Marc J. Rosenberg
OmniTech Consulting Group
"If you don't know where you're going, any place will do."
From Alice in Wonderland
We've all been there. Trying to solve problems we haven't defined.
Grabbing at solutions because they seem right or they worked once
before. Delivering a product to the field in spite of that nagging
sense that you just aren't quite sure why the product was developed
in the first place. And then, of course, suffering the consequences
when things don't work the way we'd hoped.
What results are they looking for?
It's no wonder training has traditionally gotten a bad rap. We
focus on outputs not solutions, they tell us. We embrace glitzy
multimedia, sometimes at the expense of learning. We're more
concerned with student days than student performance.
In many ways, training became like the U. S. automobile industry
of the 1970s and 1980s, pushing lots of product out the back
door that ignored the needs of consumers and generally didn't work
well or last very long. But the auto industry recently came roaring
back by spending more time understanding the requirements of
customers and building products that didn't just look good but worked
extremely well and provided lasting satisfaction.
In our business, we've also changed. We're putting more emphasis
on performance analysis. Why? Because like the car manufacturers of
twenty years ago, we want not only to survive, but to grow and
prosper. We need to better understand the underlying problems and
requirements of those who will use our products. What are their
concerns and their reality? What results are they looking for? What
do we need to know to assure that what we do will work?
Performance analysis tools and methodologies have proliferated in
recent years. Indeed, one of Allison Rossett's previous books,
Training Needs Assessment, provides a strong foundation for
this new direction. Performance analysis, part of an emerging human
performance technology, has also given us a wider field of vision, to
see beyond training solutions to a host of other interventions that
provide valid and cost-effective ways to improve workplace
performance. Performance analysis has been embraced by professional
training and human resource societies. It's being taught at most
universities. But most important, it's being recognized as an
important business tool.
We're putting more emphasis on performance analysis.
There's just one problem. It takes too long. Or, it's perceived to
take too long. In an era of ever-decreasing cycle times and shorter
product lifecycles, the ability to make quick decisions regarding
performance improvement, including training, becomes paramount.
Although performance analysis helps us overcome the Alice in
Wonderland effect of not knowing where we are going, it's still
regarded as too slow, and, quite frankly, often a pain. There's a
great deal of evidence that this is the primary reason why
performance analysis is not done.
In First Things Fast: A Handbook for Performance Analysis,
Allison Rossett tackles cycle time head-on. Although Rossett
maintains her healthy reliance on data-based decision-making, she
presents some interesting ways to get there. For me, the book
provides a number of keen insights:
First, act like a detective rather than a scientist. Find the big
nuggets of information. Deduce possible outcomes. Look for clues and
trends in behavior. Accumulate evidence rather than proof, estimates
rather than exactness. This will speed things up without significant
loss of data integrity.
Second, rely on others. Rossett makes a big case for partnering.
Not only does this enable the client to feel part of the effort, and
thus take more ownership of the results, but it recognizes a key
element of increasing the efficiency of the work: the client knows a
lot of stuff. Find information that already exists. Talk to people
who are in a position to know what's going on. If you pick the right
people and you get consistent responses, you're likely on the right
Accumulate evidence rather than proof, estimates
rather than exactness.
Third, use tools and technology. Improving the productivity
of performance analysis is the essence of this book. Don't re-invent
the wheel each time you go out. If the tools and technology you have
at your disposal aren't perfect, refine them over time. The point
here is to build a process and a capability that can be replicated in
many situations. This saves time.
Finally, refine as you go. Things change, and they change often. A
performance analysis "set in stone," with all the details anyone
could possibly want, may be of little value a week from now when the
business situation is turned on its head by a new competitor or the
budget for the solution you had planned is cut in half. Perfection is
costly and may not be all it is cracked up to be. Better to analyze
just enough to be comfortable making the next set of decisions and
keep revisiting your assumptions and findings throughout the
As George Stalk and Thomas Hout note in their 1990 book,
Competing Against Time, businesses are driven by three major
criteria: cost, quality, and responsiveness, or speed. In the
automotive industry in recent years, Chrysler's mantra has been
substantially shortened development cycle times and time to market,
both responsiveness measures. The result is a resurgent, highly
competitive company and a leader in a more competitive industry.
Likewise, the performance improvement industry must also look at
responsiveness as a critical success factor.
Performance analysis has always sought to help organizations drive
down cost and increase quality by assuring that the solutions
recommended are, in fact, what is truly needed. The beauty of this
book is that it recognizes the critical nature of speed in doing
performance analysis work, without sacrificing the other measures.
Performance analysis is at the center of a training industry driving
toward a fundamental transformation. First Things Fast: A Handbook
for Performance Analysis is your road map.