The Silver Bullet for Performance Problems Doesn’t Exist

Oh but if it did, life for a supervisor would be easier, right? Let’s face it, “people” problems are a big deal for management. Working with humans does present its challenges, such as miscommunications between staff, data entry errors, or rushing verification checks. Sometimes, the task at hand is so repetitive that the result is assumed to be okay and gets “a pass”.  Add constant interruptions to the list and it becomes even harder not to get distracted and lose focus or attention to the detail.

Actual behavior vs. performing as expected

In their book, Performance Consulting: Moving Beyond Training, Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson describe performance as what the performer should be able to do. A performance problem occurs when the actual behavior does not meet expectation (as in should have been able to do).   Why don’t employees perform as expected? Root cause analysis helps problem solvers and investigators uncover a myriad of possible reasons.   For Life Sciences companies, correcting mistakes and preventing them from occurring again is at the heart of CAPA systems (Corrective Actions Preventive Actions).

A closer look at performance gaps

Dana and James Robinson conducted research regarding performer actions and sorted their results into three categories of obstacles:

  • Conditions of performers
  • Conditions of the immediate managers
  • Conditions of the organization

A checklist for common Performance Causes  – scroll down for the Tool.

But, weren’t they trained and qualified?

Hopefully, employees are trained using an approved OJT (On the Job Training) Methodology in which they are shown how to execute the task and then given opportunities to practice multiple times to become proficient. During these sessions, they are coached by Qualified Trainers and given feedback on what’s right (as expected) and given specific instructions to correct what’s not right with suggestions for tweaking their performance so that their final performance demonstration is on par with their peer group. At the conclusion of the qualification event, employees must accept that they now own their deviations (mistakes) from this point forward. So what gets in the way of performing “as they should” or in compliance speak – according to the procedure?

Is it a lack of knowledge, skill or is it something else?

The Robinson’s explain that performance is more than the training event. It’s combination of the overall learning experience and the workplace environment that yields performance results. Breaking that down into a formula per se, they suggest the following: learning experience x workplace environment = performance results.

The root cause investigation will include a review of training and the qualification event as well as a discussion with the performer.

  • Is it a lack of frequency; not a task often performed?
  • Is it a lack of feedback or delayed feedback in which the deviation occurred without their awareness?
  • Is it task interference?

The work environment includes organizational systems and business unit processes that together enable the performer to produce the outcomes as “expected”.   These workplace factors don’t always work in perfect harmony resulting in obstacles that get in the way of “expected” performance:

  • Lack of authority – unclear roles, confusing responsibilities?
  • Lack of time – schedule conflicts; multi-tasking faux pas?
  • Lack of tools – reduced budgets?
  • Lack of poorly stored equipment/tools – lost time searching?

Isn’t it just human nature?

Once the root cause investigation takes on a human element attention, it’s easy to focus on the performer and stop there.   If it’s the first time for the performer or first instance related to the task, it’s tempting to label the event as an isolated incident. But when it comes back around again, it becomes apparent there was a “failure to conduct an in-depth investigation” to correct and prevent. Not surprisingly, a push back of “Operator Error as Root Cause” has forced organizations to look deeper into the root causes involving Humans.

Who’s human nature?

Recall that one of the categories of the researched obstacles was “conditions of the immediate managers”. This makes managers uncomfortable. With so much on their plates, managing a people performance problem is not what they want to see. A silver bullet like a re-training event is a nice activity that gets a big red check mark on their to-do list. However, Robert Mager and Peter Pipe, in their book, Analyzing Performance Problems, provide insights to managing direct reports that may lead to unintended consequences. A brief list can be found here – scroll to Tool: Performance Causes.  (It’s not always the performer’s fault.)

It takes all three to correct a performance problem

soln-people-performance-problemThe third category of researched obstacles clustered around “conditions of the organization”.  I’ve already discussed task interference above. To suggest that organizations are setting up their employees to fail is pushing it just a bit too far.   So I won’t go there, but it is painful for some leaders to come to terms with the implication. In order to prevent issues from reoccurring, an examination of the incidents and quite possibly a restructuring of systems have to occur, because automatic re-training is not the only solution to a “people performance problem”. –VB

Robinson DG, Robinson JC. Performance Consulting: Moving beyond training. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler; 1995.

Mager R, Pipe P. Analyzing performance problems. Belmont: Lake Publishing; 1984.

Tired of repeat errors – ask a Performance Consultant to help you design a better corrective action

In this last “Making HPI Work for Compliance Trainers” series, I blog about one of the biggest complaints I hear over and over again from Compliance Trainers – management doesn’t really support training.  It’s hard to ask for “more of the same” even though you know your programs are now different.  In previous blogs, I shared why management hasn’t totally bought into the HPI methodology yet. See the blog Isn’t this still training?

 

Given the constant pressure to shrink budgets and improve the bottom line, managers don’t usually allow themselves the luxury of being proactive especially when it comes to training.  So they tend to fall back on quick fix solutions that give them a check mark and “clears their desk” momentarily.  For the few times this strategy works, there are twice as many times when those fixes back fire and the unintended consequences are worse.

 

In the article, “Why the Band Aids Keep Falling Off”, I provide an alternate strategy that emphasizes moving away from events-only focus to exploring the three levels of interaction that influence performance: individual performer, task/process, organizational quality systems.  These same three levels are where performance consultants carry out their best work when supported by their internal customers.  The good news is that the first step is the same; it begins with a cause analysis.  See the blog Analysis du jour  for more thoughts on why these are essentially the same approach.

 

The difference is that the corrective action is not a reactive quick fix but a systems approach to correcting the issue and preventing it from showing up again.  System based solutions are the foundation of many HPI/HPT projects that require cross functional support and collaborative participation across the site / organization.  And this is where a PC needs support from senior leaders.

