What is human performance technology (HPT)?  If you search for it on the Web you get broad promises about fulfilled potential, optimal performance and better results.  But what does it look like?  How will you know it when you see it?

HPT can seem simple or complex depending on who is explaining it.  I admit to doing a poor job at it more than once.  I have found it easier to explain through case studies.  A few weeks ago I read an article describing changes the US Army has made to basic training.  This project is a good case study to introduce some of the principles of HPT.  The process used by the Army illustrates several standards of human performance technology developed by the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI).  In this post I will focus on some of the principles that are clear in the project.

ISPI describes HPT as “a systematic combination of three fundamental processes, performance analysis, cause analysis, and intervention selection.”  Confused yet?  Simply stated, performance analysis is examining optimal and actual performance with the intent of defining both.  Cause analysis is looking at reasons why people fall into the optimal camp, the actual camp, or somewhere in between.  With the performance gap defined and the cause identified, it is time to select the appropriate intervention.  In the Army example, I will focus mainly on the performance and cause analysis.  Since the Army is committed to the face-to-face training model, there were few opportunities to choose another training model.

There are ten principles of performance improvement.  The first is focusing on results.  To accommodate changes in the modern battlefield the Army has been moving away from large scale troop engagements in favor smaller semi-autonomous teams.  To equip modern recruits for this approach, basic training also had to change.  Conditioning needed more emphasis.  The type of weapon used and how it is used has changed.  The focus on small team engagements means interaction with local populations is increasingly important.  All of this also placed a premium on individual decision making.  Based on the article, the intended result of the updated basic training is a self-directed decision maker capable of interacting with local populations to engage the enemy with a small but highly effective team.

To account for these changes and achieve a successful outcome, the Army needed to adopt a systematic approach.  These are are reflected in HPT principles 5 – 10.  These six principles are similar to the instructional systems design (ISD) process.  ISD has been used successfully for years to analyze specific learning challenges and develop learning goals and objectives and to develop the appropriate instruction to meet those goals and objectives.  In this post I will only focus on 5 (needs assessment) and 6 (cause analysis).

ISD starts with a systematic analysis of the performance problem.  The Army surveyed the troops who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan to learn what was needed in the field.   They also studied the characteristics of recruits.  The survey analysis found that some skills taught in basic training could be removed.  They also learned that cultural awareness was important.  Analysis of the physical demands of modern warfare required a different approaches to conditioning.  One of the biggest findings was a need to equip soldiers to be effective and confident decision makers.

The combination of all these factors led to substantial changes to basic training.  Long distance runs have been replaced by short sprints.  Stretching and strengthening core muscles is emphasized.  Recruits use the actual  weapon during they will carry for marksmanship training.  Marksmanship has also been spread across the ten-week program instead of one intensive block.

Army analysis f0und that recruits, mostly all are millenials, are more adept at “juggling information” and “aware of global affairs” than previous generations.  They also have shorter attention spans and are less physically fit.  From a performance perspective, these are constraints that must be accounted for when developing the appropriate intervention.  The Army dealt with these issues by using a team approach to learning where recruits had to solve problems together and rely on one another’s strengths.  They also challenge recruits by frequently changing the conditions of a task and adding complexity.

Taking a systematic approach is more time consuming.  Successful organizations never stop reviewing the performance of the individuals, teams, and what they produce.  The ability to recognize and respond to market trends requires a thoughtful and intentional methodology.  HPT provides a framework where organizations can develop tools and methods that take into account the various inputs and constraints that affect performance.

How does your organization assess performance issues?

Does your organization apply a systematic approach to performance?

Do you have a program for analyzing the performance of your direct reports?

What are you doing to ensure they have the tools and training to perform at the highest level?

Does every performance problem get solved with training?

If you can’t answer these questions with confidence, click here to find a certified performance technologist near you.