Moving From Learning to Performance

A more effective way of transferring what was learned during training to on-the-job performance may require a change in the way we think about what learning is. For many, learning is defined as “acquiring new knowledge.” In today’s results-oriented world,

Training as Our “Drug of Choice”
Many organizations are addicted to training. It is their first choice as well as their most frequently used intervention to improve performance. Training is the right solution when there is a lack of knowledge or skills. But what if the real cause of poor performance is unclear expectations, counterproductive feedback, insufficient resources to do the job or poorly aligned measurement, performance management and reward systems?

Training has its greatest impact when it is used as part of a more comprehensive plan to improve performance. When training is used alone, the work environment that the student goes back to will determine if the new knowledge and skills will ever be applied. Too many organizations leave the work environment to chance.

To adapt the famous quote from Abraham Maslow, if the only tool we have is a hammer (training), then all situations will appear to be nails (knowledge and skill deficiencies). We must add the tools of human performance technology to our training toolkits so that we can actually improve performance and show a return on investment for our efforts.

Training vs. Performance
Where is your organization in moving from training as the solution of choice to performance technology as a more comprehensive approach to improving performance? The diagram that follows outlines the differences between training and performance technology. In reality, most organizations are not at either end of the continuum but rather somewhere in between.

From Training to Performance



Training viewed as the best way

to improve performance.


Training has become an “end”

in itself.


Assess, design, develop and

 implement training programs.


Evaluate student response to training

and knowledge learned

(Kirkpatrick’s Levels 1 & 2).


Increase knowledge and skills;

hope that performance improves.


Performance Technology


Training used to support a systemic

approach to improve performance.


Training used as a “means”

in conjunction with other means.


Systematically identify and remove

barriers to performance.


Measure application on the job and

impact on bottom-line results

(Kirkpatrick’s Levels 3 & 4).


Improve bottom-line results such as

productivity and profitability.

The noted management guru, Peter Drucker, once said that efficiency is doing a job right, but effectiveness was doing the right job. We must move out of our present roles as providers of efficient training solutions to a more effective role of removing barriers to individual and organizational performance.

There was a warning for all of us in the words of Joel Barker in “Paradigms” when he told us that those most heavily invested in the present paradigm (training as the preferred solution) will be the most resistant to change (to the systemic approach of performance technology). We must become proactive in our response to the demand that we demonstrate a return on investment for training by embracing performance technology as a way to improve bottom-line performance.

A recent survey (January to March 2002) of ASTD members asked the question, “Which of these ideas has done the most to transform workplace learning and performance in the last three years?” The results indicated that 33 percent of respondents saw “Performance Improvement” as having greatest impact on workplace learning and performance. The other choices included “”The Balanced Scorecard” (receiving 8 percent of the responses), “Knowledge Management” (13 percent), “Lifelong Learning” (12 percent) and “The Learning Organization” (27 percent). The remaining 7 percent of the respondents chose “None of the Above.”

Performance improvement requires a broader assessment than can be done with a needs analysis associated with the ISD process. Furthermore, once the assessment is done, performance improvement requires the use of a variety of interventions that may replace or support training. The tools and processes used in performance improvement make up we now call human performance technology (HPT).

So What Is HPT?
Perhaps the best definition of HPT comes from Jim Fuller, formerly of Hewlett Packard and now with Redwood Mountain Consulting, when he gives his “30-second elevator speech” on the subject. “Performance technology is a systemic and systematic approach to identifying the barriers that prevent people from achieving performance that contributes to the success of the organization. We then create solutions that quickly and effectively remove barriers so people can improve their performance and achieve their full potential.”

My shorter version of this is, “Performance technology is the systematic and systemic identification and removal of barriers to individual and organizational performance.”

Human performance technology (HPT) uses a wide range of interventions that are drawn from many other disciplines, including instructional systems design, behavioral psychology, organizational development and human resources management. As such, HPT stresses a rigorous analysis of present and desired levels of performance, identifies the causes for the performance gap, offers a wide range of interventions with which to improve performance, guides the change management process and evaluates the results.

Principles and Practices of Human Performance Technology
If we accept the definition of Human Performance Technology (HPT) as the systematic and systemic identification and removal of barriers to individual and organizational performance, we must then identify the underlying principles and the systematic approach that serve to differentiate HPT from other disciplines and to guide practitioners in its use.

  1. HPT focuses on outcomes. Focusing on outcomes, that is results, allows for questioning, confirming and reconfirming that people share the same vision and goals, that the job procedures support productivity, efficiency and quality and that people have the knowledge, skills and motivation they require.

