What are the Fundamentals of Performance Consulting?

How to determine if training is the right solution for the problem, behavior, or performance issue you want to fix.

One of the most compelling ways for instructional designers to demonstrate their value to their organization is to influence the organization’s goals or objectives. Measuring the impact of your training content can be a daunting task, as the relationship between the training results and the investment of resources used to create the training can be difficult to prove. Performance consulting is the proactive approach that is often taken to face this challenge, which Training Industry defines as, “Identifying a business need, its cause(s) and the training strategy (if applicable) that can meet that need.” The following recommendations will introduce you to the fundamentals of performance consulting, so that you too can gain the confidence and the ability to create content that will truly impact your organization.

Don’t Rely on Training to Solve Every Problem

The book Training Ain’t Performance by the ATD Press emphasizes the concept that training alone simply can’t address every issue in the workplace. The authors make the claim that training only works when there are skill or knowledge deficiencies. Several other factors influence employees’ performance, such as the economy, their motivation, having access to the right tools, equipment, or resources, and the effectiveness of their supervisor or manager. Training can’t affect any of those factors, yet those factors all impact performance. The first fundamental step of performance consulting is determining if training can, in fact, solve the problem you are facing.

Begin with a Needs Analysis

Similar to most instructional design projects, conducting a thorough needs analysis will help you to determine how to proceed. Consultant Sardek Love cautions, “Failure to invest sufficient time to properly define the problem almost always results in providing a solution to the wrong problem. I don’t have to tell you what that does to your credibility.” One of the core concepts of performance consulting is to focus on the cause of performance gaps, and not jump to conclusions. Consulting means promising you will help your client or stakeholders solve their problem, but it doesn’t necessarily mean assigning training to your learners and expecting to automatically see the change you desire.

Build the Business Case that Consulting is Time Well Spent

Performance consulting involves several specific practices carried out with intention. The conversations and discovery period at the launch of a project require a significant investment of time, but are necessary in helping to set the project up for success. If you receive pushback from stakeholders on how long the process is taking, consider the business impact of your project. What is the impact of the gap in performance? If you can find a metric that quantifies the loss due to the current performance gap, such as lost revenue, lost time, or loss of some other quantifiable resource, you can build a case for why performance consulting is a necessary investment, and why you might not be able to afford to not do it.

Brush Up on Basic Consulting Skills

The following skills are especially valuable to performance consultants, many of which are also common to instructional designers:

  • Be curious: As a performance consultant, you’ll talk to a lot of people, including the people who work in the role you’re analyzing, their managers, and the people around them.
  • Be a good listener: You need to have a sense of what questions to ask to both get people talking but to also get the information you need.
  • Be persuasive: The consulting process usually ends with a formal presentation to your project stakeholders, where you outline everything you discovered and then make your formal recommendations for performance interventions. You have to be compelling and logical to motivate decision-makers to take the actions you think will close the performance gaps, especially if your ideas contradict theirs.
  • Understand change management and leadership: Closing performance gaps requires change, both from leadership and from the performers themselves. You have to be an advocate of change, and be willing and able to guide people through the change management process which will certainly have some challenges along the way.

Talk to Key Performers

Novice consultants may assume they should study what low performers are doing wrong, when in fact, consultants may actually find more value in speaking to high performers. Determine what key performers are doing well, or what they’re doing differently to distinguish themselves from lower performers, so that you can guide others in following in their footsteps. By focusing on the key performers, you’re focusing on what’s working, so that that success can be replicated with other people. You may still discover barriers and obstacles they are facing; however, what differentiates them as high performers is how they deal with those barriers and obstacles. Maybe they have the personality traits to overcome them, or they have developed some sort of tool or technique to overcome them. When you discover what makes key performers so successful, you will be able to make recommendations for how you can help the lower performers make improvements.

Evaluate If Your Interventions Were Successful

Just like in any other field, performance consultants want to know if what they created was successful. Follow up with your project stakeholders in the weeks after the implantation of interventions to see if performance improvements are happening and if you need to make any additional modifications to your plans to better close performance gaps. Ongoing evaluation is a critical component of consulting, to ensure you’re meeting the business needs you promised you would at the beginning of the project.

Would you like to partner with us so that we can help you conduct content and audience analysis to identify gaps and how to improve outcomes and learning objectives? Let’s talk!

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