Have you ever worked on a project only to find out that you don’t have resources or support to implement your plan?    In training, or performance improvement, we face these situations all the time.  As a consultant, I have to invest time exploring the context in which I am operating early in the project.  When discussing context, it usually doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn to constraints.

I confess to being a relentless planner (and worrier).  I am constantly wondering what I am missing or what I have not considered about a project.  When discussing context this is a helpful weakness.  Since I rarely have subject matter expertise or access to the location where the learning will take place I must rely on others to provide the contextual information I lack.

Understanding the context in which performance occurs does not automatically lead to a perfect outcome.  However, identifying and discussing potential barriers will help design an intervention that will achieve the desired outcome.  Sometimes it causes stakeholders to reconsider their expectations.

Below are ISPI’s performance requirements for the Context standard.

1. Identify the current work, workplace, or market environment in terms of how it affects organizational and group performance.

2. Identify the environment and culture of the work and workplace and how it affects organizational and group performance.

3. Identify if there is a lack of alignment between or among—

  • Goals and objectives
  • Performance measures
  • Rewards and incentives
  • Job/work/or process designs
  • Available systems, tools, and equipment
  • Expectations and capacity

4. Identify barriers and leverage points, both in the workplace and surrounding your project.

5. Drive conversations around the barriers and leverage points that have been identified.

Constraints, or barriers, include deadlines, budget, politics, time, regulatory issues, product launch, and safety.  None of these should be taken lightly.  In my experience none of these has prevented a performance intervention from being developed; However they do have an effect on the design and quality of the final product.

How do you know if you have done a good job identifying the constraints that affect your project?  One sign is that the topics of conversations change.  In my experience, focusing on constraints causes stakeholders to reassess their expectations and assumptions.  Instead of talking about what will happen in a training event, the discussion turns to causes and work conditions.  I’ve worked on projects where the client had their mind made up about the format of a training intervention only to change their mind after considering key aspects the work context.  The final product was completely different than the original concept.

If I am doing my job, what should my client be focused on?  Again, I will quote ISPI’s standards.

  • How is the work, workplace, or environment supporting or impeding the desired organizational and group performance?
  • How does the current culture supports or impedes the desired performance?
  • Where is there a lack of alignment between or among key factors affecting the success of the proposed solution?
  • How do the barriers and leverage points support or impede the proposed solutions and the desired organizational and group performance?
  • How will the proposed solutions will affect the greater environment of the organization as a whole?
  • Will the results of your work and how you plan on going about producing those results might jeopardize the client, the organization, or society’s well-being?
  • How will the methods of deploying and the results of the project will have a positive impact?

I realize these are not typical questions one asks when developing training but human performance technology is not about training, it is about improved performance.  If you aren’t asking these questions you are probably missing something and your training programs will show it.