Magazine article Talent Development

Performance Improvement-Where Are We? Thought Leaders Weigh in on Performance Improvement's Evolution and What the Future Will Look Like

Magazine article Talent Development

Performance Improvement-Where Are We? Thought Leaders Weigh in on Performance Improvement's Evolution and What the Future Will Look Like

Article excerpt

There is increasing pressure on trainers and people who work with talent to show results and be accountable for performance--so understanding how performance improvement is relevant (or not) is a critical issue for people in the human capital space.

To determine how performance improvement has changed and what challenges lie ahead, I reached out to 17 senior practitioners and thought leaders in the performance improvement field to get their input. Each of these individuals has been doing performance consulting for at least 40 years and has contributed significantly to the performance field as an author, leader for the Association for Talent Development (ATD) or International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), or content and process innovator. I promised each person confidentiality (those quoted for attribution gave permission). Several themes emerged.

What is performance improvement?

Performance as a word and concept gets thrown around organizations frequently, but means many things to many people. HPT (human performance technology), HPI (human performance improvement), performance consulting, and performance improvement all refer to an approach or process that has certain common principles. It:

* focuses on business goals plus performance outcomes or accomplishments

* is systematic and systemic (it considers more than training, organizational development, or process improvement as a possible solution; instead it looks at the system)

* identifies performance gaps

* determines the causes.

There also is a heavy dose of measurement and evaluation, both up front and in assessing results. So to say that you follow a performance improvement approach isn't about being an effective trainer, instructional designer, coach, or OD consultant; it's about the methods that you use to analyze problems and determine solutions. However, even if you don't consider yourself to be a performance consultant, as organizations expect more accountability and put more pressure for results, it's important for all practitioners in the talent arena to be aware of how performance improvement has evolved and what future challenges are emerging.

Greater awareness about performance

So what themes emerged from my exchanges with veteran performance consultants and thought leaders in the profession? One positive element that many of the veteran practitioners noted is that performance as a form of accountability and a general concept is much more widespread now than it was 20 years ago.

One person told me, "I hear references to performance across client organizations now in ways that I wouldn't have heard when I first started this work 35 years ago." Dennis Mankin, facilitator for the ATD HPI series and one of the creators of the DNA Analysis Tools, noted that "More people understand that HPI and HPT is not an event but a process." Another veteran performance consultant mentioned, "I see and hear more leaders and middle managers speaking in terms of outcomes, which is refreshing. They know the importance of focusing on outcomes and not just behaviors--but they often don't know how to get there."

Missed opportunities to build the brand

One of the negatives that emerged was that performance practitioners have not done a good job at building awareness of what performance improvement is really about. One senior practitioner commented, "We have an identity crisis. ... Performance improvement is stuck with marketplace obscurity." Another said, "We were bypassed by Six Sigma and then Lean." A third felt that "We've done a lousy job marketing this concept and profession." And a fourth told me, "I have seen tremendous growth and desire in many larger public and government organizations to taking a results-based or performance focus in managing and operating their organizations. Unfortunately, they are not really doing HPI or HPT."

Dana Robinson, former ATD Board member and senior consultant at Handshaw, noted that "The field of performance improvement is still amorphous. …

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