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.

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.

From a pair of hands to trusted business partner

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 an expert and eventually to a trusted business partner. 

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

Learn more about how to assess yourself against these competencies.