Six Boxes Performance Thinking Welcome to the Six Boxes RSS feed. Sat, 31 Oct 2020 08:39:05 PDT en-us <![CDATA[ Focus on Sales Milestones to Accelerate Sales Results ]]> In the several decades that I've been involved with building sales training and performance interventions for business-to-business sales, I've learned about the important advantages of defining sales performance by identifying the milestones and progress indicators or accomplishments that exemplary sales people work day-to-day to achieve in their territories and accounts.

This is an accomplishment-based approach to exemplary sales performance. We've described it in a recent YouTube playlist and in our white paper on sales performance. We teach sales performance analysis in our Performance Thinking® Practitioner Program for performance improvement professionals. Our accomplishment-based performance coaching program offers a results-oriented coaching methodology for sales managers.

Here is a list what sales organizations can do to accelerate results once they have done the hard work of identifying the milestones in their best practices sales process, based on analysis of their top performers.

Anchor all training and development to sales milestones: Build this framework into all your training and coaching. Do this throughout beginning and advanced sales training, in field-based coaching, and in development of tools and resources for sales people. Define progress from initial prospect to closed deal and beyond with sales milestones that describe the purpose of everything we learn or teach, of all the strategies, tactics and tools we provide to enable sales.

Leverage the expertise of exemplary performers throughout the sales organization: Once we know what sales people need to accomplish at every step, we can harvest successful strategies, tactics and tools for achieving the milestones from successful sales people. "What will this help you accomplish?" is a good way to frame it all.

Shift from knowledge-based training to performance-based training:  A lot of so-called product knowledge training is focused on the features and benefits of the product, and perhaps on the comparative features and benefits of competitive products. However, once we set the context for sales knowledge based on which milestones one is attempting to achieve, we can teach and assess competitive strategies and tactics, what one would say and do in specific situations related to the milestones, as well as what one might not need to say. This helps make training leaner and more performance-focused.

Drive sales coaching with a focus on milestones:  Once you have identified the large and small milestones and progress indicators in the best practices sales process for your organization, managers and their people can discuss which one(s) are most important for their business right now. They can then zero in on discussions about how one might best achieve those milestones. This is a far more focused and reliable way to coach people than assuming specific behavior as being necessary. Once milestones are clear, sales managers and representatives can decide what behavior might be best for achieving them. Behavior-based coaching by sales managers is common. The organization defines behavior believed to make a difference in the sales process, e.g., delivering the message, asking open ended questions, asking for the business, etc. The sales manager then uses a job aid to record and provide feedback to the sales representative. This might or might not be helpful, depending on whether the behavior happens to be what is needed to achieve an important milestone in a sales call. Frankly, I've had more than one top sales person roll their eyes while telling me that when their manager is present, they exhibit the expected behavior, but when the manager is not with them, they focus on what they're trying to achieve. An accomplishment based approach drives results in a way that behavior-based coaching cannot.

Use sales milestones to adjust to changes in the market:  When market conditions change it is sometimes necessary to shift how sales representatives achieve milestones.  Perhaps there is a new emphasis on what's important to clients, and one needs to speak with new stakeholders to achieve a request for proposal. Possibly the world moves from in-person to virtual meetings, in which case one might need to learn new behavior to conduct an effective virtual meeting for achieving a given milestone. But with clear milestones to achieve, it is usually the behavior or tools and resources that must change when conditions change, not so much the milestones themselves. Having defined the best practices sales milestones in your sales process will make that adaptation easier and quicker. In other words, it will support agility in your sales force.

Design competitive sales training and coaching based on sales milestones:  Which milestones in your best practices sales process offer the greatest competitive leverage? Rather than merely teaching competitive features and benefits, identify the milestones in your sales process most likely to put the competition at a disadvantage or to give you an advantage. Once you have identified those milestones, individual sales representatives can target those in their own accounts and territories.  Sales training and coaching can drive more effective strategies and tactics for achieving those milestones, well beyond providing additional competitive product knowledge.

Organize internal social networking tools and resources around sales milestones:  Structure communication and collaboration among the members of your sales organization around the milestones they need to achieve in the sales process, not around knowledge topics or subject matter. Answer the question, "In this situation, what's the best way to achieve this milestone?"

Revise product training to deliver situational product knowledge: Product knowledge should not be "academic." It should not be separated from the situations in which one must know and do what is required. It should not be taught out of the context of the milestones that the sales person is attempting to achieve.  While some basic training might be needed in technical knowledge to lay a foundation for further understanding, product training should shift as rapidly as possible to teaching and practicing situational product knowledge – what one must do and say based on the milestones one is attempting to achieve.

Integrate sales milestones into your CRM software:  If you use sales support software that monitors progress through the sales cycle, you might be able to build more refined milestones into that system rather than using the "big" generic ones that often describe the sales pipeline in CRM software.