    Where is there an opportunity or a performance gap, a difference between the present and the desired levels of performance? Outcomes or results of an intervention will be measured to determine whether or not performance has improved. Sometimes it is necessary to challenge the assumed answer to a problem or the expected event or activity of an intervention and instead focus on the accomplishment or business need that is the client’s true priority.

  2. HPT takes a systems view. Taking a systems view is vital because organizations are very complex systems that affect the performance of the individuals who work within them.

    It is important to distinguish a systems approach from a process model. A process contains inputs and outputs with feedback loops. A system implies an interconnected complex of functionally related components. The effectiveness of each unit depends on how it fits into the whole, and the effectiveness of the whole depends on the way each unit functions. A systems approach considers the larger environment that impacts processes and other work. The environment includes inputs, but more importantly, it includes pressures, expectations, constraints and consequences.

  3. HPT adds value. This is an assessment that clients will be asked to make. Clients should be offered a process that will help them fully understand the implications of their choices, set appropriate measures, identify barriers and tradeoffs and take control.

    While HPT requires a focus on intermediate goals (such as improving quality, customer retention and cost reduction), its success is measured in improvements in desired business outcomes (such as sales, profitability and market share). Alignment of individual performance with intermediate and business outcomes is critical to the HPT methodology. Measurement of results at both of these levels serves two important purposes, that of communicating the importance of what is being done while also assessing the amount of performance improvement.

  4. HPT establishes partnerships. Performance improvement professionals work in partnership with clients and other specialists. A collaborative effort involves relevant stakeholders in the decision-making process and involves working with specialists in their areas of expertise.

    Working collaboratively includes making decisions about goals, next steps to take in the process and implementation strategies as shared responsibilities. Partnerships are created from listening closely to clients, trusting and respecting each other’s knowledge and expertise, so that the consultant and client make the best choices about goals, priorities and solutions.

  5. Be systematic in the assessment of the need or opportunity. Needs or opportunity analysis is about examining the current situation at any level or levels (society, organizational, process, work group or individual) to identify the external and internal pressures affecting it. This process determines the deficiencies or performance gaps that are to be remedied. Based on the examination, we determine if the situation is worthy of action or further study. The output is a statement describing the current state, the projected future state and the rationale or business case for action or non-action
  6. Be systematic in the analysis of the work and workplace to identify the cause or factors that limit performance. Cause analysis is about determining why a gap in performance or expectations exists. Some causes are obvious, such as new hires lacking the required skills to do the expected task. This step in the systematic process will determine what should be addressed to improve performance. The output is a statement of why performance is not happening, or will not happen, without some intervention.
  7. Be systematic in the design of the solution or specification of the requirements of the solution. Design is about identifying the key attributes of a solution. The output is a communication that describes the features, attributes and elements of a solution and the resources required to actualize it.
  8. Be systematic in the development of all or some of the solution and its elements. Development is about the creation of some or all of the elements of the solution. It can be done by an individual or by a team. The output is a product, process, system or technology. Examples include training, performance support tools, a new or re-engineered process, the redesign of a work space or a change in compensation or benefits.
  9. Be systematic in the implementation of the solution. Implementation is about deploying the solution and managing the change required to sustain it. The outputs are changes in or adoption of the behaviors that are believed to produce the anticipated results or benefits. This standard is about helping clients adopt new behaviors or use new or different tools.
  10. Be systematic in the evaluation of the process and the results. Evaluation is about measuring the efficiency and effectiveness of what you did, how you did it and the degree to which the solution produced the desired results. This standard is about identifying and acting on opportunities throughout the systematic process to identify measures and capture data that will help identify needs, adoption and results.

The diagram that follows attempts to integrate these 10 principles and practices into a model that describes the HPT process that we follow as we work to improve performance.

Chief learning officers must lead their organizations from their traditional training roles to actually improving individual and organizational performance by using the tools provided with human performance technology. With a more comprehensive analysis and a wider range of interventions to chose from, any training that is provided will have a better chance of being applied on-the-job and improving the performance.

Learning must me measured by actual changes in on-the-job performance and how those changes impact desired business outcomes. Failure to do so leaves an organization’s training efforts as a cost center that is very vulnerable to budget cuts when that organizations must decide where to place its limited resources.

Roger Chevalier is the director of information for the International Society for Performance Improvement ( He is a former vice president for Century 21 Real Estate Corp.’s Performance Division and a former training director for the U.S. Coast Guard’s west coast training center. Roger may be reached by e-mail at For more short, current articles on performance improvement, check out ISPI’s free monthly newsletter at