Reframing a Training Request

When you hear we need a training course on … pay attention!  It is by far the most opportune time a Performance Consultant (PC) has to get an 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. 

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 can you 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? 

Say Yes and …

Never say no to a training request until you know more.  The key is to get more time without actually saying you need 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.

Analyses Du Jour: Isn’t It Really All The Same Things?

There’s root cause analysis and gap analysis and now performance cause analysis? 

Is there a difference?

Do they use different tools? 

It can be overwhelming to decipher through the jargon, no doubt.  I think it depends on which industry you come from and whether your focus is a regulatory/quality system point of view or performance consulting perspective.  To me, it doesn’t change the outcome.  I still want to know why the deviation occurred, how the mistake was made, and /or what allowed the discrepancy to happen.  Mix and matching the tools allows me to leverage the best techniques from all.

Why We Love Root Cause Analysis

For starters, it’s FDA friendly and we get to document our compliance with CAPA requirements.  It allows us to use tools and feel confident that our “data doesn’t lie”.  This bodes well for our credibility with management.  And it provides the strategic connection between our solution (as a corrective action) and site quality initiatives thus elevating the importance and quite possibly the priority for completing the corrective action on time.

But You Have To Ask The Right Questions

The consequence?  Jumping to the wrong conclusion that automatic re-training or refresher training is the needed solution.  Done, checkmark.  On to the next problem that needs a root cause analysis. But when the problem repeats or returns with a more serious consequence, management questions why the training did not transfer, or we wonder what’s wrong with the employee – why is s/he not getting this yet?

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 knowledge transfer and performance gaps. 

So, they tend to fall back on quick-fix solutions that give them a checkmark and “clear their desk” momentarily.  For the few times this strategy works, there are twice as many times when those fixes backfire and the unintended consequences are worse. 

No Time To Do It Right, But Time To Do It Twice!

Solving the problem quickly and rapidly closing the CAPA allows us to get back to our other pressing tasks.  Unfortunately, “band-aids” fall off.  The symptom was only “covered up and temporarily put out of sight”, but the original problem wasn’t solved.  So now, we must investigate again (spend more time) and dig a little deeper.  We have no time to do it right but, we find the time to do it twice.  Madness!

Tired Of Repeat Errors – Ask A Performance Consultant To Help You Design A Better Corrective Action

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 can 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. 

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 and/or a sponsor.

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 Cause Analysis and solution recommendations as quickly as possible. 

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.  If the PC proceeded as requested (directed), the training for 800 employees would not have prevented the deviation from occurring again, leaving the possibility of an FDA investigator discovering the same discrepancy! 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.

Isn’t this what HPI is all about – impacting the bottom line? – VB

Like this blog?

READ: “Just Get the Audit Observation Closed Already, Will You?” to learn what the PC discovered, how she was able to calculate the wasted cost of continuing with the request for training, and what steps were recommended to prevent a recurrence. 

Performance Analysis: the lean approach to solving performance problems

Who is Vivian Bringslimark?

Interested in learning how to flip a training request into a performance consulting project?

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

Wanted: Seeking a business partner who has performance needs

Alan Weiss in his book, Organizational Consulting: How to be an effective internal change agent, recommends that internal consultants avoid what he calls the IRS syndrome – “I’m from the IRS and I’m here to help you”.  Just because you may be an expert in training and are “schooled” in HPI/HPT (Human Performance Technology); you don’t need to alienate your internal customers. 

You want to gain credibility in order to be accepted as a peer and earn their trust.  It’s easy to play it safe and agree with their current point of view when seeking acceptance with a new internal customer.  Contrary to how to win and keep friends, you may need to take an unpopular viewpoint on an issue you feel strongly about.  But don’t just show up only when there is a problem and declare “gotcha” or “I told you so”. 

10 Ways to Earn Trust with Your Client

First You Need To Make Friends With Line Management

One of the best ways to establish a business partner working relationship is to start with line management while you are waiting for your first HPI (Human Performance Improvement) project or during project downtimes.  Spend some time getting to know the folks you are most likely to be engaging with for a future project.   

While the relationship is forming, both parties can begin to share information about each other’s area of responsibilities.  The Performance Consultant (PC) learns more about the manager’s department: work processes that are not robust; performance needs that are both urgent and ongoing and tied to “important” performance requirements.  These could be ideas for improvement. 

During the dialogue, listen for internal challenges such as:

  • supplier snafus,
  • resource-constrained hick-ups,
  • conflicting policies and procedures and
  • other projects that are resulting in more to-do’s. 