First determine the milestones and progress indicators that consistently exemplary sales people work to achieve. Then encourage sales leaders, sales training and sales operations professionals to base their overall definition, management, and development of sales performance on those milestones. 

And, of course, we offer Performance Thinking® programs and services to support such an approach for organizations that choose to go in that direction.

 - Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ Agility = Innovation + Execution ]]> Another great Harvard Business Review article, The Agile C-Suite, got my attention this month.  It talks about the balance that leaders need to find between efficiency and innovation, particularly in uncertain times. 

At the Performance Thinking Network, we say that agility is a combination of innovation and execution.

Since before last summer's 10th Annual Six Boxes® Summer Institute we've been exploring the combination of Design Thinking and Performance Improvement with our friend and colleague, Surya Vanka, of Authentic Design in Seattle. There is something in that combination that enables organizations and leaders to be more agile.

Surya has captured the essence of Design Thinking in his Design Swarms® process. He takes teams through a sequence of activities to produce innovative solutions, designs, or plans that can be implemented and have a compelling value proposition. Design Swarms enable teams to produce innovation on demand.

At The Performance Thinking Network, we've distilled the essence of human performance engineering, or organizational performance improvement into our plain English, simple but powerful Performance Thinking® methodology . We teach and certify Performance Professionals of all kinds to conduct organizational performance improvement projects, many of which involve systemic planning and implementation of new systems, processes, programs or initiatives. Some of our colleagues at large organizations use this approach for big, global implementation projects. Performance Thinking® is a process for reliable execution.

We're continuing to find new ways that these two flexible and widely applicable approaches can be integrated, always looking for opportunities with clients to drive agile performance improvement or change. So it was hard not to think about that aspect of our work when I read The Agile C-Suite.

- Carl Binder, CEO




<![CDATA[ Change Management in the Era of COVID-19 ]]> When we think of change management, we generally envision implementing a new system, process, strategy, or policy. Or perhaps we need to plan for a corporate reorganization, and all the changes that will be produced and needed for success. Change management methodologies, such as ADKAR from Prosci, offer processes for systematically preparing for and then executing big change – when timing is under our control.

We've seen over the years that our Performance Thinking® methodology for organizational performance improvement is also a powerful tool set for change management. It has the added  advantage that we thoroughly address the behavior influences needed to ensure sustained change, once the celebration and novelty are over.

But what about when we face changes out of our control?  What if the Universe slaps us down with events or conditions that change everything, that leave us fighting for survival?  That's what's happening now with the worldwide pandemic of novel coronavirus and COVID-19. That is what we all face now.

At the Performance Thinking Network we've been trying to derermine how best to help our clients, colleagues and friends, faced with unexpected and out-of-control changes caused by the threat of COVID-19.  In many cases there is the likelihood of great suffering, potentially to the point of bankruptcy or going out of business. We recognize that this is no ordinary change management situation, where we manage planned changes in operations, business models or strategy.

Instead it's a question of managing in the face of unexpected and potentially catastrophic change beyond our control. Many of us need to quickly shift our products and services, business models,  strategies and tactics for staying afloat.  We need to survive an unknown period of reduced revenue, inability to operate as usual, and painful impact on our employees and customers.

Performance Thinking, as taught in the Six Boxes® Practitioner Program, offers a powerful implementation and sustainment methodology. We're confident that Performance Thinking gives us a path for implementing and sustaining change that may even be more robust than some well-known change management methodologies.

But how do we know what changes to make in our businesses or organizations? How do we figure out what to implement, how the change will look, what the outcome of change should be?  That's where our colleague, Surya Vanka of Seattle's Authentic Design, and formerly Director of User Experience at Microsoft, can help. At last year's Six Boxes® Summer Institute, Surya made a big splash by conducting an all-day Design Swarms® process to invent ways that Performance Thinking might help to address environmental issues.  Using his "innovation on demand" process, we arrived at some truly unique solutions.  Since then, we've been exploring synergies between  Design Swarms® for innovation and  Performance Thinking® for implementation and sustainment.  We think that COVID-19 offers a perfect, and rather urgent opportunity to combine these two powerful methodologies.

We can combine Design Swarms® and Performance Thinking® into a simple but powerful two-step process to help organizations design innovative strategies and tactics, then implement them with speed and sustainability.  We can help organizations be agile in the face of the pandemic.

In the coming weeks we all face the reality of the exploding pandemic.  Surya and I are inviting a few innovative but struggling organizations, large or small, to combine virtual Design Swarms for rapid innovation with virtual Performance Thinking work sessions to quickly create implementation plans that will allow them to survive the pandemic.

