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

Learning from Geary Rummler

Those of you who have talked with me a lot or have read some of my work (especially No Magic Bullet) know how highly I think of Geary Rummler.  The performance world lost a true friend and original pathfinder when he passed away in 2008.

I was fortunate to get a number of unique opportunities to collaborate with Geary.  He and I both served on ASTD’s Board of Directors at the same time—we had some great discussions.  He took all of the kidding from some of us about his last book (Really Serious Guide to Performance Consulting) in good spirit. Continue reading

I Feel the Need – the Need for Speed!

I’ve had a couple of opportunities to look at where performance improvement is headed and how I think it may play out in the future (see T+D, August 2004, “The Future of Performance”).   I know there are a lot of HPI/HPT thought leaders who argue that  the future is bright for those in the performance field—that this is a growth industry.  I don’t think it’s that simple.

It is absolutely true that in a more competitive world (and the more global we are, the more competitive things become) and one where outcomes and results matter more, the performance consulting field has more opportunities to show value and impress.  That said, there is also increasing pressure to do something “yesterday”.   Quite simply, time pressure for action grows and there is less tolerance for someone saying “it will take us two years to fix this” or “I’ll get on it next month.” Continue reading

Performance Lessons from Pearl Harbor

Some recent client work with the intelligence community took me out to Honolulu.  Despite being busy with client demands, I had an opportunity to take a US Navy tour of Pearl Harbor.

Seeing the sites and revisiting the lessons from Pearl Harbor attack are a sobering experience.  The picture you see is from the USS Arizona memorial.  The Arizona still rests on the bottom of Pearl Harbor with over 1,000 of her sailors and marines still entombed within her hull.  Oil from the hull still leaks out to this day (that’s what the picture shows—the oil slick from underneath the Arizona Memorial).

This isn’t intended to be a review of military tactical and strategic insights from the attack on Pearl Harbor.  But from a performance consulting perspective, there are some critical insights. Continue reading

Books for New Performance Consultants

One of the most frequent topics that comes up with newly minted performance consultants (or those in the midst of ASTD’s HPI certificate series or those trying to get a better feel for what HPI is about) deals with what resources I’d recommend to those just starting out.  There is a wealth of material out there that is useful to performance consultants (and much of it isn’t what people would consider to be in the HPI/HPT arena).   I’ll take a look at some other resources (like websites) in another entry.  For now, let’s start with just books.  So that means focusing on practical books (less emphasis on the theory, more emphasis on the “how to” or an explanation of how performance consulting is different from what most people do now). Continue reading