Dog Agility and Performance Insights

I compete in dog agility with our rat terrier Ike.  In fact, I do more than compete—it’s my favorite pastime.  So it’s only natural that I’d manage to see a lot of application of my profession (performance improvement) to my pastime (agility).

For those of you not familiar with agility, it’s the world’s fastest growing canine sport.  It involves the handler and dog working as a team to negotiate a course in a specific order while following specific obstacle requirements.  So a team might have to cover twenty obstacles over 150 yards in 60 seconds without mistakes.  The obstacles usually involve some tricks, the human is usually sprinting almost the entire run and the dog is typically going even faster.  It’s an fun, healthy, addictive sport that builds the relationship you have with your dog and also provides your critter with a great job to focus on and train for.  But you didn’t check into this blog to read about dog agility—so here’s the connection I see to performance analysis. Continue reading

Leverage Points and Performance Work

Anyone who has studied systems thinking or looked at the science of complexity is familiar with the concept of leverage points.  A leverage point within a system is a point where a little bit of action produces a disproportionately large amount of impact.   For instance, if we have a fire in a room, it may take a lot of water to put the fire out.  Or, if the room is airtight we can simply shut the door and the lack of oxygen can shut the fire down almost immediately.  In this instance, the access to oxygen is a leverage point for the fire.

Donella Meadows has done some great work around leverage points for complex systems.  Besides identifying the 12 types of leverage points, Meadows has also determined generally which ones provide more leverage. Continue reading

Cause Analysis and Systems Thinking

It’s been traditional within performance consulting to talk about cause analysis or even root cause analysis.  This implies a mentality that we can get to the cause or primary factor responsible for the performance gap.  This also seems to imply a linear “start-stop” relationship of sorts.

Klaus Wittkuhn has written about this issue.   His point is that a systems approach (and a good performance analysis requires a systems approach) would reject the idea of a linear scheme with a clean start and end.  If we’re truly taking a systems perspective to performance, than we have to honestly admit that issues are circular.  That means that the concept of “a cause” is probably flawed. Continue reading

Performance Consulting in Government

At the recent (2009) ASTD International Conference, I had some great conversations with a performance consultant in South Africa–Bill Sewell.  Bill was busy trying to tap into US Government contacts to find out our experience with performance consulting.  With South Africa’s transition to a new President (Jacob Zuma) and an effort to be more results-focused, he was looking at what lessons we may have learned in that arena.  Bill wanted to know what US Govt. organizations were doing with performance consulting.

And that question made me stop and think.  The track record of performance improvement within government, at least on a broad-based level, isn’t that impressive within the US.  Of course, the US Coast Guard, due to their initial involvement with Joe Harless and then Paul Elliott, has probably been doing performance across the entire organization longer than any other governmental entity in the US.  But the Navy dismantled their Human Performance Center (that was starting to do some great work by the way). Continue reading