If you're interested in working with us to help you innovate and implement, we'd like to speak with you about a possible path forward that fits your circumstance. If there are groups of non-competitive small business owners in the same field, we might also work with them. None of us are certain how this will play out. Please reach out if you want to work with us from the safety of your homes.  We can offer a significantly reduced fee or free-of-charge for truly struggling organizations.  We want to help if we can, and be innovative in the process.

You can contact us at or call me personally at 206-866-3229.  I'll pull Surya into the discussion, and we'll take it from there.

- Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ Virtual Performance Consulting to Maintain Social Distancing ]]> As I've realized how many of our Performance Thinking programs and services can be delivered virtually, in the era of the novel coronavirus, I've been reflecting on all the things we can do these days with telephones and web meetings, sitting in our homes or offices alone. It's really quite a lot.

Creating and Delivering Project Proposals and Charter Documents

We start most projects with a proposal or charter document about the background, what's at stake for the business, the stakeholder needs, how we propose to address the needs, what that will involve, etc.  It's easy to gather the information needed for a proposal or a project charter by phone or web conference, speaking with stakeholders, reviewing documents, etc. No need to be in the same room with others.  We've been doing this with clients around the world for decades, as have many of our clients and colleagues. We can do even more than we have in the past using virtual meeting and conference calling technology, with minor changes in how we go about it.

Interviewing Stakeholders and Target Performers

Tom Gilbert, one of my mentors, often pointed out that performance analysis ought to involve observing performers. As he said, "an expert tennis player can't tell you what he does because he's not watching his feet while he plays." And that is certainly true.  My colleagues and I have discovered many bits of exemplary behavior that make a difference, while observing the performance of sales people, customer service representatives, factory maintenance techs, and others. 

On the other hand, when we interview exemplary and average performers by phone or web conference to identify their accomplishments or work outputs, to determine criteria for "good" ones, and to capture information about their behavior, we can often sort out some of those details that make a difference by comparing what exemplary and average performers say. It's not ideal, but since our accomplishment-based approach to performance analysis is so much more powerful and illuminating than typical behavior-based or competency-based methodologies, even conducting it imperfectly can can yield enough information to make a big impact.

It turns out that we can often successfully conduct performance analysis without being in the room with people. We can decide, based on interviews, whether someone needs to observe performers as a follow-up. But in many cases in-person observation it is not essential. Knowing that can save travel time and money in ordinary times. And it's a great advantage in these extraordinary times of global pandemic.

Conducting Virtual Focus Groups

Often, after we have summarized our analysis of performance, based on interviews with performers, we want to confirm our list of work outputs (accomplishments) with a group, to see if we missed anything, need to re-word our descriptions, or perhaps re-sequence them (in a process). This is easy to do in a web meeting, in many ways even easier than in person.

Collaborating to Create Findings & Recommendations Reports

When we work with teams that include consultants at different locations and stakeholders at different sites in client organizations, we often conduct review and revision meetings to update and refine reports. This is actually easier to do online than in person, because we can all be looking at the same document and seeing the edits as we go.

Deciding on Next Steps for Development

Once we finish our analyses and reports, we can meet virtually with clients to decide on development priorities and responsibilities, and to organize and manage projects. We can also conduct a lot of the work for creating deliverables or agreeing on steps to take with stakeholders, including leaders, managers and coaches, by phone or web conference.

Culturally and technically, those of us who have been working virtually for a long time are well-prepared to continue working in this pandemic, and beyond. This recognition brings some relief at the moment. And for those who have not conducted consulting engagements virtually, it's not that difficult, and we can help guide you in our Six Boxes® Practitioner Programwhich we offer virtually!

On the positive side, the need for people to stop travelling and meeting in person might actually free up more time for performance analysis and design.

This makes our work at The Performance Thinking Network, conducting performance consulting projects and teaching others to do so, easy to do under the current extreme conditions.

See my recent blog post for more details about how all of our programs and services can be delivered virtually.

- Carl Binder, CEO



<![CDATA[ Performance Thinking® Programs Go Virtual in Time for COVID-19 ]]> It's a new era, at least for the next few months. As the World tries to mount its defenses against the novel coronavirus, we at The Performance Thinking Network have been continuing to think about how best to serve our clients. Based on feedback from colleagues and clients around the world, we expect you might be prevented from traveling, from attending conferences or in-person training, and frustrated about how you will continue to develop individuals and teams. We think our programs, and our coaching and consulting services can help.

As we've moved programs from classroom-based to blended, and to all-virtual over the last few years, we've learned about the advantages of breaking them into modules with homework assignments in between, recording sessions to allow for absences, and including lots of time for feedback in virtual meetings.  Each of our programs offers opportunities for individuals and teams to learn our flexible but powerful Performance Thinking® approach, applied to their particular roles and responsibilities. We develop performance consultants who conduct organizational performance improvement and change management projects, individual leaders, managers, and coaches whose primary impact is on the individuals and teams whom they lead, and in the near future, HR Business Partners, who benefit from integrating a performance-based approach into their daily activities.

