Improving Performance Doesn’t Mean You Do Performance Improvement

Okay, I’ve got a pet peeve—something that really pushes my buttons.  The data from a host of sources has continually shown that organizations and executives are placing more emphasis on “performance.”  Leave aside the reality that many of them (organizations and execs) don’t really know what performance is in this case (below the organization level of profits or sales or end results).  But almost everyone in the HR field therefore knows there is more emphasis on “performance.”

So part of what we see is for people (internally as well as external consultants) to tack the word “performance” on to what they do.   We see “performance-based training” or “performance-enhancing facilitation” or “performance-driven HR” or some other variation.  To me, this reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the performance improvement field.

Now, for those of you reading this without a strong performance background, what I’m about to write may seem like I’m engaging in sophistry.  But….performance improvement is not about whether or not you improved performance.  Let me explain.  I run into people all the time who say “I do performance-based training because my training improves performance” or “I’m a performance consultant because the team building I do improves performance.”  Nah.  That’s not how it works.  I don’t deny that some training or team building or facilitation or instructional design (or any other approach) can, in some circumstances, improve performance.  But saying that you do “performance improvement” is really about saying “I follow a particular process that does not lock into a specific tool or intervention and this process focuses on business results, measures performance by accomplishments, does a cause analysis and evaluates progress.”  Okay, that’s a mouthful so to paraphrase in a more condenses version… “performance improvement” is about the process you use to try to improve performance.  Sometimes you fail to improve performance and it may simply be because it wasn’t possible to improve things in that specific situation.  But if you followed the appropriate process, you’re still doing performance improvement or being a performance consultant.

The flip side, if your training improves performance that does not mean you do “performance-based training”.  It just means that you’re a good trainer or in that situation the training worked (and I guarantee that in many other situations it won’t—because most performance problems aren’t caused by issues solvable by training).

So, being a performance consultant is not a statement about the effectiveness of your work but rather the process you use in addressing performance gaps.  To use an analogy (always dangerous given how easily analogies are misused), if I accidently discover a new element that does not make me a scientist.  A scientist is defined by their use of the scientific method of study and relying on inquiry to test assumptions and gather data.  Discovering something by accident or dogma (in defiance of the scientific method) does not render me a scientist.

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About Joe Willmore

Joe Willmore is the President and founder of the Willmore Consulting Group. With over two decades of experience as a consultant, facilitator and trainer, he has worked with a wide range of public and private sector organizations within the United States as well as internationally. Joe Willmore is highly regarded by his peers and is a leader in his field of human performance. Specifically, he has authored four books in the field. He has been a leader within the profession, serving on the Board of Directors for the American Society for Training and Development. He was one of the first facilitators certified by ASTD to lead their Human Performance Improvement workshop series. He has been selected as a presenter or workshop facilitator for conferences by over 14 different professional societies.