ATD Links Archive
Issue Map
ATD Links Archive
ATD Links

Human Performance Improvement Is Business Focused

Being business focused means that you are clear about what an organization’s strategic priorities are and that you use those priorities to guide decisions about what to focus on. It isn’t enough to do something because a client requests it or because there is a performance gap. In any organization there are many things that are broken or could be improved, but that doesn’t mean that improving a specific performance or repairing a broken process will contribute much to the organization and key business goals. Therefore, the process of analyzing performance always begins with business analysis, which allows performance consultants to be business focused. 

Being business focused also means determining which key organizational goals are not being met because of a particular performance gap. Only then is it justified to pursue closing that gap. Otherwise, consultants can invest time and valuable resources to close a performance gap that ends up having no meaningful impact on the organization. Thus, human performance improvement starts by determining what matters to the organization—what the key goals are—and helping the organization achieve those goals. 

So, how does a performance consultant start the process with a business focus? A business-focused approach to client requests requires the performance consultant to start the analysis by identifying key business goals for the client or organization. For instance, if a client requests time management training because he thinks the staff is inefficient, the performance consultant must turn the conversation to the goals or objectives that the client’s team or department is accountable for. Once the performance consultant determines what those critical priorities are, she can then work backward from that point to identify the staff performance necessary to achieve those business goals. 

Business goals could be for the entire organization or a department, team, unit, or function. As a performance consultant, you should focus on the goals that provide a balance between importance, measurability, and linkage to the issue that concerns the client. 

For instance, if the director of recruiting in a power plant is concerned about the efficiency of the support staff within the recruiting office, there are business goals at different levels. The company’s business goal might be to increase the generating capacity by two percent in the next quarter. However, there may be a number of steps between increasing possible efficiency of HR recruiting administrative staff and electrical capacity. The business goal for the recruiting office itself might be to fill all vacancies within four weeks. That business goal is probably affected significantly by the efficiency of the administrative staff. Consequently, it’s probably a better business goal to focus on. 

Many HR or training professionals will rationalize that if a client wants something, it must be a business priority. After all, the client should know his own business goals the best, right? That’s not always the case. Organizations make requests all the time, and then lose interest. Leaders jump to conclusions about the nature of a problem or finding a quick solution, neither of which will address what is really going on. By engaging clients on business priorities, you ground the request and increase the likelihood that not only will your work be relevant to what matters, it will also be easier to evaluate the impact. 


Let’s look at an example of how important business analysis is to performance work. A client was frustrated that some training for her staff had failed. Management was unhappy with how long it took agents to process claims submitted by customers. As a result, management hired a motivational speaker, who they hoped would get agents to work faster. Unfortunately, the errors increased. Next, they hired a trainer to deliver multiple sections of a multiday course on time management and working smarter. However, after this, complaints by customers increased.

After attending the training, agents, who were being judged by how long it took them to resolve a request from a customer, would randomly send a request to the customer demanding additional information, thus starting the clock over for the agent but lengthening the time it took to get a claim processed. In other words, the client’s knee-jerk reactions actually made things worse. By doing a performance analysis, including a business focus with this client, I determined that their business priority was actually to reduce errors and rework, which had the biggest impact on customer satisfaction and retention. By changing some of the forms that customers initially submitted and making information on the website more detailed, the performance gap was substantially reduced. Customer requests came in much more complete and were easier to process with fewer errors, because information was more accurate and specific. Processing time went down, while customer satisfaction and retention went up. In addition, processing costs for the client organization went down. The problem didn’t reside in the skill sets of the agents, so it wasn’t going to be solved by training. By losing sight of the business goals, the organization spent valuable time and resources attempting to fix something that wasn’t an issue and made the problem worse by doing so. The key takeaway from this example is that it’s always valuable to make sure everyone is in agreement about the business goals and priorities. 

Tackling performance issues with a business focus is critical. It makes it much easier to identify the critical performance gaps, and also helps avoid spending time on performance gaps that don’t matter very much to the organization. A business focus also makes evaluation and calculating the return-on-investment of the eventual solutions much easier to determine, because you’re typically dealing with something that the business already quantifies. When the business analysis step is skipped or done poorly, the evaluation aspect of the process usually takes much longer and the risk of choosing the wrong solution and failing increases. 

Note: This article is excerpted from Performance Basics, 2nd edition, by Joe Willmore.


© 2016 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Joe Willmore is president of the Willmore Consulting Group, a performance consulting firm located near Washington, D.C. He has more than 35 years’ consulting experience with a wide range of clients, including the World Bank, Intelsat, Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Navy, Booz Allen Hamilton, and the Smithsonian Institution. He has served on ATD’s board of directors and held other leadership positions within ATD and other professional societies.
Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.