The following is a list of programs and services that we can offer in virtual sessions where there is no danger of transmitting the virus, plus the convenience of participating from wherever you might choose.

The Six Boxes® Practitioner Program is our "mother of all programs" for conducting organizational performance improvement projects. It is for L & D professionals, Quality and Process specialists, OD and OE staff, and anyone else involved in improving employee performance. We've even had small business owners complete this program with projects to strengthen performance architecture in their companies, to prepare for growth. Since starting virtual  delivery of this program several years ago, we've seen improvements in learning and application, with virtual sessions, feedback, and individualized coaching to complete projects and achieve Six Boxes® Practitioner certification.

The Performance Thinking® Coach (formerly Six Boxes® Performance Coaching) teaches individual leaders, managers and coaches the process of Performance Thinking for helping individuals and teams continuously improve their performance. It provides a vehicle for agile talent development, and offers the potential for driving a culture of continuous performance improvement.  Our most common version of the program in the last couple of years has been blended, with one day in-class plus four 2-hour virtual sessions and individualized coaching. Nowadays we welcome opportunities to deliver the entire program in virtual sessions, and are confident that we can do so if we're able to work with a strong internal coordinator at your organization to optimize conditions for success.

Our Performance Thinking® Leadership Modules build on the Coaching program, teaching leaders whose scope of control extends from teams to whole organizations. Leaders learn how to apply our models and processes to challenges that include process management, implementation planning and execution, employee engagement planning, skip-level meetings to improve management practices, driving continuous sales improvement, and more. We can customize our modules to meet your needs for delivery in brief virtual sessions with application assignments and plenty of feedback.

Performance Thinking® for HR Business Partners is an emerging program for which we have done the performance analysis and program architecture. It's being designed as a series of customizable modules, built to be delivered in virtual sessions with application assignments and plenty of feedback. This is a new offering, something we have been planning for years. Since HR Business Partners do not usually manage huge projects, but rather deliver advice, support, expertise, and business acumen in different ways for the leaders and managers they serve, we've created a series of modules that teach the basics of Performance Thinking with a variety of applications. Modules include performance-based role definition, performance coaching and management, employee engagement, performance measurement, improving working relationships, managing business processes, succession planning, strategy execution, change management and executive coaching. We are very excited about this emerging curriculum, and happy to share details if you are interested.

Our services can also be delivered virtually.

Consulting Services such as performance analysis, process improvement or program design can generally be conducted virtually, as needed. For example, two of our Senior Consultants recently completed an extensive Best Practices Performance Analysis to serve as a foundation for training, management, and coaching, for a medical products sales group. We conducted all interviews, focus group sessions, and delivery of our Findings & Recommendations Report by telephone and web conference.

Our emerging Performance Thinking® Executive Coaching service is built for online delivery. We deliver it in a series of virtual 1:1 meetings that enable senior leaders to more clearly define their own contributions, set priorities for time and resource allocation, delegate responsibilities to team members, and look into the teams and processes that they lead and manage to find opportunities for improvement.

Our Sales Enablement System is a packaged, configurable service that identifies critical milestones and progress indicators in your successful sales process, captures the strategies and tactics of your top sales people, or teaches you to do so, and customizes our Performance Thinking® Coach program for your sales managers. Generally, these services and programs can be conducted virtually, in part or in whole.  See our recent YouTube playlist for background information.

Finally, Shane Isley leads our emerging Performance Thinking® For ABA and Behavioral Health Organizations service, delivering a menu of programs and interventions to establish or improve your company's performance infrastructure, processes, policies and procedures, job definitions and management capabilities to support operational efficiency, employee engagement, service quality, and profitability of your ABA business. Shane's extensive background as both an ABA Business Owner and an experienced Performance Consultant, enables him to assess organizational needs and deliver service, much of it via virtual meetings.

We will continue to develop our products and services, putting more of what we offer into self-paced learning modules combined with virtual coaching and instruction to deliver continuous performance improvement and build your internal capacity to accelerate business results.

We hope that you'll consider The Performance Thinking Network over the coming months as you reconfigure how best to spend your employee and leadership development resources for maximum impact.

- Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ HR Goes Agile - A Classic from The Harvard Business Review ]]> This article is an "oldie but goodie" from the March-April 2018 of Harvard Business Review. But it is as relevant as ever, and timelessly so in relation to our Coach-Manage-Lead programs . 

The authors talk about how Human Resources functions in companies need to keep up with the pace of business change, and that "agile" talent development is going to be the way it happens. In 2018 they were talking about this as a new trend, with great examples. But two years later, it's more relevant than ever.