 

We wrap up this series here and introduce the next series – Gaining Management Support – where I blog about credibility, trust, and access and how these 3 concepts impact relationship management.

Isn’t this still training?

To the newly minted and seasoned performance consultant, the answer is NO.  But for your client, internal customer or the VP of Quality, or whomever is your requestor, it still may look like “a training solution”, so don’t argue with them.  You do however, want to be able to explain why it is more than a classroom instructor led session or a quick and dirty PPT slide with audio recording.

 

If it looks like, smells like, tastes like training …

Then it must be training, right? Not exactly, but nod your head anyway; at least they are still engaged with you!  Any one of the elements of a Robust Training System is “training related”.  So for the less informed, this connection makes sense to them.  If your client/sponsor/requestor is more comfortable with calling it training, let them do so.  Don’t push the HPI label at this point.  First we work on raising their awareness with our early projects and successes.  Understanding and hopefully appreciation will come later.

 

What’s your company’s definition of training, anyway?

Most folks will envision instruction either classroom based, virtual instructor led or even formal eLearning course.  Their reasoning is that the gap must be a lack of knowledge and training is used to close that gap.  Is closing a skill based gap also considered training?  Most companies would define that as OJT.  What about “awareness training” and communication “training” sessions; are these considered training?  It is a form of closing a knowledge gap, the depth of the gap and the degree of required proficiency is the differentiator.  Again, what’s your company’s definition of training?

 

Closing Performance Gaps with the Right Solutions

The essence of HPI methodology is all about the right solution based on the data (evidence) and making an impact on the bottom line when the performance gap closes.  Is this training, you tell me?  How would you explain it to your sponsor?

 Not all HPI Solutions are Classroom Based

HPI Solutions

 

Talk about using knowledge to improve KPIs for a business unit

A team of site leaders met to discuss (problem solve) what to do about lagging metrics for a business unit.  The idea of studying SMEs (aka key performers) to learn what they needed to do to meet or beat the numbers was brought up.  I applaud them.  In fact, conducting Key Performer Analyses is part of the HPI methodology and is an excellent way to gather real data from experts.  However, the outcome was already biased with a set of “knowledge based” assumptions unbeknownst to the Performance Consultant (PC).  During the Key Performer Interviews, it turned out that those assumptions were brutally flawed and put this HPI project and another highly visible project in serious jeopardy.    The PC was able to uncover the right knowledge from the SMEs and successfully deliver a solution.  However, it was far from a traditional classroom training session.  Yet, it had everything to do with capturing secret sauce learned on the job.

Is this still training?  You tell me after you read the impact story.  -VB

 

NOTE: A more detailed version of this case –“Capturing Secret Sauce of Senior Equipment Operators?” is available. 

Next blog: “If it’s not training, then what is the right fix?”

 

Who is Vivian Bringslimark?

Reframing a Training Request

Analyzing Performance Problems

The title of today’s post reminds me of the subtitle for R. Mager and P. Pipe’s book – “Or You Really Oughta Wanna”.  Yet, it is by far most the opportune time a Performance Consultant (PC) has to get a HPI (Human Performance Improvement) project going.  But a word of caution is in order.  Please don’t launch into a 15 minute dissertation on the HPI methodology if all they want is a training fix.

Say Yes and …

Never say no to a training request until you know more.  The key is to get more time.  You do this by conducting a performance cause analysis to determine the nature of the discrepancy.  Evidence can be collected from document review examples, deviations, audit observations and follow up “interviews”.   Even if a solution begins to form in your mind, stay on the HPI methodology path and let the data show you the proper answer.  It’s this data that grants a PC a little bit more time.

A Typical Training Request

Begins with an assumption that a lack of knowledge is somehow missing and that “training” is the right solution.  Next, the requestor launches into a list of “required content” and without taking a breath, asks when you can complete the classroom training!  Rather than attempting to explain when training is the right answer, stay calm and in your best professional tone use the following phrases:

  • Okay, have they been trained before?
  • What was that like?
  • I see.  So more of the “same” training will change the results? In what way?

If they continue to insist, then use my favorite one: Okay, but what will they be doing differently as a result of this training session? 

I Need Training for 800 Employees ASAP

A corporate auditor discovered a lack of training records for newly developed Job Aids during a Mock Inspection.  So, the easy fix would be to re-train everyone and then produce the records, right? Notice; however, that the solution is biased towards retraining without discovering why the training was missed in the first place. 

Reframing the request allowed the Performance Consultant to not only find the root cause but to provide both immediate resolution and long term prevention.  The PC never said no to the training request, only that they “wanted to provide the most effective training possible”.   The PC’s part was to expedite a Training Root Cause Analysis and solution recommendations as quickly as possible.  In the end, the HPI approach delivered the solution far quicker than the traditional training approach was originally planned for and the audit observation was closed before the due date!

 NOTE: A more detailed version of this case –“Just Get the Audit Observation Closed Already, Will You?” is now available.

Short Term Value vs. Bottom Line Impact

This situation presented a very real dilemma for the PC.  Provide short term value for the VP of Quality (Requestor) and satisfy the goal to close out the audit observation or find the real root cause to determine what the appropriate solution SHOULD be. In theory, there is no dilemma. The choice is obvious. But in practice, for organizations under intense pressure to take immediate action, short term value can be quite attractive. This is exactly where performance analysis provides a balanced approach.  Isn’t this what HPI is all about – impacting the bottom line? – VB

Recommended blog: “But isn’t this still training?”

Announcing the HPIS C. eBook for Trainers!  

ebook_trng cause analysis
A new HPISC. eBook