The performance consulting process generally includes identifying business needs, performance needs, and work environment and capability needs. All strategic performance improvement projects start with an assessment to systematically identify a specific individual, team, or organizational need. Workplace Learning and Performance (WLP) professionals perform this assessment by completing a series of analyses that identify the discrepancies between the actual and the desired performance, clarify the desired outcomes, set the boundaries of the issue to be addressed, and analyse all the factors that support and inhibit performance. The WLP professional needs expertise in asking the right questions about what is happening in the organisation and pinpointing the issue that needs to be addressed. Clarifying the desired outcome and understanding what is happening in the system and what is inhibiting the realization of this outcome are crucial activities at this stage.
Business analysis is important to the Human Performance Improvement (HPI) process for two reasons. First, the business goals are the drivers for the organisation. A business analysis makes clear what matters to the organisation and does not. Unless the WLP professional knows that, he or she can not jusge if the HPI effort will make a meaningful contribution to the organisation.
Second, the business analysis determines what performance issues are paramount and high-performing ones. Rather than look for apparent knowledge or skills gaps, the WLP professional needs to focus on human performance issues that affect important business outcomes. Failing to do so can waste precious resources on initiatives that make little or no difference to the organisation.
The business analysis consist in three main tasks:
- Identifying important goals for the appropriate business unit, which can be easy if the organisation has a clear focus and obvious priorities,
- Clarifying that these are indeed appropriate goals, which sometimes becomes an issue because leaders or organisations need to change targets, may claim allegiance to goals that aren’t realistic or appropriate, or may not be able to agree on organizational goals (or actively pursue contradictory policies),
- Determining how specific and measurable the goals are, which may require refining objectives so that evaluation and measurement is possible.
It is not enough for the performance consultant (trainer) to identify what he or she believes to be appropriate goals. He or she also needs buy-in agreement from the client(s). The business analysis process sometimes involves negotiation and exploration with clients. Sometimes goals stated on paper or in annual reports do not actually exist, or leaders may have different perseptions of what the goals mean. Sometimes tha targets are out-of-date or unrealistic, and sometimes leaders are blind to new opportunities. In such cases, the HPI practicioner (trainer) may have to inform the organisation of what its goal should be.
In carrying out the business analysis, the practitioner gathers industry and business-related information on a series of issues, such as:
- The external and internal factors that shape business goals
- The organizational rationale for these goals
- Significant trends and forces in the industry
- Relevant strategies to attain business goals
The business process analysis proceeds in the following three phases:
- Entry. In this phase, either the HPI practitioner approaches the client or the client approaches the practitioner to discuss perceived problems and ways HPI could help. During this discussion, clients often tend to seek commitments on delivering specific solutions with the result of short circuiting the HPI process. The WLP professional must find ways to bring the conversation back to the strategic priorities of the organisation.
- Data collection. The next phase is to identify relevant business goals through an information-gathering process. Typically, HPI practitioners use a combination of executive interviews, document review (annual report, strategic plans, individual, team and department plans), and surveys or focus groups. Sometimes external or competitors analysis can identify relevant forces and issues outside the organisation’s walls.
- Agreement. The third phase involves returning to the client with findings and seeking common ground and clarification. Sometimes this phase may be quick because the HPI practitioner has just verified information that the client already knew, but sometimes the practitioner has to persuade the client that his or her goals are artificial or misguided. In either case, the outcome of this phase should be a clear business goal and any background information on the business strategy and environment that is relevant to understanding issues around business goals. More important, the information lays the groundwork for evaluation the results of the HPI effort and establishes a common sense of priorities and direction for the WLP professional and the client.
According to Rossett (1992), the goal of performance analysis is to measure the gap between the desired and actual performance. An organisation uses a careful assessment of customer needs (including internal customer needs) to develop such workforce requirements as competencies, abilities, resources, and processes to achieve organisaional goals. These requirements determine the desired performance. Note, however, the importance of identifying desired performance that is realistic. Setting performance goals that are outside the realm of the possible is an invitation to failure.
To measure the actual performance, the organisation conducts a comprehensive assessment of its employees’ capabilities, the efficiency of its organizational structure, and its competitive position. The result of the analysis is to identify the gap between the desired and actual performance levels. The HPI practitioner’s job is to determine what interventions or combination of interventions will close that gap, bringing the actual in line with the desired performance level.
For example, a company planning to develop a new product may have completed customer requirements surveys and used the data to form its business strategy and to pin down tasks, competencies, and productivity levels for specific jobs in product design, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and service. But close examination may reveal a gap between employees’ actual capabilities and the company’s workforce needs for creating and delivering the product.
As part of performance analysis, defining the project scope is a key success factor. The scope should clearly identify the desired outcomes or results that are critical. Organizational goals or desired outcomes also set the limits for the project scope and enable the performance practitioner to focus efforts and resources on the possible solutions that will have the greatest effect of organizational results.
The scope should include answers to these key questions:
- What should performance look like?
- What operational results should the organisation achieve?
- Who are the stakeholders and other interested parties, including management, team leaders, and individual contributors?
The project scope must include a definition of “done”. What does success mean for the HPI project; a report, a set of recommendations, a presentation, an action plan? In addition, the project scope must indicate what the timeframe and resources are for the project. These elements must be as possible to enable project success.
Measurement criteria, constraints analysis, cultural analysis, analyzing forces affecting the organisation, workflow analysis, and human resources forecasting, are some of the techniques the WLP uses during the business performance gap analysis, those will be the core of next week article.
- Rossett, A (1987). Training Needs Assessment: Techniques in Training and Performance. Education Technology Publications.
- ASTD. Evaluating Performance Improvement Interventions, version 4.
- Rosemberg, M. J. (1996) Human Performance Technology. McGraw-Hill