Find out if they are also managing regulatory commitments and working on closing out CAPAs and deviations related to training, performance issues, or “Operator Error” mistakes.  These are possible sources of entry points that can move the relationship to potential partner status.  However, be mindful of finding the right balance between suggesting ideas and showcasing your “brilliant” concepts.

Partnering Implies A Two Way Exchange

The PC also shares information about HPI/ HPT (Human Performance Improvement/Technology) at a level of depth that matches the individual’s interest and needs at the time.  Remember, while your goal is to educate them about HPI, you don’t want to lecture to them or overwhelm them with even more tasks for their workload.  According to Mary Board, author of Beyond Transfer of Training: Engaging Systems to Improve Performance; the PC is striving to build a close working relationship that over time can lead to more strategic performance improvement work.  It is not only about getting projects. 

Moving the Relationship to Partner Status

Requests for help/support are bound to surface. To demonstrate support and strengthen the desire to partner, a PC can follow up on discussions by sending additional literary sources such as articles, white papers, and blogs from industry thought leaders.  Another popular activity is to pitch in to help meet a deadline or rebalance their workload.  Mini-projects are certain to follow, next.  It is an excellent way to move the relationship to partner status. 

Keep in mind; however, that it is a JOINT undertaking and not a delegation of tasks to a direct report or a hired temporary employee.  This is where the consulting side of the partnership can begin; leading him/her through decisions and actions using the HPI methodology says Broad. Early conversations around partnering should include:

  • purpose of working together
  • benefits of shared tasks shared outcomes
  • role clarification
  • partnering process explanation and agreement.

Three Consulting Styles

Let’s start with the Pair of HandsThis style of consulting resembles more or less the contractor for hire or long-term temporary employee; sometimes referred to as the permanent temp much to the chagrin of those who hold those positions.  Here the client (or internal customer) retains control of the project from problem identification to solution deployment.  The consultant implements those decisions as if s/he were an extension of the client’s staff.  Hence the expression, an extra pair of hands to delegate the work to.

Three Types of Consulting Styles

There’s the Expert.  Here the consultant assumes most of the control for the project.  The client can still make suggestions while the consultant makes recommendations for the best solution selection.  Ultimately, the expert-consultant decides on the course of action and tells the client what the best path forward.  In this type of consulting relationship, the client wants the expertise of the consultant. 

The third is Collaborator.  This is where the consultant utilizes his/her specialized knowledge and field experience and leverages the client’s knowledge of the operations, including processes and procedures, and the cultural factors.  In this relationship style,  1 + 1 = 3, representing a more synergistic approach to problem solving.  Decisions and implementation plans become shared responsibilities.  This style is often referred to as a business partnership and it is really the only one that changes performance.

The Best Time to Initiate

Ideally, the best time to initiate a relationship is during a current assignment especially when the shared project is going well.   A “project client” is no less important than a business partner, the difference is in the intensity during the life of the project.  A project client is the one who is ultimately accountable for the project results and may not be the one who initiates the project discussion, explains Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson in their book, Strategic Business Partner: Aligning people strategies with business goals

Before you can get access to strategic work, a PC has to prove s/he can deliver on tactical projects that are solution-oriented.  Gaining access starts with cultivating a relationship with project clients.  The secret is not to ignore or bypass the project contact person but to work with him/her to gain access to the project client. 

Suggest that the contact/lead attends meetings with you regarding issues that need to be resolved at the higher level or collaborate on joint update briefings to the leadership team.  By establishing good relations with the contact, access to the project client is less adversarial and demonstrates an authentic approach to getting answers/ direction that was not previously available. 

Project clients can become business partners; one that provides access to strategic initiatives.  Or they can provide introductions to true clients.  If possible, volunteer for activities that will give you visibility with this person while supporting him/her on the assigned project.  They will begin to learn more about your “other” capabilities and your ability to handle more than “assignment at a time” will be confirmed.  And in all your interactions, ensure that they are truly value-added conversations; else you will be perceived as wasting a busy executive’s time.   

Internal vs. External Consultant

I’ve been both and have had success in implementing HPI projects in both environments.  There are pros and cons and tradeoffs.  Whether you are internal to the organization or external (an outsider), Compliance Trainers need to expand their skills sets if they are going to move from a “pair of hands” to expert and eventually to trusted business partner. 

Technical Trainer or Performance Consultant Wanna-be?

