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Apr 26 2021
GUEST BLOG: After 20 Years – A Whole New Perspective on Training


As an instructional designer for the past 20 years or so, I’ve seen a lot of changes, both large-scale and incremental. I recently had the opportunity to learn Performance Thinking, and I wanted to share a few insights that I think you may find helpful.

When you discover something new in business, especially in training and development, it’s typically a new tool or technology that you incorporate into your existing processes or products. But what happens when your discovery is something intrinsic?

I recently found that the best way to improve performance in an organization is to change the way you think about it, the models through which you view it.

As part of a Performance Thinking® Practitioner Program, I saw the power in taking a step back and getting the big picture perspective — and I learned a brand-new new way to look at what you truly want to achieve with your efforts.

I knew that employee behavior affects business results (in my case, more hours = more revenue), but what I hadn’t considered was an accomplishment-based approach. This involves an added factor in the Performance Chain:

                Behavior Influences > Behavior > Work Outputs > Business Results

Working Backward

Prior to this course, I would have said behavior links directly to business results. When developing training programs or initiatives, we’re generally trying to fill a knowledge gap and/or change a current behavior. Most teams quickly go right to the tactics for delivering that knowledge (virtual Instructor-Led Training? eLearning modules? hands-on practice?), and for having employees apply it on the job. We assume (or hope!) that these efforts will achieve the objectives and have a positive impact on the company.

With Performance Thinking, you start with business results and work backward on the Performance Chain to ultimately find the behavior influences that can ensure a project’s success. Business results can vary widely among organizations, and they are not always tied to revenue.  They can include such organization-level results as client satisfaction, regulatory compliance, and quality of service.

Another key point was that many people don’t understand their link to the company’s mission. They don’t understand how their performance ties into any kind of business result. To connect to those business results (what stakeholders really care about), keep asking “why?” In fact, you’ll need to ask probing questions to gain clarity on each element of the Performance Chain.

Getting Input on Outputs

While correctly identifying business results is a critical piece of this process, so is separating them from work outputs (accomplishments). Work outputs are what connect behavior to business results. They’re not activities or processes; they’re things that you actually produce (design documents, quarterly reports, PowerPoint templates).

Work outputs must be valuable countable things.  And everyone should be able to agree on what “good” looks like. Even relationships and decisions can be work outputs when properly defined.

One of the Performance Thinking® tools is the Individual Performance Map, which we produce by interviewing performers about their customers and the work outputs that are produced for each one. A customer is anyone who receives value you deliver inside or outside your organization. This discussion can be eye-opening for both the interviewer and interviewee as they go through the process, identifying the obvious ones first (reports, design documents, course materials), and then diving deeper into others that are just as important but may be intangible (client relationships, project decisions/approvals). 

Identifying Behavior

Behavior is any type of action. When you’re defining it for performance improvement purposes, you need to know enough about it to ask good questions about the factors that influence it.  

The best way to uncover current behavior is to talk directly to the performers themselves because their descriptions of behavior are based on direct experience. Managers may be able to give you an overview based on what is needed to produce expected work outputs, but if they are not current successful performers, they're likely to omit critical details.

In many cases, we may be looking at inner behavior — thoughts and inner visualizations, for example. It’s important to identify this behavior in conversations and observations, often requiring performers to describe what they're thinking as they do work, since such inner behavior often includes critical parts of a task or step.

Measuring Up

It’s important to be able to evaluate performance objectively so that you can plan, prioritize, and provide the right feedback. Measurement should also be ongoing; you’re not just making sure something worked once and not evaluating it again. Measurement will help you to monitor progress and quantify the impact your efforts are having on the organization.

Measurement can also ensure that feedback is more objective, and arguably, more effective. It can help establish expectations and give performers the opportunity to see their progress and growth.

You can measure each link in the Performance Chain, not just the business results. It’s essential to consider all elements of the performance you want to develop or improve. Often counting work outputs that do and do not meet criteria or standards is easier that watching behavior or relying on lagging measures of business results.

Changing Behavior: The Secret Sauce

In instructional design, most of us are familiar with the ADDIE model (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation), but traditional training and change management programs usually lack specific follow-up or sustainment plans. Sustainment really should be a key element – you’re not just training someone to pass a test, you’re trying to permanently change performance. With Performance Thinking, you’re adding an “S” to ADDIES by following up to be sure that interventions continue to work.

The secret to sustainment is the Six Boxes® Model, which enables you to identify all the behavior influences that affect a performer’s behavior, both environmental and internal to the individual. The goal is to ensure that you have the right types of support in place to sustain performance improvement, and that they continue to be effective.

Environmental behavior influences range from expectations and feedback to tools and resources to consequences and incentives. Individual influences may involve skills and knowledge, selection and assignment (based on individual characteristics), or motives and preferences.

My biggest takeaway on this topic was: A behavior influence is only a behavior influence if it IS! 

For example, consequences and incentives do not always work as planned. Programs like employee-of-the-month single out one person — what about all the others? And, saving employee feedback for annual performance reviews misses the opportunity to recognize it earlier (and either praise or correct it).

For that matter, it really all starts with expectations. Are the expectations clear? When you interview performers about expectations, do they say the same thing as their managers?

The target is to identify behavior influences that are specific enough to be actionable and as complete as possible across all six cells of the model. You need to look at each part of the Six Boxes system. They represent an integrated approach, so using them independently won’t be as powerful as using them together.

A Different View

Performance Thinking is like the difference between problem-solving and design engineering for performance improvement. Instead of looking at a way to “fix” a problem, we look at optimizing the end goals. In other words, instead of creating a generic course loaded with product information, we look at what we want each performer to do and produce, and consider each of the Six Boxes cells to support the behavior and work outputs that the organization needs.

Once you start using Performance Thinking, you’ll see how broadly you can apply it to performance improvement in an organization. And you’ll realize why some practitioners call it their Performance Thinking® super power. It’s a power you can’t help but use — and one you’ll want to share!

- Cathy Godlewski, Write Mind, Inc.


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