Our accomplishment-based coaching, management and leadership programs are intended to move organizations in that direction.  When we introduce coaching to a company, it's not just to provide a way to "get employees out of trouble" when their performance or their conduct is less than expected. It's a way to be proactive in the development of people, at the point of performance where managers and their people know what will be needed in the weeks, months, or quarters ahead to meet the needs of the business. Leaders and managers can coach their people by identifying the key accomplishments or work outputs that they will need to produce, or for which they need improvement, and then apply the "logic" of the Six Boxes® model to arrive at agreed-upon action steps, with the employee, for continuous development. Ideally, this process occurs at a regular cadence in organization so that employees and the people who lead and manage them expect to be having these conversations weekly or every couple of weeks, formally and/or informally.

Our programs give leaders and managers the language and framework for ongoing discussions about what accomplishments or "work outputs" are, or will be, most important for the business and for career path development of each individual. The programs are intended to lay a foundation which, if integrated into an overall implementation and sustainment plan, can support ongoing proactive continuous talent development and performance improvement.

Because I so often cite this HBR article as an "authoritative" analysis of the challenges and the solutions, I thought it would be more convenient to simply provide a link to it.

Read the article and see what you think.  It would be great to start a conversation about this topic.  Add your and discussion below.

- Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ Why Feedback Fails, and a Performance Thinking® Alternative ]]> A recent article  in Harvard Business Review called The Feedback Fallacy debunks a number of widely accepted ideas about the effective use of feedback on human performance.  In particular, it addresses “the overriding belief that the way to increase performance in companies is through rigorous, frequent, candid, pervasive, and often critical feedback.”

There are many problems with this belief, some mentioned in the article and others implicit.  Let’s take a closer look, and then look at an alternative approach to setting expectations and providing feedback that is at the heart of Six Boxes Performance Thinking.

There’s no dispute that individuals and teams can gain from a clear understanding of what they need to produce, and how; and from information about how well they are performing, and what might help to improve their performance in a positive way. Positive, specific, timely feedback for what we do right can rapidly accelerate performance. Lean process improvement uses various kinds of visible feedback tools, customer service representatives listen to themselves with a behavioral checklist, and so on. These forms of feedback can help. But words like “candid” and “rigorous” when describing feedback often hide what amounts to punishment of what people do incorrectly.

The HBR article unpacks and disputes the idea that “other people are more aware than you are of your weaknesses, and that the best way to help you, therefore, is for them to show you what you cannot see for yourself.” They question the ability of others to give precise or helpful feedback.

Certainly their criticisms makes sense, particularly if the expectations against which one is being judged are vague or open to wide interpretation.  Even with precise behavioral expectations, people often are poor observers and may not be skilled at identifying critical features of one’s behavior that could make a difference.  The article continues by debunking several other myths, but after a few paragraphs settles on what we think is one of the greatest problems of all, one that is virtually all-pervasive in practices followed in organizations of all kinds.

That big problem is that assessment and feedback are often based on competencies, defined in models embedded in performance management systems, training programs, and models of so-called “excellence.”  I’ve written elsewhere about how competency-based systems are inherently unfair, ineffective and even destructive. That’s because competencies are inherently abstract, generalized concepts that apply to whole categories or clusters of behavior. The original competency models took sometimes more than 100 defined types of behavior, sorted them into piles, and then labeled the piles. The labels became the so-called competencies. But such verbal expressions are painfully abstract and difficult to pin down. How we can possibly compare and evaluate “business acumen” when exhibited in a public presentation versus in a 1:1 meeting with a direct report, or in  a written proposal? How we can possibly compare “strategic thinking” embodied in a business plan and in a meeting design, with a rating scale that is actually refined opinion?

As straight-faced as people can be when they rate others using scales of 1 to 5 on such abstractions, it is  outrageous to think that rating others on abstract categories of behavior can possibly help develop performance in  a cost-effective or reliable way. It is not nearly specific enough to be helpful, yet vague enough to be possibly harmful. Moreover, a rating can depend in extreme cases on whether the rater got a good night’s sleep,  enough coffee that morning, or has a hangover. While those might be slight exaggerations, you get the point. Rating people's performance on subjective scales is not helpful, certainly not useful enough to merit all the time and effort usually put into it, even when done infrequently, which is usually the case.

These days I often ask groups of people to whom I deliver presentations or training, “How’s that competency-based rating scale performance management system working for you?” They roll their eyes. 

I follow with, “Is this causing any cynicism among you and your colleagues about performance evaluations and compensation decisions?”  They typically nod their heads.  Competency-based feedback is, indeed, the Emperor with No Clothes.  It appears that we are doing something useful, when actually we are merely assigning numbers that are only ordinal levels, and not quantities, to vague concepts with some kind of “holistic” judgement about the person.  Not exactly buttoned down performance engineering!