As the traditional role of technical trainer evolves into Performance Consultant, the skills needed are evolving as well to keep up with management expectations for alignment with business needs.  To that end, Beverly Scott, author of Consulting on the Inside: An internal consultant’s guide to living and working inside organizations, suggests that internal consultants re-tool with some new skill sets:

  1. Know the business.  Tie solutions and align results to real business issues that add value. Get to know finances.
  2. Identify performance gaps before management does or becomes the focus of a CAPA corrective action.
  3. Become a systems thinker.  HPI is all about systematic performance improvement.
  4. Build skills for the multiple roles a PC performs.  Become known as a change agent, systems thinker, learning strategist.
  5. Pay attention to trends; talk about them.  Watch for relevance for the organization. –VB.

“The ability to give advice as a consultant comes from trust and respect, which are rooted in the relationship”. (Beverly Scott, p.61, 2000).

  • Beverly Scott Consulting on the Inside: An internal consultant’s guide to living and working inside organizations.
  • Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson in their book, Strategic Business Partner: Aligning people strategies with business goals
  • Alan WeissOrganizational Consulting: How to be an effective internal change agent.

Who is the Author, Vivian Bringslimark?

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(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

If the only tool is a hammer …

A hammer is the right tool to drive a nail into wood or dry wall, etc. supporting the adage “right tool for the right job”. Until the closet you installed comes off the wall and you realize that perhaps you needed screws instead or an additional widget to support the anticipated load.

It isn’t until “in-use” performance feedback is collected that the realization of a different tool and additional support mediums are needed. Providing training (as in formal instruction) as the solution to a performance issue is analogous to using a hammer for every job.

Site leaders want business partners who can help them succeed with organizational goals, yearly objectives and solve those pesky performance issues. The more valuable the “trainer-now-known-as-performance-consultant is in that desire, the more access to strategic initiatives. So, the more a trainer wants to be recognized as a business partner to site leaders, the trainer needs to continue to build their “solutions toolbox” that includes more than delivering a training event or LMS completion report.

But I Already Do All That!

A trainer with strong instructional design skills could argue that s/he has loads of experience with 3 of the 4 roles sans solution specialist.  To that end, ADDIE has been the methodology and the foundation for successful training events for years.  A sound training design analyzes needs first. Incorporates change management elements. And includes evaluation activities for level 1 (reaction) and level 2 (learning) of the Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model.  So how hard could it be to master the role of Performance Consultant? 

HPI roles for Perf Consult
A performance consultant wears all these hats.

Does your current trainer have the necessary competencies to tackle the additional performance solutions?  A logical next step is to review the literature that has been published on the multiple roles for a Performance Consultant.  These include Analyst, Change Manager, Solutions Specialist, and Evaluator.  There are more, but let’s start with an overview of these four.    

The PC wears the hat of Analyst when working the business analysis and performance analysis portion of the HPI methodology by honing in with the skill of asking the right questions and being able to analyze all of the contributing factors for performance causes.   This is more than a needs analysis for designing a course. 

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.  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! 

Read:  “Just Get the Audit Observation Closed Already, Will You?”  for a more in-depth description of how a cause analysis provided the true root cause and how the originally proposed training request would not have prevented repeat errors. 

The Solution Specialist role relies heavily upon systems thinking skills and is way beyond the power point training solution.  As a problem solver working the probable causes from the Performance Cause Analysis, s/he opens the toolbox and can look past the “training design tray” into other alternative performance solutions. 

The ATD HPI methodology adapted 6 categories of learning solutions from the work of Dean, Dean, and Rebalsky. Their *1996 study focused on analyzing employee perceptions about which workplace factors would most improve their performance. They categorized these factors into 6 key areas:

This is much more than a hammer in their toolbox. Implementation experience grows with each executed solution and a skilled PC also develops good project management skills.

Capturing SME Secret Sauce 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.  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 or even an OJT session.  Yet, it had everything to do with capturing secret sauce learned on the job. 

Read  “Capturing Secret Sauce of Senior Equipment Operators?” to learn more about the revised project solution and the final outcome.

During implementation, the PC may also have to wear a dual hat of Change Manager.  Process changes, culture change and more require strong facilitation skills and process consultation techniques to manage the different phases of change depending on the nature of the solution and the size of the change impact. 

When Borrowing A Best Practice From Another Department Can Backfire

If having one department of qualified operators is good, then why not duplicate the best practice?  Hmm, sounds reasonable enough, right?  This is exactly what one manager thought after a department re-organization. 

