Improving Human Performance in a Process Management Environment

By Fisher, Jim | CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine, June 1997 | Go to article overview

Improving Human Performance in a Process Management Environment


Fisher, Jim, CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine


Among the variety of reasons for the failure of re-engineered processes, one of the most serious is not providing something called a "human-performance system" to support each and every performer in the organization.

Many organizations now have re-engineered one or more key processes and are expecting them to demonstrate the same magnitude of improvement in reality as they do in concept. Failure of re-engineered processes to meet goals and expectations is common. Bad design is a possibility but probably accounts for far less than half of the failures. Although there are a variety of other reasons for failure, one of the most common and serious is not providing a human-performance system (HPS) that functions appropriately in a process-oriented environment. The human-performance implications of process management are the subject of this article.

What is the human-performance system?

Each performer - and I mean executives and managers as well as individual contributors - is a part of a system with inputs, outputs, feedback and consequences. The diagram shown in Figure 1 illustrates these important variables.

Failure of the organization to ensure that all of these variables are in synch causes less-than-optimum performance. Frankly, organizations rarely deal with this human-performance system in a deliberate, integrated way. These typical shortcomings are found in all kinds of organizations:

Output: the specifications of what the performer is expected to produce are not made clear to the performer.

Input: the input to the performer is flawed, or necessary resources are not made available.

Consequences: rewards, including not only compensation, but promotion, praise, recognition and job satisfaction, are not aligned to support desired outcomes.

Feedback: feedback, where available at all, is not timely, clear, specific, etc. - in other words, it isn't much real help to the performer in improving performance.

Knowledge/skill: training given by organizations is not geared to what the performer actually needs to do the job; often, it is amazingly irrelevant.

Individual capacity: often the first, or only, variable questioned by many organizations if performance isn't satisfactory. However, this is the real cause of problems less frequently than any of the other factors cited.

"Hidden" processes and existing human-performance systems

Some of the challenges to good human performance in process-managed organizations really lurk under the surface of traditionally-managed organizations. In Figure 2, we look at a simplified, vertical view of a traditional organization with several departments, and without apparent "processes." Figure 3 illustrates a systems (horizontal) view of the same organization.

From experience, we can predict, with some confidence, that each department is relatively insular with regard to human-performance systems. Many of the characteristics are inherently commendable, viewed in isolation:

* R&D people will have an HPS that emphasizes functional excellence - innovation, number of patents, etc.

* Manufacturing will emphasize efficiency, timeliness, performance to specs, etc.

* Sales will emphasize closing deals and generating revenue.

* Marketing may emphasize the sophistication and awards won of materials and programs.

The fact is that, even in the "traditional" organization, there are implicit processes that cross these units. New products and offerings may involve sales (and/or marketing), R&D, and perhaps, belatedly, manufacturing. Order fulfillment will involve sales and manufacturing... and so forth.

This does not mean existing human-performance systems make much sense when viewed beyond the departments in which they typically reside. Consider these unintended consequences the system may incite:

* R&D people may be "rewarded" (in dollars or other ways) for patents, regardless of manufacturability or market potential, causing apparent performance problems within manufacturing or sales.

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