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Nov 30 2022
Performance Thinking: Continuous Improvement for The Rest of Us


I just got off participating in a great panel discussion, recorded as a podcast, joining several of our most senior learning and performance colleagues from Europe and the U.S.  We were talking about the challenge of pivoting from training and development in an organization to performance improvement. How do we make training more performance-based, more connected to the work people have to do, and more directly effective? That goes along with the question, how can we optimize the return on our investments (ROI) in training and performance, and in talent development altogether?

This is the challenge that I've been trying to address for decades, and that animates the mission of The Performance Thinking Network.  The foundation of our work has been to drive toward simplicity and more effective communication about performance and how to improve it, across the enterprise.  Let me explain.

The simple idea is to shift from a focus on learning to performance. But what does that really mean?  If you look at the literature of Performance Improvement (or Human Performance Improvement, or Human Performance Technology, etc.), you find a plethora of models, algorithms, methods, and concepts that add up to an awful lot. For anyone but nerdy performance improvement professionals like me and some of our colleagues, the complexity and diversity of performance improvement models are daunting. The complexity of behavioral systems analysis, or of the "full" HPT model, stops most people. Thus, we do not really have a straightforward vocabulary or a memorable framework for enabling people to design systemic solutions to accelerate performance and engagement. Nor do we have a way to engage our stakeholders and senior leaders deeply in continuous performance improvement.  Our stuff often looks like analysis paralysis to them.

We spent years creating and refining our two simple visual models, the Performance Chain and the Six Boxes Model.

The Performance Chain defines performance with it's three key elements of analysis: the organization-level business results that reflect the success of the whole enterprise; the valuable work outputs (accomplishments or contributions) that people, teams, and processes deliver to the organization and/or society; and the behavior for producing those work outputs. This is pretty easy for people to understand. We teach precise ways of defining each element, but the basic logic and descriptions make sense to everyone, from entry-level high school educated employees to executives in the C-Suite, and at every level in between. There is a lot more to know about each element than is in that picture, but the model itself is crisp and clear.

The Six Boxes Model, which evolved from Tom Gilbert's Behavior Engineering Model, is a complete and easy-to-understand framework that can encompass any factor or variable known to influence human behavior.  We spent about 5 years in the late 1980s testing out plain English labels for the cells of the model, well before one of our clients suggested a name for it (The Six Boxes). And because of that plain language, labeling only 6 easy-to-visualize and easy-to-remember categories, people pick up on it quickly, and it spreads like a virus.

We teach executives, managers, supervisors, coaches, training professionals, quality and process specialists, HR Business Partners, team leaders, and individual employees these models and how to apply them in their own work. The applications range from strategic planning and execution, to executive coaching, to accomplishment-based training and coaching to continuous improvement by front-line teams.  

Thus, we think our Performance Thinking Practitioner Program , our Performance Thinking Coach and Leadership modules, our approach to enabling HR Business Partners to be agents of continuous improvement, and our emerging focus on Sales Enablement and Individual Self-development – all of which teach our simple models and how to use them –  can enable everyone ("the rest of us") to contribute to continuous performance improvement.

It takes time to implement and drive these programs through organizations. But the impact can be stunning, as it has been in some organizations that have been using this approach for over a decade .

- Carl Binder



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