So, she set out to cut-n-paste curricula from manufacturing operators and use for her staff of technicians.  But after months of reminding, little progress was made towards completion of the “cross-training requirements” project. She contacted the PC, and a performance cause analysis was conducted.  The results revealed a few surprises.  In an effort to expedite the cross-training program and hit the ground running, decisions about what to include in the cross training curriculum were done without input of the technicians. 

Read the more detailed version of “I’ve Been Re-org’d. What’s in it for me?” to learn more about those surprises and how this HPI Project was refocused on wellness and motivation as the right fix instead of completing borrowed training curricula.

And the Evaluator role begins to surface with understanding the cultural impact of performance solutions as the solution goes live.  Feedback collection, standards-setting, and re-assessing the performance gap to determine success or additional gap analysis are additional examples of what to expect from this role.

When an FDA Inspection Reveals a Performance Gap with Training on SOPs

During an inspection, FDA Investigators observed multiple departures from SOPs. When they inquired about the training, training records were produced. The investigators then asked, “How do you know your training was effective”? They had witnessed firsthand the performance gap between the set of written instructions and the signed training records. “What then did the operators sign for, the reading of the SOP or that I’m trained to do the task as written?” 

The client could not defend the effectiveness of their training “program” during an extensive FDA inspection.  Clearly the performance solution was going to be more than the mandate to use evaluation sheets or quizzes at the end of SOP Training.  They were routinely performing tasks that did not match the procedures they signed for.  After a thorough performance cause analysis and a comprehensive evaluation of the culture supporting the causes,the solution best matched to the causes was to improve structure and process for an Effective Training Quality System.

Read – Impact Story – “You Changed Our Training Culture” to learn more about what was allowing the performance gap to continue. 

A Word Caution: 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 expectations (as it 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 is available to mailing list subscribers. 

But weren’t they trained and qualified?

Hopefully, employees are trained using an approved OJT 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’s getting in the way of performing “as they should” or in compliance speak – according to the procedure? We need to find out.

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 a 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
  • 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 Robinsons’ 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 re-training event is a nice activity that gives a big red checkmark 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.  (It’s not always the performer’s fault.)

When It’s Not a Skill Deficiency

Examine these four general causes of non-performance triggers:

1. It is punishing to perform as desired.

2. It is rewarding to perform other than as desired.

3. It simply doesn’t matter whether performance is as desired.

4. There are obstacles to performing.

Want to learn more about strategies for these four triggers?

It takes all three to correct a performance problem

The 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”.

The role of Performance Consultant requires more variety of skills and depth of project experiences.  While training solutions are part of the PC toolkit, a training manager’s toolbox typically does not offer other performance solutions.   It’s usually a hammer when a swiss army knife is what’s needed. – VB 

Dean, PJ,Dean,MR,Rebalsky,RM. (1996) Performance Improvement Quarterly, 9(2), 75-89.

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

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

Rothwell, WJ. Editor, ASTD Models for Human Performance Improvement: Roles, Competencies, Outputs. 2nd Ed, 1999.

Weiss, A. Organizational Consulting: How to be an effective internal change agent, USA, Wiley, 2003.  

Comments welcomed, feedback appreciated.

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Who is the Author, Vivian Bringslimark?

HPISC Impact Stories that describes performance consulting projects

So you were looking for the silver bullet and somehow the fix didn’t really solve the problem?

Vivian can help you diagnose why and suggest a different approach that is more effective.

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

What’s the difference between Trainers and Performance Consultants?

Aren’t they one and the same?

 Since the original release of this blog in 2014, it continues to be the # 1 blog viewed on the Theory vs. Practice blog spot.  Thank you to all the viewers and future viewers.  This tells me that the question is still relevant today in 2021. 

Just another fancy title?

Some leaders think there is no difference; that we’ve just added one more title into the crowded lexicon of L&D jargon.  And others believe that performance consultants (PCs) want to expand their scope, budget and timelines.  And some simply hear excuses about why the requested training “course” is not immediately being embraced. 

Dana Gaines Robinson in her seminal book, Performance Consulting, provides 6 items to use when comparing a Trainer/Training event and a PC/performance-based solution.  Allow me to expand upon the 6 elements to illustrate the difference between the two and the depth of impact one has over the other.  

FOCUS

Training addresses the learning needs of employees.  Various definitions include closing the knowledge and skill gap of what they know now and what they know afterward.  It’s built on the assumption that the cause of the gap is a lack of knowledge and skill.  Performance Consulting addresses the business goals and performance needs of the affected employees.  Instructor-led training is just one of the possible solutions that can be used; not the only one. See HPI 6 “boxes” of performance solutions. 

