Six Boxes Performance Thinking Welcome to the Six Boxes RSS feed. Mon, 17 Feb 2020 12:12:54 PST en-us <![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

<![CDATA[ YouTube: The Work of Robert E. Horn ]]> Robert Horn is one of those creative geniuses whose contributions have come in waves. He has been acknowledged on our web site as one of the key sources of inspiration and technical influence underlying the work of The Performance Thinking Network, particularly our efforts to communicate widely about performance improvement.

Bob was creator of The Information Mapping® Method, the structured writing methodology that came from his early research in programmed instruction and systems analysis, and that has, since the 1970s, been a standard for documentation at major corporations and government organizations around the world. His former company, Information Mapping, Inc. , continues to teach the method.

From there Bob moved on to what he calls Visual Language , optimal combination of words and pictures for effective communication.  His book called Mapping Hypertext, applying the Information Mapping method to the design of online documentation, predated the worldwide web, anticipating principles that would later guide design of web sites. 

In recent decades, Bob has combined his research on systems analysis, argumentation analysis, visual communication and structured writing to analyze global “messes” such as climate change and prospects for nuclear disarmament. In many respects, this most recent work reflects the best of Bob, who still considers himself to be a Political Scientist based on his academic training, and as a concerned inhabitant of Earth.

This brief recorded lecture on YouTube, entitled "Breaking the Wall of Organizational Ignorance," is Bob at his best just a few years ago. It hopefully provides a glimpse of why his work and friendship have been major sources of inspiration and influence on the career and work of Dr. Carl Binder, CEO of The Performance Thinking Network. 

Bob Horn is someone whose work has depth and scope that are at times breathtaking.  It's worth your time to become familiar with it.

For more information about Bob, here is a link to his web page at Stanford University, where he has been a Visiting Scholar for decades.  And here is a more recent web page, providing access to many of his work products in PDF form.

- Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ Noboby Wants to Be the Denominator! ]]> In 1978, Thomas F. Gilbert rocked the world of training and performance improvement by pointing out the obvious in his book, Human Competence:  In the “world of work,” as he called it, the WORTH of any effort to improve organizational performance is equal to the VALUE of the accomplishments (or work outputs) produced or improved by that effort divided by the COST of the behavior. He pointed out very clearly that accomplishments are valuable, while behavior is costly.  We need to pay, support, provide resources for, and otherwise invest in the  behavior of people. What we hope to get from that behavior are valuable accomplishments or work outputs that are valuable because they contribute to organization-level business results, or perhaps to societal results.

It is common these days to use a formula for ROI (return on investment) that is quite similar. ROI is equal to the value of the accomplishments divided by the cost for producing them through the behavior of people.

When calculating ROI, accomplishments are the numerator while behavior is the denominator.

Often programs designed to improve communication, develop software skills, build strategic thinking, and so forth, focus on developing the behavior of people who complete those programs. Similarly, we typically instruct coaches to focus on the behavior of the people whom they coach. But those things are all costs. What are the valuable accomplishments that the people will produce as a result of the coaching or training?

That's where we get a positive ROI.

We can encourage people to behave in different ways, but until we specify the valuable work outputs or accomplishments that they will produce, neither they nor the organization can identify the value of their performance, or determine the ROI for our efforts to help.

Training, management, and development programs that focus on behavior without specifying valuable accomplishments are part of the denominator in the ROI equation. We cannot determine whether they deliver value unless we know the work outputs.

In whatever role we play, we want to be or be associated with the valuable accomplishments, not merely costly behavior.

In short, nobody wants to be the denominator!

We want to optimize value delivered.  And that is why we begin our analysis using the Performance Chain by identifying, and anchoring the rest of the analysis, in work outputs or accomplishments of people that contribute to business results.

- Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ Why Competency Based HR Systems are Unfair and Ineffective ]]> Competency-based human resource management and talent development systems are profoundly unfair to people, and are inherently flawed. Competency models have a stranglehold on many HR departments, performance management processes, learning management systems, and other forms of performance assessment and instructional design in organizations.  I have railed against them for decades from the perspective of performance engineering and behavior science. But it has often been hard to push back against something that is so often accepted without question. 

Unquestioned acceptance of competency-based systems often reflects substantial financial stakes for those who establish competency models, promote training programs to address them, build performance management systems that leverage them, and control HR budgets that have invested in them for years. For decades, those who have questioned the use of competency models as a foundation for talent management and development have risked being figuratively “burned at the stake.” But enough is enough. We must speak up for more effective and fairer systems of talent development and performance management.

It’s good that some innovative HR organizations and leaders are beginning to ask if there is something better. It’s not so good that some of them are suggesting a replacement with “traits” – a throwback to an even earlier and more primitive era in personality psychology. Here’s why competency-based systems are unfair and therefore can lead to cynicism among those who use them.

