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.

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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”.

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Retraining and Refresher Training: Aren’t they one in the same?

I say no, not at all. Ask an Operations Manager and he’ll acknowledge that what it’s called is less important than getting the “assignment” done and entered into the LMS. He’s usually more concerned about the loss of productivity during the training than the effectiveness of the training at that time. It isn’t until later when the training may have to be delivered again (repeated), that the comment “training doesn’t really work” is heard.

Retraining is typically delivered as repeat training. Corrective Actions from *CAPAs usually trigger these types of required training events. In the context of the specific CAPA, we uncover the error, mistake, non-conformance, or what I like to call performance discrepancy from the expected outcome. It is believed that by delivering the training again, the cause of the discrepancy will be resolved. That is if the root cause was determined to be a lack of knowledge, skill, or not enough practice.

Retraining Quote

Some folks believe that more is better and that with several repeated training sessions, employees will eventually get it right. It always amazes me that we find time to do repeat training over and over again but complain very loudly for refresher training, significant **SOP revision training or even new content training.   (*Corrective Actions Preventive Actions, **Standard Operating Procedures).

Refresher Training implies that training was already provided at least once. The intention here is to review on that content.   A lot of regulatory training requirements are generated to satisfy this need. Common examples are Annual GMP Refreshers and several OSHA standards such as Blood Borne Pathogens training. While the aim is to refresh on the content, it is not necessarily meant to just repeat the training. Also included is the part – “so as to remain current” with current practice, trends and new updates. Hence, refresher training needs to include new material based on familiar content.

Upon Biennial SOP Review

There are some folks who would like to use this required SOP activity to coincide with the need to “refresh” on SOPs already read and/or trained. The rationale being that if the SOP hasn’t revved in 2 or 3 years time, more than likely the training hasn’t been repeated either. So, it sounds like a good idea to require that SOPs be “refreshed” upon using the same SOP cycle. One could argue for the prevention of errors; thus, in theory, this sounds very proactive.

But donning my Instructional Designer Hat, I ask you, what is the definition of training – to close a knowledge gap or skill gap. What value is there for forcing a mandatory “refresher reading” on SOPs just because the procedure is due for technical review? In practice, this becomes one huge check mark exercise leading to a paper work /LMS backlog and might actually increase errors due to “information overload”! Again, what gap are you trying to solve? In the above refresher scenario, we are avoiding a compliance gap by satisfying regulatory requirements.

Refresher Retraining

Defending Your Training Process

For those of you who have fielded questions from regulators, you can appreciate how the very training record produced generates follow up questions.   How you describe the conditions under which the training occurred or is “labeled” can impact the message you are sending as well. Calling it retraining instead of refresher training implies that training had to be repeated as a result of a performance problem not meeting expectations or standards. Whereas refresher training occurs at a defined cycle to ensure that the forgetting curve or lack of practice is not a factor of poor performance. It is a routine activity for satisfying regulatory expectations.

For end-users, clarifying the difference between refresher training and “repeat” training in your Policy/SOP not only defines the purpose of the training session but also provides the proper sequence of steps to follow to ensure maximum effectiveness of the training. There’s a difference between training content that is new /updated vs. delivered as a repeat of the same materials.   Yes, a new and/or updated design takes resources and time.   How many times do you want to sit through the same old same old and get nothing new from it? Recall the definition of insanity – doing more of the same while hoping for change.   You just might want to review your Training SOP right about now. – VB

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From a pair of hands to trusted business partner

In this second blog from the “HPI: Making it Work for Compliance Trainers” series, I continue the business partner exploration.  Need the first one?  Get caught up: What’s the difference between Trainers and Performance Consultants?

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’s 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 the changes performance.

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.  The new competencies to be developed are:

  • Analysis (both Training Needs and Performance Needs) – See If Training Isn’t the Right Answer
  • Implementing Performance Solutions (not just training solutions) – See Isn’t This Still Training?
  • Change Management (not just Change Control/Doc Control but how to manage what I call the “People Side of Change”
  • Measurement and Evaluation (recognizing that these are not the same thing)

Learn more about how to assess yourself against these competencies.

Take ACTion Now! In their 2005 book, Strategic Business Partners, Dana Gaines Robinson and Jim Robinson, recommend that transitioning trainers take ACTion now.  ACT stands for Access, Credibility and Trust.  However, from my experience, the steps don’t necessarily follow in that order.  It’s more like establishing your Credibility first, earning their Trust next, and then you’ll be granted Access to strategic opportunities.

Oh, but where to start? A good place is to show your performance worth.  Recall earlier I listed developing performance solutions as a new competency? A training solution closes a knowledge and skill gap, wonderful.  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 a HPI project/solution does differently than a training solution and it certainly illustrates why those new competencies are needed.  Being able to show this kind of impact on the business as a result of the work a Performance Consultant does goes a long way to earning business leaders trust.  –VB

If training isn’t the answer, what is the right fix?

Ideally, the right solution is one that closes the performance gap AND makes a worthy impact on business objectives.

This blog has now been merged with “The Difference Between Trainers and Performance Consultants“.

Direct link here.

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Analyses du jour: Isn’t it really all the same thing?

So 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 that 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 GMP 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 training 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.

Asking the right questions

Root cause analysis and problem solving steps dove tail nicely.  See sidebar below.  It requires us to slow down and ask questions methodically and sequentially.  More than one question is asked, for sure.  When you rush the process, it’s easy to grab what appears to be obvious.  And that’s one of the early mistakes that can be made with an over reliance on the tools.  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, we question why the training did not transfer or we wonder what’s wrong with the employee – why is s/he not getting this yet?

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Side Bar -Double Click to Enlarge.

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 find the time to do it twice.  Madness!

Which tool to use?

My favorite human performance cause tool is the fish bone diagram, albeit the “ 5 Whys Technique” is a close second.  Both tools force you to dig a little deeper into the causes.  Yes, the end result often reveals something is amiss with “the training”, but is it man, machine, method or materials? Ah-hah, that is very different than repeat training on the procedure!  Alas, when we have asked enough right questions, we are led to the true cause(s).  That is the ultimate outcome I seek no matter what you call the process or which tool is used. -VB

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