OUTPUTS

A training solution delivers a structured learning event.  Whether it is a classroom or virtual or self-led, the event itself is the end goal. The assumption is that learning occurred and knowledge gained so, therefore, a change in behavior or in the learners’ performance should occur as well.  

Performance Consulting or Human Performance Improvement (HPI) projects are implemented to improve performance.  The end goal is not about the solution such as the specific HPI Project, but rather a positive change in performance that leads to the achievement of the business goal.  The endpoint is “further down the road”.  So it takes longer to produce the results. This frustrates site leadership.  They would rather check off the box that a learning event was delivered because it’s more tangible and occurs faster than quarterly metrics. 

ACCOUNTABILITY

With training, the Trainer is held accountable for the event.  In a lot of organizations, there is an implied but not spoken accountability for the results back on the job despite that Trainers lack the authority to direct their learners’ actions back in the workspace.  Without the proper systems and support mechanisms in place, many Trainers get “blamed” for training transfer failure.  Here’s the big difference for me. 

Performance Consultants (PCs) partner with their internal customers, system owners, and business leaders in support of the business goals.  The accountability for improved performance becomes shared across the relationships.

Differences between Training and Performance Consultants
ASSESSMENTS

Trainers typically conduct a needs analysis to design the best learning “program” or course possible.  Again, the assumption is that a learning course will close the training gap. When the directive comes from a senior leader in the organization, it is hard to initiate a dialogue about human performance improvement.  That is probably the least successful time to educate the leader.

PCs conduct performance gaps to assess causes that can go beyond knowledge and skills.  It’s called a performance cause analysis and often reveals other contributing factors that a training course cannot and will not fix. To a compliance trainer or quality systems professional, this sounds a lot like root cause analysis. 

Why we love root cause analysis

We get to document our compliance with CAPA requirements.  It allows us to use tools and feel confident that our “data doesn’t lie”.  This bodes well for our credibility with management.  And it provides the strategic connection between our HPI solution (as a corrective action) and the business goal.  This collected data can become the baseline for measuring the effectiveness of the chosen solution later on.   CAPA= Corrective Actions Preventive Actions.

The outcome of a performance analysis produces a 3 tiered picture of what’s encouraging or blocking performance for the worker, work tasks, and/or the workplace. And what must be done about it at these same three levels.  The solutions then become tailored to the situation, coordinated across the organization, and executed consistently over time.

MEASURES

Trainers very often use course evaluation sheets as a form of measurement.  In the Compliance Training arena, knowledge checks and quizzes have also become the norm.  Caution.  A learner can achieve 100% of the learning objectives and still fail to perform the skills necessary to achieve the business outcomes.  This is also known as a failure to transfer training or the learning objectives. PCs measure the effect on performance improvement and achievement of business objectives.

ORGANIZATIONAL GOALS

This is another key differentiator.  Training is viewed as a cost typically.  Compliance Trainers are all too familiar with the phrase, “GMP Training is a necessary evil”.  And more recently, compliance training has become synonymous with check the box training and “just get ‘er done”. PCs become business partners in solving performance gaps and accomplishing organizational goals.

But isn’t this still training?

Managers and leaders really all the benefits that come from performance consulting, but they don’t have the patience for it especially when many of the solutions end up looking like a “training event”.

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

Then it must be training, right? Not exactly. But nod your head anyway; at least they are still engaged with you!  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, work on raising their awareness with your early projects and successes.  From your success, you can bridge to an explanation about HPI and gain more support for HPI projects. 

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

Most folks will envision instructor-led classrooms, virtual instructor-led, and formal eLearning courses. Their frame of reference is 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?  You may have several examples of differentiating levels of depth.

What’s your organization’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 a worthy impact on the bottom line when the performance gap closes.  Is this training, you tell me?

 I believe that this is what training is supposed to provide when you perform the proper cause analysis and identify what the business wants to achieve by resolving the performance gap. How would you explain it to your requestor?

Wait a minute. What is worthy performance?

Thomas Gilbert described it as engineering worthy performance in his groundbreaking book, Human Competence: Engineering worthy performance.   It’s when the cost of doing the task is less than the value of the results generated.  When they are the same or greater, we have a performance gap.  The eBook, “Triggering the Shift to Performance Improvement” is a short primer that explains human performance to management.

After the business analysis is conducted, the performance analysis (PA) follows next.  PA recognizes that performance occurs within organizational systems.  It is not a training needs analysis.  The emphasis during a PA is on first recognizing the drivers and barriers that get in the way of worthy performance.  The method gathers multiple perspectives on the problem, not just content for a training course. 