That is not to mention our ratios of positive to corrective feedback – which unless they are 4:1 or better are unlikely to be very effective, even when applied to more specific and concrete examples of behavior.  Not only do we tend to correct more than we praise, but we usually do so with significant delays. Thus, in most cases, the feedback is so removed from the details of behavior that neither the performer nor the person giving feedback can be precise enough to be helpful.

But there is another approach.  And it is at the heart of Six Boxes Performance Thinking.  The HBR article hints at our alternative when the authors suggest that we “look for outcomes.”  They write that those who give feedback should focus on specific behavior that produces the desired results.

In the logic of Six Boxes Performance Thinking, performance in organizations has three elements:  behavior or activity; the valuable products of behavior – what we call accomplishments or work outputs; and the organizational or business results to which they contribute. In the Performance Chain, we judge the value of an accomplishment by the extent to which it contributes to organizational or business results.  And we specify needed behavior based on the extent to which it produces valuable accomplishments or work outputs.

We say that accomplishments, or work outputs, are “countable nouns.” That is, like widgets coming off an assembly line, they are things that can be counted and evaluated as to whether they do or do not meet what we call “criteria for a good one.” Such criteria apply not only to concrete deliverables, like widgets or documents. They also apply to less tangible things that, nonetheless, can be defined as either “good” or “not good,” and counted.

Such accomplishments can include decisions, transactions, innovations, descriptions, improved process designs, people who say they liked our service, and even relationships. We focus leaders, managers and performance professionals on identifying criteria for “good” ones that are easy to agree upon and for which there is relatively narrow room for interpretation.  We say that the performer and everyone else should be able to evaluate the work output or accomplishment – the product of behavior – as either meeting or not meeting criteria. Criteria for good work outputs might be based on the business results to which they are intended to contribute, the requirements of customers or recipients of the work outputs, or sometimes on cultural values that  define what we consider to be good accomplishments.

And this is the key to giving useful, effective feedback: If we focus on the accomplishment or product of behavior, not primarily on the behavior, we can clearly define what good looks like. Then both performer and manager or peer can decide whether any given accomplishment is good, or needs improvement. And if there is room for improvement, then they can engage in a collaborative effort to decide what behavior ought to change and how to help make that happen.

This approach, embodied most simply in our Six Boxes® Performance Coaching program, moves the feedback process from behavior to outcomes, from subjective to objective, and supports self-feedback based on shared knowledge of criteria for good work outputs. Our coaching and management programs leverage this level of specificity. We find that instead of dreading feedback, individuals and teams appreciate knowing exactly what they are expected to produce, gain insights and often bring innovative ideas for changes in behavior, and can share expectations and feedback with each other. This practice becomes a potentially collective learning exercise, an ongoing process as part of continuous performance development.

The HBR article also reminds me of the relatively narrow approach to performance improvement in so many organizations, depending mostly on training and feedback for development. Our Six Boxes Model defines a comprehensive system of behavior influences in six interrelated categories that are either supporting or getting in the way of performance at all times.

The full set of behavior influences includes skills and knowledge as well as feedback. It begins with clearly stated expectations so that feedback can be equally clear, to compare with expectations. We learn to adjust tools and resources to develop individuals and teams. Taken together, this more systemic approach allows performers to make more frequent contact with the natural positive consequence of success.

With Performance Thinking we can leap past crude competency based rating schemes and take advantage of accomplishment based feedback in the context of a system that supports performance. We can enable leaders, managers, coaches and performance professionals to drive continuous agile talent development by adjusting the variables in the Six Boxes Model in cost-effective combinations. And we can, to some extent, bypass the old arguments about what does or does not make for effective feedback because we  have a fundamentally better approach based on accomplishments, not competencies.

I applaud Harvard Business Review for taking up the issue of feedback, and addressing some of the myths and old ideas that surround it. We can do much better, and Six Boxes Performance Thinking provides a simple yet powerful framework for crisply defining successful performance and arranging conditions for continuous improvement.

For more about Six Boxes Performance Thinking, check out our programs for Performance Professionals and those for Leaders and Managers . 

Also check out our 10th Annual Six Boxes Summer Institute , which is going to be amazing. We'll be exploring in depth the possible synergies and intersections between Design Thinking and Performance Improvement, partnering with our friend and colleague, Surya Vanka .

Please share your email address with us to receive periodic updates and notifications , subscribe to The Performance Thinking YouTube Channel , and consider joining our growing LinkedIn discussion group.

Thanks for reading this far. I know it was a long one!

