ATD Blog

Using Performance DNA to Guide HPI Project Success

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ask managers how to improve the performance of people in key roles and most will say that more training or hiring better skills is the answer. Organizations annually spend considerable amounts of funds chasing improved performance, but in many cases these monies are ill-used. Above average performance doesn’t just happen. It requires the confluence of many factors—some intrinsic to the person (such as skills and motivation), and others extrinsic (such as tools, processes, and feedback). Selecting solutions or interventions to improve performance without an analysis of the performance you’d like to replicate rarely achieves desired results.

However, there is good news. The Performance DNA methodology that ATD teaches in the Analyzing Human Performance course was designed to help you identify business goals and performance gaps, organize a Human Performance Improvement (HPI) project, and focus on key performers to find solutions. Based on decades of the best practices in HPI, this methodology will help even novice performance consultants:

  • set up the project for success
  • select the right performers to interview
  • capture the right information
  • form reasonable hypotheses to guide solution selection.

A New Approach: Finding the DNA for Success

Previous analysis methodologies often focused on how to improve the below-average performers. Time and money were spent analyzing what poor performers were doing “wrong.” The better approach is to examine exemplary or key performers—those who are performing above average—and figure out what factors seem to be contributing to their high level of performance. In other words, we should find out what’s right to fix what’s wrong.

What is Performance DNA?

Performance DNA is a systematic “front end” analysis methodology developed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the human performance analysis process. The theory underlying this methodology is that human performance is similar to any organic system—it is organized according to a blueprint or code which enables the organism to thrive. Performance DNA is designed to unlock the code to optimum performance in a way that enables performance to be transferred throughout the organization.


The Performance DNA methodology leads the performance consultant through the HPI journey—from articulating the organization’s business goal and performance gaps, to analyzing work processes and tasks, and identifying the influences (positive or negative) on performance.

Phases in the Methodology

The Performance DNA methodology is comprised of four analysis phases, each of which aligns with ATD’s HPI Model:

  • Business Analysis—This phase is the foundation for a successful project. It guides the performance consultant through the critical steps of clarifying the scope of the project sponsor’s request, defining desired project results, identifying key roles and responsibilities, and preparing a summary project plan.
  • Performance Analysis—This phase sets the stage and direction for the balance of the analysis. The central focus during this phase is two-fold: identifying the performance gaps that must be filled to achieve the desired business goals, and documenting “outcomes of value.” Most of us understand that a gap is the difference between current and desired state, but for many, the term “outcome” is new. An outcome is a valued accomplishment produced by job performers in the functional area that is the subject of the analysis. Another way to think about outcomes is what a performer tangibly produces on the job that provides value to the organization and leads to organizational results.
  • Key Performer Analysis—This phase takes the project goals and outcomes identified previously and drills down to explore how the work gets done and the specific factors that enable exemplary versus standard performance. This phase is targeted at work processes and tasks performed to produce the outcomes, as well as the resources, information and tools, skills, and critical decision making that either facilitate performance or act as barriers to performance. In this phase, the performance consultant uses techniques, such as structured observation and interviewing, to capture work processes and task information.
  • Influence Analysis—This phase is the point at which the performance consultant uses the data and insights gathered about the influences affecting performance to assess each influence in depth. It consists of a set of assessments and activities which are meant to be used selectively in response to suspected performance issues. This ensures the performance consultant has the information needed, at the right depth, to form and either confirm or deny hypotheses about what is influencing performance (both positively and negatively).

Each phase has an associated job aid to ensure consistency and reliability during the project, as well as a toolbox that has a collection of guides, templates, tables, and checklists. At the completion of the final phase, the performance consultant will be ready to consolidate findings, draw conclusions, and prepare a report summarizing findings and recommendations to the client sponsor.
Closing Thoughts

Using the Performance DNA methodology has numerous benefits. It is a standard toolset that guides success in such a way that a team of performance consultants can all use it to stay on track. It enables HPI analyses to be completed in less time than previous methodologies, because it helps the performance consultant focus on what is important (avoiding “analysis paralysis”). Finally, and most importantly, the results of these analyses provide organizations with the information they need to make better decisions about how to spend resources to improve performance and results.

For more information and a deeper understanding, register to attend the Analyzing Human Performance Certificate program I’ll be facilitating through ATD beginning on July 15, 2014.

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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