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
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”.
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:
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
partnering process explanation and agreement.
Three Consulting Styles
Let’s start with the Pair of Hands. This 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.
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:
Know the business. Tie solutions and align results to real business issues that add value. Get to know finances.
Identify performance gaps before management does or becomes the focus of a CAPA corrective action.
Become a systems thinker. HPI is all about systematic performance improvement.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
In part one of this impact story, we meet Pam who happened to take a peek at the live Qualified Trainer’s Workshop session only to discover some serious departures from the agreed upon content from her vendor. We also meet Robert, a direct report of Pam, who’s not really encouraged about re-designing their Qualified Trainer Workshop course ….
Will the real objective please stand up?
The PC noticed the change in Robert’s level of participation. So she asked a few more clarifying questions. “Robert, is the goal of the course to produce better OJT checklists or is it to ensure that all QTs deliver the OJT Methodology consistently?” she asked. Before Robert could respond, Pam responded with “consistent OJT methodology”. Robert unenthusiastically chimed in. Sensing that was not going to be his answer, the PC requested that they refer to the rankings worksheet.
“We ranked ‘Development of OJT Checklists’ quite high and are devoting a serious % of classroom time to achieve this performance objective,” the PC reported. “Is this not as important as the OJT methodology?” she continued. “Yes, of course”, they both responded.
“So let me ask the next question, are all QTs going to be required to generate OJT checklists as well?” Robert lowered his voice and explained his no response.
“So while OJT checklists rank high as a consequence for the organization, is it appropriate to use this much classroom time for something most of them will not be required to complete AFTER the course is over?” inquired the PC.
“But it’s good for them to understand how they are generated and if asked to write one, they’ll know how to do it”, responded Robert very rapidly and with heightened energy.
At this point Pam took the lead and asked the next question. “Robert, why are we not requiring the QTs to write at least one OJT checklist?”
“Oh gosh, their managers will not give them the time and when they rush these, I have to send them all back!” he moaned.
“So, why don’t we have a conversation with the managers?” questioned Pam.
“Been there, done that and it never works! Why can’t we just tell them how to do it in the workshop?” Robert whined.
Pam sighed and waited for Robert to continue. He eventually acquiesced and agreed to contact a few of the managers to confirm QT responsibilities and the manager’s expectations for their QTs post-workshop. Much to his surprise, the discussions went well. So Robert provided them with an update on the timeline for the course delivery and asked for their advanced endorsement for the workshop.
At the next meeting, Robert shared how successful the managers meetings went and that he hosted several more than he originally anticipated. With the managers support for the revised course, the outline of the new course was finalized. The duration went from 3 full days to 1.5 days with the OJT checklists and the qualifying demonstrations taking on a heighted importance as the final outcomes of the workshop.
End Results – Cut Course Content by 50% with better post workshop results!
Pam was estatic. “I can’t believe we could develop a better course in less time and have QTs more prepared to deliver OJT than I ever imagined, especially after I fired my first guy.And the course evaluations reflect very happy campers”, she added during their debriefing call. Robert was truly amazed with the change in energy for the demonstrations and was delighted overall with how the new design came together. “I’m already looking forward to the next round”, he exclaimed.
Momentum Continues to Grow
The workshop follow up three months later revealed even more positive indicators of change. Robert reported back to the team, that the number of first time OJT checklist returns were significantly down; only a handful were now being returned for complete re-writes. And for those needing minor tweaks, either he could fix them himself or have the SME fix them easily after a brief discussion. Since all employees were up to date with training requirements, no new OJT sessions were scheduled but Pam and Robert were anticipating a ramp up again later in the year.
Lesson Learned / Insights
While Robert is the Training Supervisor, he had never been formally trained in instructional design. For years, this gap was mitigated by either outside vendors or internally developed materials using Power Point and a few good books on design. Robert held on to the notion that if he included content in the course, the participants would “learn and use it” when they returned to their jobs. For him, as long as the course met the learning objectives, his training was successful. This was their metric for years.
But the PC carefully guided him and Pam to stretch past learning objectives and to focus the design on helping the QTs to successfully use the tools and checklists after the workshop. She helped them recall that “the end in mind” was to align with the overall business goals and the corporate quality objective.
In order for Pam and Robert to be successful, they had to “fall out of love” with their own content. This meant being disciplined to not add “they need to know this too” content and focus on the content that ranked high enough to warrant classroom face time. It also required additional exercises and practice time be added to the course clock to ensure techniques were properly reinforced. In the end, all were rewarded for their hard work.
“[Learning objectives] help drive the results of projects, clarify expectations, secure commitment and make for a much more effective program or project.” “If business results are desired, a program or project should have application, impact, and, in some cases ROI objectives.”  Seeking agreement with stakeholders on the performance objectives prior to project launch is the key mechanism to ensure transfer and impact on business goals occurs.
