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Performance Consulting

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The first edition of Performance Consulting introduced a concept which has since become a cornerstone of the human resource, learning and organizational development fields: training and HR solutions must be tied to an organization's business goals. Performance consulting is a process in which a client and consultant partner to achieve business goals by optimizing workgroup performance. In this updated edition, Dana and Jim Robinson provide both a robust conceptual framework and improved tools and techniques to help the reader move from the traditional role to that of a Performance Consultant. They show readers how to work with management to identify the performance required to achieve business goals and assist management in taking actions needed for performance to change. This revised and updated edition features dozens of new tools, techniques and illustrative exercises, and two completely new chapters.

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11 Chapters

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1 The Need Hierarchy



The Need Hierarchy

Systems thinking is a discipline of seeing wholes. It’s a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, patterns of change rather than static “snapshots.”

—Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline (1990, 68)

Imagine this: You just received a call from the director of technology, who reports to the chief information officer (CIO). The director wants to meet with you to discuss some type of incentive bonus for project managers within his area. Project managers are expected to bring in projects for new and updated information systems on time and within budget. Currently, more than half of the projects are completed late, resulting in increased costs. When a project runs behind, project team members work overtime. This delay also often requires that additional team members be brought on board, adding to costs.

Currently, this director’s operating expenses are 6 percent over budget.

The goal is to complete 95 percent of projects on time; only 58 percent of projects are meeting this goal. This situation is also resulting in user dissatisfaction. When projects do not meet their deadlines, there are repercussions for the operating divisions, such as delayed launches of new products and systems.


2 The GAPS! Logic



The GAPS! Logic

Mind the gap.

—London Underground Rapid Transit System (1969)

In 2002, we coauthored a book with Ken Blanchard entitled Zap the Gaps!

Target Higher Performance and Achieve It! (Blanchard, Robinson, and

Robinson 2002). It tells the story of a business leader with a problem in the area of customer service. Working with his HR manager, this call center director utilizes various tools described in the book to identify and address the root causes for the problem. During the course of writing this book with Ken, he encouraged us to develop an acronym for the logic within our mental model.

That acronym is GAPS and works in this

G = Go for the SHOULD.

A = Analyze the IS.

P = Pin down the CAUSES.

S = Select the right SOLUTIONS.

The integration of the GAPS! acronym with the Need Hierarchy, as Figure 2.1 illustrates, clarifies the categories of information that performance consultants examine when working with clients to address business needs.

Clearly a great deal of information is required to analyze situations and determine the actions needed to achieve desired business and performance results. We all know how challenging it is to manage and organize the amount of information that is available today. What information is important and relevant? What information, though available, is not necessary for the situation at hand? And, most important, what information is required but currently unknown? It is questions like these that led us to create a tool to guide performance consultants as they obtain information needed to address a specific


3 Identifying Business and Performance SHOULDs


Identifying Business and Performance SHOULDs



The entry phase involves activities associated with identifying opportunities where we can partner with our clients. Sometimes these opportunities are identified in a reactive manner (step 2). This occurs when a client requests a specific solution. The goal is to reframe this request so that the discussion focuses on the results the client seeks rather than the solution that has been requested. The techniques for reframing are described in Chapter 8.

Opportunities on which to partner can also be identified in a proactive manner (step 1). When using this approach, you discuss future goals with your client, raising insight about a need that is not currently on your client’s radar screen. Whether a need is identified reactively or proactively, it is important to explore the situation sufficiently to know whether it is best managed in a strategic manner (requiring some level of assessment) or in a tactical manner, moving directly into solution implementation. We provide triggers to determine which route is optimal for a given situation in Chapter 8.


4 Identifying the “IS” for Business and Performance



Identifying the “IS” for

Business and Performance

I think I see the problem here. You not only have to go for the

“shoulds,” but you have to analyze the “is.”

—Michael St. Vincent (fictitious character in

Blanchard, Robinson, and Robinson 2002, 64)

Several years ago, our firm was hired by a large gas and electric utility to help it become more competitive in the deregulated economy. The business goals of the utility were to become more competitive, to maintain its dominance in the residential and commercial markets, and to increase the efficiency of operations, thereby reducing costs. We were asked to work with HR on the part of this initiative that focused on people’s performance.

One business group involved in this initiative was the customer support group, which consisted of three customer service centers. Each center managed incoming phone calls from residential, commercial, and governmental customers. The business goals of the customer support group were to provide excellent service to every customer, to increase efficiency of operations, and to reduce service center costs by nine percent. In support of these goals, customer service representatives (CSRs) were to


5 Identifying Causes and Solutions



Identifying Causes and Solutions

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

—Peter Drucker (1909–2005)

That about sums it up! With the pressures on organizations to improve results and on people to accomplish more, there is a high degree of pressure to act. Unfortunately, “act” sometimes means implementing solutions to fix a problem before knowing what the problem is. This “jump-to-solution” approach may yield initial relief because some action is being taken, but it rarely provides sustained results. As a performance consultant, you want to prevent the solution-jumping approach. Instead, work with your client to determine causes for poor performance (if a problem exists) or the probable barriers to success (if working on a future opportunity). Once causes are identified, you and your client can decide on and implement solutions that will provide results. Because causes and their solutions are tightly linked, we will discuss both in this chapter.


