Magazine article Training & Development

How to Improve Performance

Magazine article Training & Development

How to Improve Performance

Article excerpt

Training is not always the answer to performance problems. This step-by-step method offers a more holistic approach to performance improvement.

Businesses increasingly turn to trainers to solve a host of problems. Meanwhile, trainers increasingly recognize that training alone won't solve the problems they are being asked to fix.

Consider the following examples:

* A plant manager asks an in-house trainer to help boost production by offering some technical refresher courses. The trainer reviews the section's production reports and discovers that many workers frequently call in sick. The trainer suspects that the production problems reflect not a lack of technical expertise, but poor morale.

* A company that hastily implemented teams is unhappy with their performance. The company asks a trainer to run some team-training workshops. Interviews and observations confirm for the trainer that the teams would benefit from some grounding in group dynamics. But the trainer also discovers that teams have found their efforts repeatedly sabotaged by upper managers who still want to call the shots.

* A small business asks a consultant to smooth relations between warring sales reps and consultants by teaching both groups some interpersonal skills. Based on several focus groups, the consultant traces the company's internal strife not to employees' lack of conflict-resolution skills, but to structures and policies that unwittingly pit the sales reps and consultants against each other.

In each of these cases, instead of automatically designing a course, trainers turned to human-performance-improvement techniques. Human-performance specialists first identify the root causes of poor performance. Then they try to eliminate the causes by altering one or more of the factors that govern how well people perform.

The key factors that determine how well we do our work are goals, standards, feedback, motivation, opportunity, means, and competence. Changes--also called interventions--aimed at these factors often include training, but they rarely are limited to training.

How can you apply the principles of human-performance improvement? Here is one method.

For starters, listen carefully to your internal and external clients. Make sure you understand the problem from the clients' point of view. Similarly, give ownership of the intervention to your clients. It should be their project--and if it succeeds, it is their success.

Guide your clients to present problems ("The error rate is too high.") rather than order solutions ("We need a training course.") Next, begin gathering data to identify the root causes of the problem.

Collect data

The method you choose for collecting data will depend on the amount of time you have available and the level of detail you seek. Here are some common methods for collecting data:

* Watch employees perform their jobs, and then examine the products of their work. This is a quick and easy approach.

* Review performance data available from such sources as production-quality reports, general organizational-performance reports, and performance appraisals. This method is popular because it is quick, but it is not always dependable.

* Conduct a formal written survey. This can be time-consuming, but it is a helpful foundation for focus groups and interviews.

* Convene focus groups. This is probably the most efficient method of data collection, especially if you back it up with interviews.

* Conduct group and one-on-one interviews. They can be helpful at the outset for sketching an outline of the problem and for supplementing any of the other methods. Interviews also are a good way to obtain information.

Throughout the data-collection process, you will look for clues to root causes of the performance problem. Here are some tips for organizing and examining data:

Look for patterns. …

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