact, restating the question can build good will and a rapport that says we’re in this together. It also demonstrates assertiveness as you seek to understand and capture the answer correctly.
  3. Mirroring—After the job performer has answered your question, mirror it back, rephrasing it slightly and confirming you captured it correctly. This helps you ensure you understood the response and lets the job performer know you understood it. It also confronts the job performer with his or her own words and gives them a chance to make adjustments and provide more detailed or accurate responses, such as, “Well, this is what I really meant to say.…”
  4. Wait Time—Some HPI interviewers are hesitant to leave open space in their questioning, because silence can be uncomfortable for both the interviewer and the interviewee. However, wait time (or a period of silence) of as little as three to five seconds following a question increases the depth of response. It gives the job performer more time to dig through his or her knowledge repository and construct a better response. It also signals that you want the answer and are willing to wait for it.

Closing Thoughts

Are you ready to conduct a series of interviews with job performers for your next HPI project? Don’t just review the questions you want to ask. Think about how to get the answers you really need, at the right level of detail. Not every interview you conduct will be equally stellar. Some people are easier to interview than others, and some have more or better information to share. Using the interviewing techniques I’ve described here, you can make the best of each interview you conduct and ensure you are capturing more accurate information. The solutions you design are only as good as the data you capture and the conclusions you make based on that data. It pays to get the best data you can by honing your interviewing skills!

Join me July 15, 2014 as I will be facilitating ASTD’s Analyzing Human Performance Certificate online.

About the Author

Dr. Karen McGraw, The Performance Doc, is the president and principal consultant at Silver Bear Group, a business and performance consultancy in Austin, TX. She is an accomplished organizational consultant and knowledge engineer, specializing in human performance improvement, leadership, and change. For over 30 years, she has helped clients achieve desired outcomes through training, process, technology, and change projects. Clients trust her to design tailored solutions that address critical issues, engage stakeholders in project success, and deliver long-term results. Karen’s educational background is in the fields of psychology and curriculum and instruction. In addition, she is certified in the use of tools such as the Golden Personality Profiler, Insights, and Myers-Briggs. She is a co-author of ASTD’s Performance DNA methodology, the EASE Change Management Methodology, Breaking Tape : 7 Steps to Winning at Work and Life, and a human capital management scorecard system. As an HPI facilitator for ASTD, she has trained hundreds of people in the analysis of human performance. Karen has published six books and over 50 articles in topics including knowledge engineering, human performance analysis, change management, collaboration, leadership, and process improvement.

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