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?

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(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

I’ve Fired My Qualified Trainer Workshop Vendor – Part 2

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 ResultsCut 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.

Quotes

“[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.” [1]  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.

OJT Checklist
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About HPIS Consulting, Inc.

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.

Contact Details


[1] Phillips, JP, & Phillips, PP.  (2008). Beyond learning objectives: Developing measurable objectives that impact the bottom line.  Alexandria: ASTD, p. 16.

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

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 detail.

This blog has now been merged with “If the only tool you have is a hammer” …

The direct link is here.

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Reframing a Training Request

Analyzing Performance Problems

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

Say Yes and …

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

A Typical Training Request

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

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

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

I Need Training for 800 Employees ASAP

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

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

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

Short Term Value vs. Bottom Line Impact

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

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

Announcing the HPIS C. eBook for Trainers!  

ebook_trng cause analysis
A HPISC eBook

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

Isn’t this still training?

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

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

Direct link here.

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.