HPIS Consulting, Inc. is a quality systems training and performance improvement consulting firm specializing in linking learning to strategically transfer back on the job that improves departmental performance.
For companies who are required to have standard operating procedures (SOPs), managing changes and ensuring affected employees are up to date is a constant challenge. Especially for companies whose weekly revision churn rate is from 10 to 150+ revisions. The standard approach is to “get ‘em done” in the fastest amount of time. The end goal for most people is the proverbial (√) and lots of records claiming “read and understood” the procedure.
Has this situation ever happened to you? You are in a root cause meeting and the *CAPA Investigator is conducting an interview with the primary individual involved with the discrepancy. When questioned why did this happen, he shrugs first and then quietly mumbles I don’t know. When pushed further, he very slowly says I just kind of went brain dead for a moment. And then silence.
I don’t know why is not operator error
While that may be the honest truth, the investigator must resist the temptation to label it as Operator Error and instead explore possible causes. One of my favorite root cause analysis tools for “I Don’t Know Why” response is to use the Fish Bone Diagram also known as the 4 M’s diagram.
This tool provides a structured focus to explore many possibilities and not just stop at the first plausible cause; such as Operator Error. Aptly nicknamed, the 4 M’s are Man, Machine, Methods, and Materials. When the results of this exercise point to a training or operator-related issue, don’t stop at “operator error –> retrain”.
Consider for a moment, what this retraining session would look like. Will re-reading the procedure be enough to “jog his memory”? Will repeating the procedure be a good use of precious time when s/he already knows what to do? More than likely it won’t prevent “going brain dead” from happening again. Instead, do the HPISC Training 2 Step:
Step 1 – confirm the results of the gap analysis
Ask: What task, what step(s) or actions are in question?
Step 2 – address why the original training did not transfer back to the job.
Using the 4 M’s diagram as the framework, explore Man, Machine, Methods, and Materials questions with regards to the training this operator receives. See diagram below.
Is this really worth it?
I think it is. Conducting these 2 steps will accomplish two objectives. It will provide further evidence that some kind of training is needed. And it will highlight what areas are in need of revising either for the performer, the training program or course materials.
Yet, there are some who will resist this added work because it’s easier to find blame than to uncover the cause. Fixing the true root cause could trigger a re-validation of the process or an FDA filing if it’s a major process change. Why create more work? Isn’t it easier to just retrain ‘em? No, not really. Finding the true root cause is the only effective way of eliminating many of the costly, recurring problems that can plague manufacturers.
But what if
Some folks will push back with the excuse – “this never caused a problem until now”, so it must be the operator’s fault! This may be the first time it was discovered but that does not mean the procedure is 100% accurate. Often, experienced operators know how to work around an incorrect step and don’t always report a misstep in the procedure while a less savvy operator follows the procedure and causes the non-conformance to occur. See Sidebar SOP Logic Rules.
Is the procedure difficult, lengthy or requires weeks to become proficient let alone qualified? Was the qualification routine or performed as a simulation? Was the procedure written with support from a lead operator or qualified trainer? Did the draft version undergo some kind of field test or dry run prior to release? And the classic situation, are proposed changes hung up in change control awaiting effective release?
Understanding why human errors occur
Industry practice is evolving to explore why people make the decisions they do by looking at the Organization’s systems. It’s usually a poor decision made somewhere in the error chain. We must believe that the person who made the poor decision did not intend for the error to occur. As part of CAPA investigations, we need to explore their physical environment as well; the conditions under which they make those decisions. The Training Program Improvement Checklist can be requested to capture your findings.
If you are going to spend time and money on training, at least identify what the gap is; fix that and then “train” or provide awareness on what was corrected to prevent the issue from re-occurring again. That is after all, the intention of *Corrective Action Preventive Action investigations. -VB
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 detail.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge fan of both these methods especially for training related errors. However, there are a lot of other quality tools in the problem solving toolbox that aren’t as popularly used. In this blog, I will continue part two of the previous blog, RCA Meetings vs. Problem Solving Discussions in which I presented an alternative problem-solving model that helps investigators take a deeper dive into understanding the problem first (#1), then asking a series of questions to generate possible causes (#2) that move from the event trigger to patterns to systems glitches.
So many tools, so little time!
Before Google became a verb, the best way to learn about a problem-solving tool was to ask someone, ask to borrow his or her “The Memory Jogger” pocket guide, or wait patiently to take your course. Getting information at your fingertips instantly is no longer a barrier. But the consequence of too many available tools can lead to confusion and indecision resulting in sticking to what is familiar instead. One way to mitigate the bewilderment is to choose these tools by which stage the investigation is in and whether the team needs to analyze the process or the collected data.
Where are you in the investigation?
Are you exploring and just learning more about the triggering event? Are you generating possible causes and need an organized decision making technique? Or are you verifying and eliminating causes? Refreshing on the purpose of the tool helps the Lead Investigator make the right tool choice. Consider the Job Aid: Which Tool to Use When?
