During the chaotic year that is 2020, nearly every organization has had to reevaluate how they conduct business. In many cases, difficult economic conditions have already necessitated layoffs, furloughs, hours cuts, or reductions in pay. In other cases, managers are feeling the pressure to figure out how to maximize the output of their team members, whether they are working with fewer resources than normal or are simply trying to avoid painful cuts of their own.
“Performance improvement” has been a timely topic. Productivity deficits and quality issues may have been overlooked or tolerated in the past, but when resources are tight, they become unsustainable. Some organizations have focused on giving employees ultimatums—”fix the deficits, or else”—which is only so effective. Others have turned to training as a means of teaching their employees to do jobs better, which can be a great approach in certain circumstances. Yet, training isn’t meant to address every performance issue, as we have covered previously on this blog. It’s mainly effective for overcoming gaps in understanding, but lack of knowledge or skills is only one reason why performance deficits occur.
In most cases, companies should be broadening their focus, looking at the “big picture” of performance if they want to create behavioral change that results in lasting performance improvement. We have found that an approach called Performance Thinking® often holds the key to lasting performance improvement. Read on, and we’ll tell you how to leverage it to unlock the potential of your workforce.
What is Performance Thinking?
Performance Thinking is a methodology crafted by Dr. Carl Binder for understanding and improving human performance in a straightforward, easy-to-understand manner. This model draws upon decades of research by behavioral psychologists in the field of performance improvement and makes academic findings simple to apply in the business world.
Performance Thinking is built around a concept called “The Performance Chain”, which helps make the connection between a team member’s (or a group’s) workplace behaviors and the business results they influence. The Performance Chain explains that understanding human performance requires understanding what business results are valuable to an organization, what work outputs affect those results, how people behave as they produce those work outputs, and what behavioral influences affect their behaviors. Once you have that baseline understanding, you can then focus on adjusting behavioral influences in a meaningful way to drive positive change that ultimately creates value for the business.
A subset of the Performance Chain is the Six Boxes® Model. This model organizes behavioral influences that affect workplace behavior into six categories for analysis—Expectations and Feedback, Tools and Resources, Consequences and Incentives, Skills and Knowledge, Selection and Assignment, and Motives and Preferences. Certified Performance Thinking Practitioners work through these boxes to find opportunities for improvement that will help specific team members be better equipped to create high-quality work outputs, and in turn, more value for the business. Issues identified in any of the six boxes could prove to be the true cause of performance deficits, showcasing why jumping to a “fix” like training may not prove to be the best investment of time and money.
What Does It Look Like to Apply Performance Thinking?
In a Performance Thinking approach, you start by identifying your goals. Your overall objective is to shift performance-affecting behaviors by looking at what’s influencing those behaviors, identifying deficits, and measuring success based on job-related accomplishments. Before you can do that, however, you need to ask yourself:
- What are our desired business results?
- What outputs (or accomplishments) are needed to reach them?
- What are the criteria for a “good” output (i.e., what are our standards)?
- What behaviors are needed to reach those standards?
Next, use The Six Boxes Model to delve into the behavior influences that affect a person’s ability to meet the established standards for accomplishment. If you are looking at the performance of a certain team within your organization, for example, you proceed through the six boxes as follows:
- Expectations and Feedback: Are expectations of team members clear to them, and are they receiving well-articulated feedback on whether they are meeting those expectations?
- Tools and Resources: Do team members have the reference materials, process documents, templates, or other tools necessary to do their job effectively?
- Consequences and Incentives: Are there consequences for performance deficits or incentives for strong performance in place to motivate team members to exhibit desired behaviors?
- Skills and Knowledge: Do team members have the appropriate skill sets and knowledge base to do their jobs effectively?
- Selection and Assignment: Are specific team members in the right roles, and do they have the capacity to perform their jobs well?
- Motivation and Preferences: Do team members have positive attitudes about the work they are doing, and are they motivated in their jobs?
Answering these questions can take you a long way toward understanding the behavioral influences at play and what may need to change to improve associates’ performance. Once you have a clearer understanding of the situation, you can start developing effective interventions.
Keep in mind that your ultimate goal is not to change your team members’ behaviors, but to improve their ability to create certain work outputs to a specified level of quality. You need to not only develop interventions that do just that, but also make sure the impact of your interventions is measurable. Take baseline measurements of accomplishment in targeted areas for improvement before you start your performance improvement initiative, and make a plan to measure change in key metrics on an ongoing basis.
Catalyze Lasting Performance Improvement by Thinking Differently
If you can learn to look at performance improvement differently, you will find you have a framework to not only deal with the resource challenges that 2020 throws your way, but to boost the success and happiness of your team members, or customers in the process. Performance Thinking not only helps team members perform their jobs better, but enjoy those jobs more, which is important whether you’re navigating uncertain times or not.
At Radcom, we work in the field of performance improvement every day. Sometimes that means helping businesses develop effective training in an age when remote-working teams and virtual training are the new normal. Other times, we help create technical documentation or process documentation to ensure workers have the information they need on hand to get a job done effectively and efficiently. Lately, we’ve also been applying Performance Thinking to our own business, finding ways to operate more efficiently and improve outputs for our clients. Moving forward, we look forward to helping companies find the right behavior-influencing factors needed to create lasting performance improvement in their organizations, too. If you don’t know what behavioral issues are causing performance deficits in your organization or you don’t know how to fix problems you’ve identified, we’d love to help you, too.
We wish you the best of luck in your performance improvement pursuits. If you feel that you can use a hand along the way, give us a call.