ATD Blog

Top 3 Reasons Key Performers are Essential to an HPI Analysis

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Are you making the transition from trainer to performance consultant conducting human performance improvement (HPI) projects? Here’s a secret to your success: Focus the biggest percentage of your analysis time on key performers to identify what’s influencing performance, so you can devise the best solutions to help the organization achieve goals and close performance gaps.

Key performers are the people who consistently produce desired results, sometimes even under difficult circumstances. They are the “heroes” we know we can count on to get the job done. They are the ones customers consistently ask for, or the people everyone wants leading their project team. Think about the people who produce the best results day after day. Their peers know who they are, and so do their managers. Statistically speaking, key performers are in the top 1–3 percent of the workforce population in a particular job role. Now, think about the gap between the results these key performers produce versus average performers. In many organizations, the difference is often surprising, sometimes ranging from 25–50 percent.

Here’s why key performers are essential to a successful HPI analysis:

1. They produce the outcomes that drive business results.

Outcomes are the measureable, valued accomplishments that are produced by a particular job. Outcomes are different from activities; someone may look very busy, and are always doing something, but not produce outcomes efficiently or effectively.

Key performers produce the outcomes for their jobs better, faster, and more efficiently than others. They may produce the same number of outcomes in less time than an average performer, or with less cost or waste (effort, resources, etc.). They may simply produce more outcomes in the same amount of time, or they may produce outcomes that are of a higher quality. For example, a key performer for a call center might have a lower call handle time, a higher percentage of satisfied customers, and fewer call transfers or call-backs. It’s easy to see how outcomes like these could help your organization meet business goals faster.


2. They have best practices and tips they can share.

We’ve analyzed human performance to help many different types of organizations improve overall organizational performance. Regardless of the industry or size of an organization, key performers have figured out the best ways to do things, or little shortcuts that get them there faster. Sometimes these best practices and tips are simple—keyboard shortcuts written on sticky notes around their computer, or a homemade job aid with the steps they need to complete an infrequent task.

Key performers usually are proud of their ability to find the best way to do things. In most cases, they would be happy to share them if someone asked. Organizations often don’t take the time to ask. HPI consultants should do so because we want to figure out how these individuals are achieving above-standard work.


3. They know how to work around barriers and across boundaries.

One of the main differences between key performers and average performers is what a key performer does when he or she encounters a barrier or organizational boundary. The key performer is more likely to have a bigger picture of the organization and how it works. They often have an extensive network, are highly connected across the organization, and are more collaborative than the average performer. They know who to call and where to look for answers.

Many performance problems occur at the hand-off points of a cross-organizational process. The average performer understands how their team or business unit operates, but may not have a good understanding of what happens outside of their business unit. This makes it very difficult for the average performer to know what to do or who to call when a problem that affects their work occurs outside of their business unit. Key performers often make it a point to understand how other areas of the organization affect the work they do. Ask your key performers about the barriers they encounter and how they get around them. You’ll be surprised at the opportunity for process improvement that you will find!

Closing Thoughts

So, you’ve been assigned to an HPI project to help your organization meet business goals and close performance gaps. Ask questions to understand the job role most closely associated with the results the organization desires. Then, interview and observe the key performers in that job role. Tools like the Performance DNA Desktop ( methodology and the software ASTD makes available in the Analyzing Human Performance program can help you do so. Your analysis, the data you gather, the conclusions you reach, and the solutions you recommend will be better for it!

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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