 -   Carl Binder, CEO ]]>
<![CDATA[ 21st Century Performance Improvement! ]]> Iconic.     Well, maybe some day...   It's not iconic (yet), in the sense of being widely recognized as fundamental and authentic. But I've been thinking lately how truly 21st Century our Six Boxes Performance Thinking® approach is. And how it IS based on the classical work of great 20th century thought leaders, starting with B.F. Skinner, whose natural science of behavior continues to change the world in ways that we don't even recognize because it's so embedded in our daily lives. And on the work of Dr. Tom Gilbert, author of that remarkable book, Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance, who taught us to anchor the analysis and improvement of performance in accomplishments or work outputs, the valuable products of behavior, not in behavior for its own sake.  Then came Dr. Joe Harless, who took Gilbert's Performance Engineering and turned it into a repeatable performance improvement technology for performance analysis, effective job aids, and accomplishment based instructional design. Those giants in the field were iconic.  And they laid the foundation for accomplishment based performance improvement as it has evolved into this century.

The 21st century is a different era.  We move faster, we have many more "channels" and competing information sources, we consume information in small bites, and we need to be flexible, agile, and capable of adapting to a rapidly changing world. To bring behavior science and performance engineering into widespread use in 21st century organizations, we need a new generation of tools and models that are simpler, easier to communicate, and – literally – iconic

It just so happens that at The Performance Thinking Network over the last 20 years or so we've been building just such a thing: a 21st century performance improvement approach that is, literally, iconic.

With just two simple pictures and 21 plain English words, we can summarize everything one must know to analyze and improve human performance at any level or for any function in an organization. Our two models – The Performance Chain and the Six Boxes® Model – are simple enough to remember, draw and label on a white board, and use to discuss any kind of performance.  Our approach is truly iconic in the sense of being pictorial – memorably so.  The pictures, our models, say it all, and they help us learn, remember,  communicate and apply the logic of performance improvement.

Performance Thinking is a 21st century development insofar as its iconic user interface helps us to think differently in a way that is compatible, and even synergistic, with 21st century Design Thinking.  We can drive a new generation of performance improvement, performance consulting, human resource development, or whatever you'd like to call it. It's agile, flexible, and powerful – all at the same time.

Imagine how you might be able to start a viral wave of new thinking about performance and continuous improvement across your organization , as we have seen in other organizations.  Learn to frame, analyze and plan for improving performance using Performance Thinking® programs and tools to align everyone in the organization with business results, drive continuous performance improvement and optimize employee engagement.

– Carl Binder, CEO

We think that things are really going to get interesting over the coming months. Click here to keep up with the conversation.

<![CDATA[ More from Harvard Business Review ]]> In the latest issue of HBR there's an article called Managers Can't Be Great Coaches All By Themselves.  I can't help but think of our Six Boxes® Performance Coaching as big solution for the issues they raise.

The first thing that pops out is the idea of the "Connector Manager" as someone who helps her people connect to other resources, mentors, tools, and other sources of performance support and development.  This is critical, since performance occurs in a system and we need to align the parts.

In our work, the Six Boxes Model provides a great way to frame and align all those enablers that the Manager or Leader can connect for their people in pursuit of talent development or performance improvement. The Six Boxes Model is a simple and comprehensive framework for thinking through WHAT factors to configure to get the best out of our people – both high levels of performance and increased employee engagement.

Beyond the Connector Manager, the shared models and language of Performance Thinking offer a leader or manager and their direct report a way of partnering to develop or improve performance. This is in contrast to the manager "doing something to" the person – coaching them.  This is about continuous, collaborative performance improvement. Our approach encourages individual contributors to become full partners in their own and their teams' development. Individuals often generate the best ideas for what accomplishments (work outputs) to prioritize and what behavior influences to eliminate, configure. The Performance Thinking conversation captures and leverages those ideas. And an organization that supports such a process can leverage those ideas to help others perform better and enjoy higher levels of engagement.

Finally, a shared language and thought process focused on valuable accomplishments needed by the business provides a vehicle for agile talent development at the point of performance.  This allows development to turn on a dime, relatively speaking – compared to the sluggish annual and quarterly reviews and learning plans still used in many organizations. The traditional approach can't keep up with change. The Performance Thinking mindset, shared across an organization, creates a culture of performance quite different from a manager or leader "being a coach all by one's self.  To borrow that old phrase, "it takes a village."  It takes a system. It takes a whole organization.  A shared framework can generate ROI simply by aligning the performance enablers in an organization more cost-effectively.

With the 2 simple models and 21 plain English words of Performance Thinking® programs, a Leader-Coach, supported by efforts to nurture a collective practice of collaboration, becomes a point of contact with the whole system to accelerate organizational results through people.  

- Carl Binder, CEO




<![CDATA[ Accomplishment-Based Systems: The Alternative to Competency Modeling ]]> Years ago, a colleague and I published an article that did not get much attention, devoted to the contrast between competency modeling and an accomplishment-based approach, based on the work of Thomas F. Gilbert, pioneer in the field of human performance improvement.  At that time, competency modeling was relatively new, shiny, and heavily promoted by training companies and consulting firms. On the surface of it, competency modeling seemed to offer a way to define capability in a way that was convenient and could form the basis of discussion about performance. Countless organizations devoted many millions of dollars and person years to developing competency models, building performance management systems in which people received “ratings” on those competencies, developing learning management systems and curriculum architectures built on competencies, and so forth.  In my view, it was a scam. 

