ATD Blog

Performance Consulting Tips: Finding Solutions When Learning Is Not the Answer

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I want to share a story from my consulting practice—one to which you can probably relate. My client, a vice president of branch sales at a regional bank, needed to increase the average number of banking products each customer used from around two products to four products. For example, most customers had checking and savings accounts, but the bank wanted each customer to have two additional banking products, such as credit cards or money-market accounts. The vice president believed that increasing bankers' knowledge of the products available would result in increased sales. After an initial conversation with the client, I had little to no confidence that product knowledge training alone could produce the business results he needed. My usual instructional design approach wouldn't work. I needed to find different, more appropriate solutions—and to do so, I needed a different approach. That approach was performance consulting. 

Identify Gaps and Successes 

Performance consulting is a strategic process that produces business results by maximizing the performance of people and organizations. Adopting this approach, I changed my starting point. Instead of starting to design a solution, I partnered with my client to first identify the root causes of the gap between the current average products each customer had and the goal. I started by asking some questions of my client. One critical question was this: 

"Are there any bankers whose customers consistently use four or more banking products?" 

The client knew that there were some bankers already exceeding this goal. I then asked, “What do these bankers do more, better, or differently to achieve that result?” My client did not know the answer to this question but indicated he would like to obtain that information. He agreed to identify these high-performing bankers, indicating it would be important to find out what these star bankers were doing before moving forward with any training. This gave me the opportunity to gather some data. 

Find Root Causes 

I observed and interviewed the star bankers to identify behaviors that yielded results. I also interviewed some branch managers and more typical bankers (who weren't currently meeting customer and product goals). My goal was to identify the root causes for the gap in results. What was making it difficult for more people to perform successfully and achieve the goal? 

Notice that causes here is plural. Gaps in business and performance results almost always have multiple causes. These causes may be: 

  • internal to the individual, such as a lack of knowledge 
  • internal to the organization, such as underperforming software 
  • external to the organization, such as changing regulations that affect banking policies. 

This is important because gaps with multiple causes also require multiple solutions. Only once causes are identified can clients be influenced to select appropriate solutions aligned with their business metrics. 
In this case, I identified causes in each of the three categories listed above: 

  • External to the organization: There were two large credit unions moving into the bank’s footprint, and offering rates on products such as savings accounts far better than those offered by the bank. 
  • Internal to the organization: The bankers' primary source of product information was printed brochures, but that often brochures in the branch were out-of-date and incorrect. 
  • Internal to the individual: Some bankers lacked skill in matching customer needs to appropriate banking products. 

Focus on Causes, Not Symptoms 

I did collect one additional piece of data I'd like to mention. When I interviewed typical bankers, they indicated that it was difficult for them to sell additional banking products because they lacked the time to do so. 

This is a common response, so let me caution that lack of time is a symptom, not a cause. The amount of time in the workday is the same for all bankers. There must be underlying factors that cause some bankers to feel there's just not enough time. In fact, I did find that when bankers became skilled at matching customer needs to appropriate products, they also became much more efficient in their work—seeing more clients each day and selling more products to each client. 

Select Appropriate Solutions 

Having identified these causes, the client and I agreed that product knowledge training was the wrong solution to address the gap in product sales. What was needed were solutions to address each of the causes we identified. 

In the end, the following solutions were put into place—notice how each cause is addressed. 


The bank's marketing strategy was revised to address competition from credit unions. This strategy focused on the bank as a convenient one-stop shop, because the bank offered a broader range of products and services than the credit unions. Messaging from this strategy was placed into brochures, online courses, and more. 

An online brochure rack, which could be maintained by the marketing team, was created. This rack only contained current, accurate product information. 

A training program was developed and implemented. But, the focus was on diagnosing clients’ needs; additionally, the program was only delivered to certain bankers when their managers thought there was a need. 

Performance Consulting: More Than Learning 

With these solutions in place, the performance of typical bankers began to improve. By a six-month review, sales metrics improved, and within a year the bank's customers used more than four products on average. 

When learning alone is not sufficient, a performance consulting approach is needed to identify root causes and select an appropriate set of solutions, increasing the probability that business results will be achieved.

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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