Human Performance Improvement Solutions is like opening up Pandora’s Box

Very often the recommended HPI solution(s) involves integration of linkages outside of the initiating department but within those same “organizational and quality systems” in order to ensure sustainable performance improvement. Otherwise, you have a fragment of the solution with high expectations for solving “the problem” which often falls short of performance improvement.

This requires cooperation of others

How solid are these relationships?  Would a request to fix someone else’s system go over well?   Or would you be reproached of starting a turf battle?  HPI projects have the potential of opening up unsettling issues similar to Pandora’s Box.  Image, perception, pending promotions, can all be impacted by what the Performance Analysis reveals, including the fear of losing one’s job.  And yet, this very opportunity to engineer worthy performance is what makes these projects so valuable for impactful results. 

HPI Project vs. a Training Event

Conclusion

A training solution closes a knowledge and skill gap, wonderful.  Rarely is lack of knowledge the only factor contributing to poor performance.  A performance solution may include a training piece, but it also closes a gap in Job Performance which in turn can close a gap in a Process Performance and resolve a gap in Business Results. That’s what an HPI project/solution does differently than a training solution. Being able to show this kind of impact on the business as a result of the work a Performance Consultant does go a long way to earning business leaders’ trust.  –VB

References:

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

Gilbert T Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance. San Francisco: ISPI, Pfeiffer; Tribute Edition, 2007.

HPISC Library has articles, impact stories, and white papers.

Performance Analysis: the lean approach to solving performance problems

HPISC eBooklet: Trigger the Shift in Performance Improvement

So your retraining corrective action didn’t produce the results you wanted. And now it’s really becoming an urgent issue. I can help with your “Urgent Request”.

Who is Vivian Bringslimark?

Comments Welcomed, Feedback appreciated.

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(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

Why Do CAPAs Fail Their Effectiveness Checks?

When we start talking about deviations and CAPAs, we can’t help having a sidebar discussion about root causes and more specifically the rant about finding the true root cause.  I intentionally skipped that content in the previous blog.  It was my intention to kick off the new Deviation and CAPAs blog series by first looking at deviations by themselves.  And the learning opportunities deviations can provide us about the state of control for our quality systems.  From those deviations and ensuing CAPA investigations, I ask you this: are we improving anything for the long term (aka prevention).  Are we making any progress towards sustaining those improvements?

Corrective Actions Preventive Actions (CAPA) Steps

Let’s step back a moment and quickly review typical steps for CAPAs:

CAPA Components

The purpose of an Effectiveness Check (EC) is for verifying or validating that actions taken were effective and do not adversely affect product, device or process.  It goes beyond the statement in the investigation form to include a follow-up activity that closes the loop on the specific CAPA. 

If an effectiveness check fails, meaning the CA/PA was not effective or another deviation /nonconforming incident has occurred, we go back to the beginning and either start again or in most cases, we re-open the investigation.  The pressing question is why did the EC fail?  Almost instinctively, we believe that we did not find the true root cause.  Perhaps. 

Was there a rush to close the investigation?  Probably. 

Did the investigation team grab the first probable cause as the root cause because the “problem” felt familiar?  Maybe.

Or is it a case of a fix that backfired into unintended consequences? Possibly. I will also suggest that the CA/PA may not have been aligned properly.

Ask these 3 questions about CA/PAs

  • Is the CA/PA Appropriate? The focus of this question is about the affected people.  What is the size of this audience? Is it mainly one person or groups of people?

Can the CA/PA be executed efficiently?  Is it for one site or multiple sites?

  • Is the CA/PA Economical? What budget is available?

Is it a “cheap” fix or a 3 – 6 month project? Or an expensive solution of more than 6 months and will need capital expenditure funding?

  • Is the CA/PA Feasible? The real question is about the timeline.

            Need it fast – within 3 months or

            Have time – don’t need until more than 3 months from now.

And then there is the unspoken 4th question – is the CA/PA “political”?  I experienced first hand what happens to CAPAs that are politically oriented.  Most of them failed their ECs.  Request “Can You Stay a Little While Longer”. The best CAPAs are the ones that map back to the root cause.

Introducing the HPISC CAPA Performance Chain

On the left-hand side, you will recognize the 3 traditional tasks to complete.  After the EC is written, trace upwards to ensure that the EC maps back to the CA/PA and that the CA/PA maps back to the root cause; hence, the bottom-up arrow.  On the right-hand side are performance improvement activities that I use as a Performance Consultant (PC) to bring another dimension to the CAPA investigation, namely, Human Performance Improvement (HPI). 