While I have hesitated for years to say this very loudly, we are finally to the point where it is possible to raise the issue in public because some leading edge human resources professionals have begun to see that “there must be something better.”  As I discussed in a previous blog post, competency-based systems are deeply unfair, ineffective, and do not, in fact, provide a foundation for a truly performance-based approach to leadership, management, or talent development.

My recent blog produced a number of thoughtful responses on LinkedIn and in other places where it was shared.  It appears that many people acknowledge the problems with competency-based systems, but no one has a good alternative. I’ve seen a few discussions in the last year or so about “traits” as an alternative to competencies. Beside putting us back even further in the history of psychology and personality theory to a time when the “inner person” was the focus of analysis and investigation, traits are just another vague and abstract way to attribute characteristics to the individual that may or may not have much impact on performance.

Performance is the result of a system of influences that include individual elements such as skills and knowledge, personal experience, and individual motives and preferences – all accounting for a relatively small portion of the variance (estimated at around 20%). Far more impactful (about 80%) are features of the work environment and management practices that either support or obstruct desired performance, including expectations and feedback, the tools and resources (including processes and work design) needed to perform, and consequences or incentives that motivate people to do their best or discourage them with intended or unintended punishment. 

Performance in the workplace (and one could argue, anywhere else) is comprised of three elements: behavior that produces products called accomplishments (we call them work outputs) that are valuable because they contribute to one or more business or societal results.  Each of these elements is essential, and without any one of them, we cannot define nor determine the value of the performance itself. This is as true at the level of individual performance as it is for teams, processes, and whole organizations. We perform to produce value for the organization or for society. And the value we produce comes, not in the form of costly behavior, but as valuable accomplishments, countable “things” that may be either tangible (e.g., widgets, documents) or less tangible (e.g., decisions or relationships). 

One can define just about any job with a set of between 5 and 30 major accomplishments (we call them work outputs).  We can discuss what makes for a “good” instance of any accomplishment as a way to set expectations and provide feedback. We can arrange conditions to enable people to produce desired accomplishments at high levels of quality, consistency, and productivity. And we can align those conditions with positive outcomes so that people are fully engaged in producing needed accomplishments and are recognized for doing so.

Unlike competencies, which are abstract category names for often large collections of specific types of behavior, accomplishments are very specific and definable. We can count them. We can also determine whether someone has ever produced a given accomplishment, or a similar one, as we engage them in behavioral interviews during the hiring process. Leaders and managers can discuss with their people the most important accomplishments needed right now, which might need improvement, and what accomplishments an individual might need to add to their capability for the next level in the career ladder.

We can create job descriptions based on major accomplishments, as some of our more advanced client organizations have begun to do. But that is a big job that probably would best be done over time with a computer database serving as a repository. We do better to train and empower our leaders and managers to work with their people to define accomplishments for each job, to target them for development, to manage them, and to continuously improve the team’s ability to produce them. This is what we do in our Coach-Manage-Lead family of programs.

One of the many advantages of making talent development and performance management systems accomplishment-based rather than competency-based is that accomplishments define the value contributed by individuals and teams, what we as leaders or talent development professionals need from our people. Competencies, on the other hand, are characteristics that people might or might not have, (assessed with the “refined opinion” of rating scales) and that we can certainly take into account if we wish to do so as we select or develop people. But because they are abstract labels for categories of behavior, they are only abstractly related to performance. That is, one can have every conceivable competency, but still not demonstrate required performance.  I don’t know about you, but when I select or manage an employee, I would like to make decisions based on valuable performance rather than on abstract indicators of potential.

One can easily have a 1:1 conversation with someone about a given accomplishment and what will be required to produce it. One can manage people day-to-day around accomplishments, as well as defining annual strategy about the accomplishments we will need our people to produce in order to achieve business objectives.  With an accomplishment-based approach, we frankly do not need abstract descriptions of behavior potential because we can talk about actual performance. Accomplishments are the practical and far more manageable alternative to competencies. They define the value contributed by human performance, and should be our focus.

One of our great mentors, Dr. Joe Harless, created a system called Accomplishment Based Curriculum Development (ABCB). This was, in my view, just the beginning. We can have Accomplishment Based Talent Management that meets the requirements for today’s Agile Talent Development far better than a competency-based approach because we can talk about real job and organizational requirements needed now to keep up with the pace of change – this week, this month, or this quarter.

There’s a lot more to be said about this topic. But we are finally opening it up for discussion, and I welcome comments and suggestions from our friends and colleagues.

- Carl Binder, CEO