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28-08-2011

My Take on Performance Improvement

When I speak about performance improvement, I don't mean shaving a tenth of a second off the 0-60MPH acceleration time of your car, I'm speaking about getting people to perform their jobs better.  By better, I mean in less time and/or with less errors, both of which mean more efficiency in the human resources of a business, which should translate into more profit for the business.

I have a strong Instructional Systems Design (ISD) background, as well as a computer systems engineer background, which explains why I like models.  In particular, I like the Human Performance Technology (HPT) Model.  I have incorporated this into my own ISD process.  In talks that I have given about my process, I start off with "If you have not defined what success looks like, don't be surprised with unsuccessful results." 

The first part of the HPT model is Performance Analysis.  In order to conduct a Gap Analysis (i.e, the gap between the desired workforce performance and the actual state of workforce performance), an organization needs to have a good description of the desired performance.  I find that many organizations do either a poor job of describing desired performance or, in a lot of cases, they have no usable description period. 

In order for a description of desired workforce performance to be useful, it needs to break jobs down into tasks, and each task needs to be described in enough detail that the description can be used to measure against actual performance when conducting a Gap Analysis.  I like having processes and procedures documented with procedure tables and diagramed using flow charts to show how work processes are supposed to happen.  The level of detail should be down to the task level, but flowcharts should include the macro-level too; depicting what's upstream and what's downstream from a given task in an overall workflow helps in understanding a given task. 

Many people get confused between the words job, process, procedure, and task.  Here are my definitions for these:

• Job - a position within a company typically requiring a combination of education, knowledge, skill, and experience.

• Process - a workflow with more than one step.

• Procedure - a process broken down into discrete tasks, in sequential order.  Note:  some processes have separate procedures that run in parallel with the work being done by different people.  At some point in the workflow, these sub-workflows merge back into one work element that can continue through the workflow.  Hence, the importance of the macro-view of the workflow as well as the detailed view of tasks and sub-tasks.

• Task - a discrete unit of work that is typically performed by an individual.  Some tasks, for documentation/diagraming purposes, can be broken down into sub-tasks, but each of these sub-tasks would be performed by the same individual sequentially.  Upon completion of a task, the same individual can perform the next task in the workflow, or the workflow can move to another individual or individuals to perform the next task.

Now, my questions to you are:

1.  Does your company have detailed job descriptions for all positions?

2.  Are your company's key workflows and processes/procedures thoroughly documented and diagramed?

If the answer to either is no, then the first step in Performance Improvement that your company can engage in is getting their performance-related documentation straight.  Like I said in the start of this blog entry, "If you have not defined what success looks like, don't be surprised with unsuccessful results."

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