What Is Performance Improvement?

what is performance improvement

Performance improvement uses a systematic approach—known as performance analysis—to uncover those issues within an organization that cause performance problems. Performance problems occur when work fails to meet minimum requirements for success. Once performance problems are identified, the interventions necessary to correct them can be determined. This can be as simple as making sure expectations are clearly communicated or as complex as reorganizing a company to ensure processes are aligned correctly.  

The desire to improve performance at work is not new. During the first half of the 20th century, behavioral psychologist Thomas Gilbert founded the field of Human Performance Technology (HPT), also referred to as Performance Improvement. His Behavioral Engineering Model identifies which aspects of a worker’s behavior and environment can be modified to optimize performance. In Gilbert’s wake, other names added valuable insight into how to achieve better organizational and employee performance, including Geary Rummler, Alan Brache, Robert Mager, and Joe Harless. 

How Can Performance Improvement Help Your Organization? 

Most people assume that if they’re getting the results they want, there’s nothing to improve, but there is always room for improvement. The key is knowing how to get from baseline to next-level performance. To get there, it is important to define goals for improvement. It’s not enough to say business results need to be “better.” Instead, note what “better” includes: specific measures of quality, quantity, cost, and safety. 

While each individual situation and every business is unique, when performance is improved, it could look like: 

  • Helping employees succeed and find value in their jobs. 
  • Improving productivity and profitability. 
  • Building a phenomenal culture. 
  • Launching a new product or service successfully. 
  • Earning the respect of your leadership team. 
  • Enjoying your own job, with less stress and overwhelm. 

The possibilities are endless. 

Define it. Investigate it. Solve it. Measure it. 

Driving better business results doesn’t just happen overnight. It involves the four general phases of Performance Improvement

  • Define it. 
  • Investigate it. 
  • Solve it. 
  • Measure it. 

First, Define It. 

The average workplace tends to focus on the actions people take to get their work done when evaluating if that work is done effectively. However, properly defining performance requires a shift in thinking, where the focus is on the things people PRODUCE instead of on what they DO—their behavior.  

In the end, it doesn’t matter how the job got done, as long as what was produced, the accomplishment-based output, was done completely and done well. It’s the output that is valuable to the business, not the behavior itself. 

Of course, because outputs must be done and done well, it is also vital to determine the quality standards for each output once they are identified. Without clear criteria to go by, it is impossible to distinguish outputs that meet the standard from those that are subpar.  


  • How do we know what our employees produced meets our quality standards?  
  • How do employees know that they’ve met our expectations? 

Both of these questions need a clear, defined answer. 

Then, Investigate It. 

Once we’ve defined the performance, we explore everything the organization does, both intentionally and accidentally, that impacts performance either positively or negatively. This means looking at things like existing systems and processes that are in place, available resources, feedback systems, management support, culture, relationships, etc. Some of these behavior influences help make the job easier and some get in the way. 

In some cases, you may be looking for a performance gap—the difference between a performer with excellent results and one who with outputs that are subpar. The goal here is to investigate this gap and find out what is causing it. If the problem can be identified and removed, everyone can produce exemplary results. 

Sometimes there is a need for a new output, perhaps a new product line or even a newly created company trying to create a successful way of bringing their vision to life. For new performance, the goal is not fixing something that is broken. Instead determine what needs to be in place so employees have the best conditions for exemplary performance right from the start. 

Next, Solve It. 

A problem cannot be solved right off the bat. You must first go through the previous analysis steps:  

  • Define It: to know when the work outputs are done and done well. 
  • investigate It: to understand the behavior influences that contribute to success or hinder it. 

That is the only way to ensure you are solving the REAL problem. 

Solving a problem, or pre-emptively solving a new performance initiative, involves reviewing negative behavior influences to find the interventions necessary to turn them into positive influences. Some interventions will have a larger impact and some can be completed quickly for more immediate results. Solving the problem means evaluating the available interventions to know which to recommend and which can wait. Every problem requires its own unique solution. 

Finally, Measure It. 

Of course, there is only one real way to tell that a solution resulted in successful improvement: Measuring the results. The easiest way to measure performance is by measuring the quantity of the outputs themselves, which should be “countable”—or a specific, measurable result occurring within a specific time frame: 

  • Category sales are up by $1 million with two years. 
  • Production errors are reduced by half in six months. 

It is also possible to measure using the criteria by which you determine if the output was done well, including accuracy, volume, timeliness, cost, and safety measures: 

  • Surface finish is ≤ 3.2 μm. 
  • One batch of parts is produced each hour. 
  • The next design iteration is implemented by December 12. 
  • Combined material and personnel costs stay below $100,000. 
  • Lockout tagout is used for each repair. 

Each measurement must be specific enough to ensure success. 

Take the First Step Toward Improving Performance at Work. 

If you want better business results, you first need to uncover the areas in your business where performance can/should be improved. You could try going it alone, but analysis is a complex skill that requires mastery to employ successfully. If you want someone to guide you through the four phases listed above, Radcom would be happy to help. 

Need help getting started? Talk with a performance improvement expert at Radcom. Give us a call at (330) 650-4777 or visit www.RadcomServices.com/performance-improvement. 

One way to start is by finding the best path to improving performance for your business by downloading the free Path to Performance Checklist.  

Performance improvement checklist

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