Competencies are inherently abstract.  When one looks at typical competencies such as commercial awareness or results orientation, it’s clear that the behavior to which they refer will differ greatly from one situation to another, depending on what the employee or performer might be working to accomplish. It is ludicrous to think that such words and phrases, even when accompanied by examples of behavioral indicators, can be used to help individuals focus on behavior that is specific enough to reliably deliver value to the organization. I find such verbal abstractions appalling as I try to keep a straight face when people use them to describe and evaluate performance.

A competency is commonly defined as “an underlying characteristic of a person which enables them to deliver superior performance in a given job, role, or situation.“ Harvard Psychologist David McClelland is often cited for research related to competency models, as an alternative to aptitude and IQ testing for matching candidates for jobs. But how this approach emerged in human resources applications is quite revealing.

A few years ago, our colleague, Bob Reticker, who once worked at a major training provider to develop competency models for client organizations, shared with us the origin of workplace competency models. He explained that a group of analysts was attempting to identify behavior that characterizes excellent leaders. They identified a very long list of specific types of behavior, which was a difficult to manage because of its length. They sorted the behavior into piles or clusters, to break up the long list, and then named the piles.  Those category names become “competencies.” 

How crazy is that?  First, a specific behavior will vary from situation to situation depending on what the leader is attempting to accomplish, and why. So a generic description of behavior is already less specific than one can teach, much less manage or effectively measure from one context to another. But then we put a whole bunch of such generic behaviors into piles, name the piles, and think we can use those general category names to help people develop! At this point, I would expect someone not caught up in the doctrine of competency modeling to say something like, “Are you kidding?”

The next step away from specificity sufficient to support training or management is that people use rating scales to assess competencies.  “Let’s see…. Is she a 3 or a 4 on this one?”  In other words, people use what my late colleague, Dr. Eric Haughton, called “refined opinion.”  There is no absolute or standard measure of performance in this approach.

When delivering workshops and presentations I often ask the audience what they think about using rating scales for competencies. Many roll their eyes, clearly based on their own personal experience. When I ask if a ratings, easily influenced by the rater’s mood or particular circumstances at the time of rating, might produce cynicism among all involved, there are usually a lot of nodding heads.

Most thoughtful leaders, managers, individual contributors and HR professionals know this. But competencies are so convenient, so easy to use, and so widely accepted, that few push back.  And, as far as most people know, there are no compelling alternatives.

But there is a more practical and effective alternative to competency modeling. In his groundbreaking book, Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance, Dr. Tom Gilbert encouraged us to shift our focus from what he called “costly behavior” to “valuable accomplishments” – the things that people produce with their behavior and contribute to their organizations, or to society. In my view, accomplishments (or what we call work outputs) provide the missing link between people’s behavior and the organizational or societal results to which they contribute.  Furthermore, they are both more concrete and easier to assess than competencies.  Simply stated, one can count work outputs that meet objectively agreed-upon criteria rather than rating them based on subjective opinion.

Understanding that we can identify specific valuable accomplishments, instead of relying on abstract competencies to define what we need people to contribute, is a huge step forward. By anchoring our performance management, coaching, training design, and assessment in the valuable work outputs that people produce, we can better define specific behavior needed to produce those work outputs. In addition, with this approach we can often identify exemplary behavior – what exceptional performers do differently from others to achieve exemplary levels of work outputs.

To gain a better understanding of this, check out our Performance Chain model or take a look at my article, What It Really Means to Be Accomplishment Based. And stay tuned for more posts about how we can drive continuous talent development by enabling leaders and their teams to focus on valuable accomplishments (work outputs) rather than on vague and abstract competencies.

- Dr. Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ The Problem with 360 Degree Feedback ]]> Many organizations routinely arrange for 360 degree feedback for their managers and leaders.  They typically adopt processes and tools provided by external vendors, or sometimes execute the process themselves.  In either case, there are serious limitations with this approach, to the point where many experts think it is a waste of time and money.

Here's a good article summarizing the limitations of 360 degree feedback from Talent Development a few years ago.

Performance Thinking® Programs encourage using feedback as an essential element of any performance system. However, we teach people to arrange feedback based on the criteria for good work outputs (accomplishments) and with respect to the specific behavior required to produce good work outputs.

In a system that provides frequent, specific feedback about accomplishments and behavior, 360 degree feedback fades by comparison to yet another check-box item that organizations arrange for their people, unlikely to have much useful impact.

- Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ YouTube: Leaders & Managers Drive Continuous Talent Development ]]> Here's a recent recording of a presentation that I did virtually for the Hampton Roads, Virginia, chapter of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI).  Click here for the YouTube video .

It provides an overview of our Six Boxes Performance Thinking® Approach, and how we are using our Coach-Manage-Lead programs to enable leaders, managers, and coaches to be agents of continuous talent development in their organizations.

It was a very informal presentation, roughly an hour and a half in length. So it's most certainly not a "quick hit, but intended to provide an overview and introduction to what we have been working to achieve for much of the last decade.

- Carl Binder, CEO