Before I can write the root cause statement, I examine the “problem” also known as a Performance Discrepancy or an incident and I conduct a Cause Analysis that forces me to take a three tiered approach (the worker, the work tasks, the workplace) for the possible causes and not get bogged down in observable symptoms only. 

The Performance Solution is more appropriately matched to the identified gap. In theory, this is what the corrective action(s) is supposed to do as well. During the performance solution planning, determination of success and what forms of evidence will be used happens with key stakeholders.  So that collecting the data happens as planned, not as an afterthought, and the effectiveness is evaluated as discussed.    

What can we really control?

In RCA/CAPA meetings, I often hear about what management should do to fix the working conditions or how most of the operator errors are really managements’ fault for not taking the culture factor seriously enough.  While there may be some evidence to back that up, can we really control, reduce or eliminate the human factor?  Perhaps a future blog on understanding human errors will be released.

Management Can:

  • Design work situations that are compatible with human needs, capabilities and limitations
  • Carefully match employees with job requirements
  • Reward positive behaviors
  • Create conditions that optimize performance
  • Create opportunities to learn and grow professionally.

Clues for Failed Effectiveness Checks

One of the first activities to perform for a failed EC is to evaluate the effectiveness check statement.  I have read some pretty bizarre statements that challenge whether the EC was realistic to achieve at all. The conditions under which we expect people to perform must be the same as the conditions we evaluate them during an EC review.  So why would we set ourselves up to fail by writing ECs that don’t match normal workplace routines? What, because it looked good in the investigation report and it got the CAPA approved quicker?

Next, trace back each of the CAPA tasks to identify where to begin the re-investigation.  I also suggest that a different root cause analysis tool be used. And this is exactly what we did while I was coaching a cohort of Deviations Investigators.

 Future blogs will discuss RCA tools in more detail. -VB

Did you know that Vivian teaches 3 courses on Human Errors?

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

The Big Why for Deviations

As part of my #intentionsfor2019, I conducted a review of the past 10 years of HPIS Consulting.  Yes, HPISC turned 10 in August of 2018, and I was knee deep in PAI activities.  So there was no time for celebrations or any kind of reflections until January 2019, when I could realistically evaluate HPISC: vision, mission, and the big strategic stuff.  My best reflection exercise had me remembering the moment I created HPIS Consulting in my mind.

Human Performance Improvement (HPI) and Quality Systems

One of the phases for HPI work is a cause analysis for performance discrepancies.  The more I learned how the HPI methodology manages this phase the more I remarked on how similar it is to the Deviation /CAPA Quality System requirements.  And I found the first touch point between the two methodologies.  My formal education background and my current quality systems work finally united.  And HPIS Consulting (HPISC) became an INC.  

In my role of Performance Consultant (PC), I leverage the best techniques and tools from both methodologies.  Not just for deviations but for implementing the corrective actions sometimes known as HPI solutions.  In this new HPISC blog series about deviations, CAPAs, and HPI, I will be sharing more thoughts about HPISC touch points within the Quality Systems. For now, lets get back to Big Why for deviations.

Why are so many deviations still occurring? Have our revisions to SOPs and processes brought us farther from a “State of Control”? I don’t believe that is the intention. As a Performance Consultant, I consider deviations and the ensuing investigations rich learning opportunities to find out what’s really going on with our Quality Systems.

The 4 cross functional quality systems

At the core of the “HPISC Quality Systems Integration Triangle” is the Change Control system.  It is the heartbeat of the Quality Management System providing direction, guidance and establishing the boundaries for our processes.  The Internal Auditing System is the health check similar to our annual physicals; the read outs indicate the health of the systems.  Deviations/CAPAs are analogous to a pulse check where we check in at the current moment and determine whether we are within acceptable ranges or reaching action levels requiring corrections to bring us back into “a state of control”.  And then there is the Training Quality System, which in my opinion is the most cross-functional system of all.  It interfaces with all employees; not just the Quality Management System.  And so, it functions like food nourishing our systems and fueling sustainability for corrections and new programs.

Whether you are following 21CFR211.192 (Production Record Review) or ICHQ7 Section 2 or  820.100 (Corrective and Preventive Action), thou shall investigate any unexplained discrepancy and a written record of the investigation shall be made that includes the conclusion and the follow up. Really good investigations tell the story of what happen and include a solid root cause analysis revealing the true root cause(s) for which the corrective actions map back to nicely.  Thus, making the effectiveness checks credible. In theory, all these components flow together smoothly.  However, with the continual rise of deviations and CAPAs, the application of the Deviation /CAPA Management system is a bit more challenging for all of us.  