WHAT IS THE ASSIGNABLE CAUSE?
Just because the team has generated more than one possible cause does not mean that one of them has to be the root cause by default. Has the team asked the “second right answer”? Charles “Chic” Thompson, in his book, What a Great Idea, explains that we’ve been trained to look for the right answer, to seek the one and only answer, ever since we started school. Instead, he suggests that we ease “into a new frame of mind” by asking a host of questions in search of potential solutions. Included in this perspective, is asking, “dumb” but penetrating questions that lead to finding “the true source of bottlenecks buried deep in habitual routines of the firm”.
When the team
has really explored all possible causes, then it’s time to switch tools and use
data analysis tools such as histograms, run/control charts, and/or scatter
“A fishbone represents opinions. Opinions must be verified with facts before action to change is taken.”
Waste Chasers: A Pocket Companion to Quality and Productivity, p.43.
Pareto charts can be very helpful when you need to display the relative
importance of all of the conditions in order to identify the basic cause of the
problem. It helps the team to focus on
those causes that will have the greatest impact if solved. The team has to agree on the most probable cause
aka the root cause. One of the best
decision making tools I’ve experienced is Nominal Group Technique. NGT provides a way to give everyone in the
group/team an equal voice in the selection.
Team members rank the items without being pressured by others. Therefore, it builds commitment to the team’s
choice through equal participation in the process.
What is the solution?
One of the
most versatile tools in the arsenal is brainstorming. It’s quick; it’s easy to administer and
almost everyone has experienced a session or two. We like it because it is an efficient way to
generate a lot of ideas that are free of criticism and judgment when
At this point in the investigation, some members on the team finally get to share their ideas on how to solve the problem. For teams pressed for time, having already made ideas sounds like a gift ready to be opened. And yet, there can be a tendency to allow the eager problem solvers to dominate the discussion and solution path forward.
A nice warm up exercise prior to the solution brainstorm, is to assign an individual idea map first. By mapping individuals’ own thoughts first, they are not lost to the group’s brainstorming results when the time comes to participate in the session. The original ideas, thoughts, and even impulses can be easily shared since they have already been captured in their own idea map.
For teams stuck in the “same old way” mindset or wrestling with a frustrating repeat problem, try switching up the brainstorm trigger word. For example, the trigger word “when solved” can help us work backwards. Or use the opposite trigger word and brainstorm on ideas to make it true. Try a random trigger word or a metaphorical trigger phrase such as (the problem …) is like … the day after a vacation when … . I’ve seen amazing idea maps resulting from stepping up the brainstorming trigger words. If the team is still stuck, compare all of the maps to look for commonalities or common themes. And sometimes you just have to change your shoes or take a walk outside to shift your thoughts.
What is the best way to implement the solution?
Now, the team is responsible for bringing their ideas into reality aka the corrective actions / CAPA Plan. One of my favorite tools is the Force Field Analysis when the team is working on corrective actions. The tool helps team members to identify forces and factors that will support or work against the solution of an issue so that the positives can be reinforced and /or the negatives eliminated or reduced. It forces the team to think through all the aspects of making the desired change a permanent one.
“After falling in love with your idea, you must also be prepared to fall out of love.”
Charles Thompson, What A Great Idea, p.161.
Now Just Do It
corrective action(s) may be the longest duration depending upon the scope of
the project and therefore needs to be managed using project management
techniques. And that could be the basis
of another blog series.
Close the Investigation
Before the investigation can be closed, the effectiveness check needs to be performed and evaluated as described in the CAPA plan. Over the course of the incident and its CAPA, the story evolves. This is normal and expected especially as we learn more. To an outsider reviewing the investigation report, the story and all the supporting evidence has to be understandable, even to someone internal to the organization but not involved in the investigation, the CAPA or the project.
Investigator must review the entire file one more time to finalize the problem
statement and confirm the cause statement given what is known at this final
point of the investigation. The
following is a list of questions to ask:
the report easy to follow? Is there a logical flow?
the report free of unnecessary documentation? Is it uncluttered?
there sufficient information to back up the investigation, results and the
the report support decisions about product disposition?
Part One of this blog suggested the use of a more creative problem-solving approach to help us see our problems using systems thinking perspective. Systems Thinkers understand complex relationships and their interdependencies. They step up and take responsibility to fix the problem.
In part two,
I suggested different problem solving tools to use depending on the investigation
stage and the team’s task. As a
Performance Consultant, the problem solving approach and the plethora of
“quality” tools has me excited about identifying the true root cause and
implementing systematic solutions as the corrective actions because we have to
get better at solving our problems. System
puts a problem into a context of the larger whole with the objective of finding the most effective place to make an appropriate change and
it can help us identify and respond to a series of changes before those changes lead to more unwanted deviations and CAPAs.
Isn’t that the purpose of the PA in CAPA, the preventive actions? -VB