6 Contracting with Clients



Contracting with Clients

There is nothing more important to the consulting process than attending to contracting.

—Geoffrey M. Bellman (1990, 213)


hat follows is a conversation between a vice president of sales and marketing and the performance consultant who supports him.

Vice president: I sure would like to know why some account executives consistently exceed their goals and others consistently miss them.

Performance consultant: Let me spend some time in the field with some of your account executives. I’m certain I can get information that will shed light on this. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with what I find.

Vice president: You’ve got yourself a deal.

Now let’s fast-forward to the meeting in which the performance consultant reviews the information he obtained in his interviews. He is hopeful the

VP will find the results helpful. Instead, the VP’s comment is “This isn’t of much help. I knew all of this already.”

What caused the disappointing response from the VP? The performance consultant and the VP did not have the same expectations about what information would be provided. There was no contract describing the amount and type of information the performance consultant would provide the VP. Both the performance consultant and the VP lost valuable time, and the performance consultant lost credibility. This is why contracting with clients is so critical. A well-negotiated contract describes what you and your client expect of each other, in terms of both the deliverables to be provided and the processes to be used.


7 Building Partnerships with Clients



Building Partnerships with Clients

Most human resources managers aren’t particularly interested in, or equipped for, doing business. And in a business that’s sort of a problem.

—Keith H. Hammonds (2005, 40)


id you happen to read the article from which this quote is extracted? Entitled

“Why We Hate HR” (Hammonds 2005), it was a wake-up call for our profession. Clearly one theme in that article is that we in HR and Learning have subject matter expertise and are skillful in delivering on the technical components, or science, of our work. However, we don’t know how to work with managers; therefore, our expertise is not appropriately utilized. It is this situation we must change; to do so, we need to fully evidence the “art” of consulting.

In doing research for Strategic Business Partner, we interviewed dozens of individuals acknowledged to be “star strategic partners” within their organizations, exceptional in both the science and the art of consulting. The conversations we had with these individuals provided insight into how they build and maintain partnerships with their clients. We learned these partnerships are based on three components; we formed the acronym ACT to reference the three components of access, credibility, and trust. Table 7.1 provides our definitions for each of these three partnering characteristics. We will begin our discussion with the place you need to start—gaining access to the true clients for your projects.


8 Reactive Entry: Reframing Requests for Solutions



Reactive Entry: Reframing

Requests for Solutions

There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible and wrong.

—H. L. Mencken (1949, 443)

“We are moving to a team-based sales approach. I’d like to discuss the compensation plan we’ll need to support this approach.”

“We are experiencing an increase in preventable accidents and incidents.

Safety is a primary goal for our manufacturing organization. What kind of safety training can we offer our operators and supervisors?”

How often in a month are you contacted by a client who has a request such as these? Each of the requests is presented with a solution in mind; the client is seeking your help to design and/or implement the solution. In essence, the client expects you to work in a tactical manner, providing the expertise required to deliver the requested solution. Unfortunately, this approach has a high probability for only modest or no results. This is because most performance problems are the result of multiple causes, so multiple solutions are needed for sustained change to occur. Single solutions rarely work.


9 Proactively Identifying Performance Consulting Opportunities



Proactively Identifying Performance

Consulting Opportunities

I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.

—Wayne Gretzky

Margaret, a learning consultant, was having lunch in the company cafeteria with a product manager in the organization. She asked the manager what he saw in the pipeline for the next six months. The manager told her about a market study, currently being conducted, that was designed to provide information regarding new product opportunities.

Margaret indicated her interest in learning more about the study and its results. The product manager responded by saying, “Why don’t you come to our briefing scheduled for next Tuesday? We will be going over the results then.”

George, a performance consultant in a large nonprofit organization with facilities throughout North America, was attending an open house in one community. He was talking with the community executive who asked him to brief four new members of the board of directors regarding their board responsibilities. George had briefed new board members in the past and acknowledged he would be pleased to do this. He was aware of the board’s changing role, partly due to disappointing business results, and asked the executive about these results and the implications for the responsibilities of board members. His questions were thought-provoking, and the community executive asked to meet with


10 Q&A with the Authors



Q&A with the Authors


ince our book Performance Consulting was published in 1995, each of us has spoken on this topic at numerous conferences. We have also partnered with clients as they develop performance consulting competence and work on performance consulting projects in their organizations. During these experiences, we have been asked many questions about performance consulting.

Some questions are unique; others we have been asked repeatedly, indicating these questions are shared by people who are interested in performance consulting. In this chapter we provide responses to those frequently asked questions. Our responses also cite the part of this book that provides more in-depth information.

1. Many managers want solutions implemented immediately. They do not want to wait for an assessment. How do you overcome this resistance?

When we hear this, we reflect on the concept that the value of the solution must be greater than the cost of the problem being addressed. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But the managers often do not see value in waiting for a better solution when they have a quick solution in mind. They see assessment as a process that requires them to put up with the problem longer than they want to; the cost of assessment is greater than its perceived value.



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