Remember the PA in C-A-P-A?

Are we so focused on the corrective part and the looming due dates we’ve committed to, that we are losing sight of the preventive actions? Are we rushing through the process to meet imposed time intervals and due dates that we kind of “cross our fingers and hope” that the corrective actions fix the problem without really tracing the impact of the proposed corrective solutions on the other integrated systems? Allison Rossett, author of First Things Fast: a handbook for performance analysis, explains that performance occurs within organizational systems and the ability to achieve, improve and maintain excellent performance, depends on integrated components of other systems that involve people. 

Are we likewise convincing ourselves that those fixes should also prevent re-occurrence? Well, that is until a repeat deviation occurs and we’re sitting in another root cause analysis meeting searching for the real root cause.  Thomas Gilbert, in his groundbreaking book, Human Competence: engineering worthy performance tells us, that it’s about creating valuable results without using excessive cost.  In other words, “worthy performance” happens when the value of business outcomes exceeds the cost of doing the tasks.  The ROI of a 3-tiered approach to solving the problem the first time, happens when employees achieve their assigned outcomes that produce results greater than the cost of “the fix”. 

Performance occurs within three tiers

So, donning my Performance Consulting “glasses”, I cross back over to the HPI methodology and open up the HPI solutions toolbox.  One of those tools is called a Performance Analysis (PA). This tool points us in the direction of what’s not working for the employee, the job tasks a/or the workplace. The outcome of a performance analysis produces a 3 tiered picture of what’s encouraging or blocking performance for the worker, work tasks, and/or the work environment and what must be done about it at these same three levels.  

Root cause analysis (RCA) helps us understand why the issues are occurring and provides the specific gaps that need fixing.  Hence, if PA recognizes that performance occurs within a system, then performance solutions need to be developed within those same “systems” in order to ensure sustainable performance improvement.  Otherwise, you have a fragment of the solution with high expectations for solving “the problem”.  You might achieve short-term value initially, but suffer a long-term loss when performance does not change or worsens. Confused between PA, Cause Analysis and RCA? Read the blog – analysis du jour.

Thank goodness Training is not the only tool in the HPI toolbox!   With corrective actions /HPI solutions designed with input from the 3 tiered PA approach, the focus shifts away from the need to automatically re-train the individual(s), to implementing a solution targeted for workers, the work processes and the workplace environment that will ultimately allow a successful user adoption for the changes/improvements.   What a richer learning opportunity than just re-reading the SOP! -VB

  • Allison Rossett, First Things Fast: a handbook for Performance Analysis; 2nd edition 
  • Thomas F. Gilbert, Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance
You might want to also read:

Are you worthy of your line partner’s trust?

As Performance Consultants (PCs) continue to demonstrate their character and competence, their line leaders begin to trust them more and more.

From those initial getting-to-you-know-you chats to requests for help discussions, the give trust and return trust has been reciprocated and continues to strengthen the relationship. With each request/opportunity, PCs are demonstrating their character traits and further developing their Human Performance Improvement (HPI) technical competence and experience.

Following the HPI/HPT model gives the PC the ability to articulate the big picture of how this request, this performance gap, this project, relates to organizational goals thus illustrating a strategic mindset. And by following the related methodology, PCs demonstrate strong project management skills while implementing changes systematically; not just a quick course to fix a perceived knowledge gap or motivation problem.

So PCs become worthy of receiving their partners’ trust.  Line partners in exchange merit their trust by giving it. Are you trustworthy as a Performance Consultant? Do you have the necessary competencies to tackle the additional performance solutions? Stay tuned for more blogs on what those competencies are and why they are so helpful for PCs.  -VB

References:
Covey,SR. The 8th Habit: From effectiveness to greatness, USA, Free Press, 2004.

Weiss, A. Organizational Consulting: How to be an effective internal change agent, USA, Wiley, 2003.

First, make “friends” with line management

 One of the best ways to establish a working relationship is to start with line management while you are waiting for your first HPI (Human Performance Improvement) project or during project downtimes.  Spend some time getting to know the folks you are most likely to be engaging with for a future project.

This blog has been merged with Wanted: Seeking a business partner with performance needs.

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

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

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 “clear their desk” momentarily.  For the few times this strategy works, there are twice as many times when those fixes backfire and the unintended consequences are worse.

This blog has now been merged with Reframing a Training Request.

The direct link to Tired of Repeat Deviations.

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.