I just read a well-written article on front-end analysis.  In addition to providing practical insights into performance analysis the author does a good job differentiating human performance technology (HPT) from basic training development.

Human performance technology is a set of disciplines but it is also a way of thinking.  A thorough performance improvement effort requires specialized experience but everybody in an organization can help.  One of the best contributions a person can make is to conduct an informal front-end analysis.  Note the emphasis on informal.  This may sound intimidating or complicated but it isn’t and doesn’t have to be.

The author provides two goals for the front-end analysis but anyone can make significant progress on the first, defining the current and desired performance.  Most performance improvement efforts start with a problem.  The person who identifies the problem can probably provide valuable information about it and its causes without the guidance or involvement of an HPT professional.

Below are relevant questions I chose from the article.

  • Based on what evidence can you say you have a problem?
  • How will we know when the problem is solved?
  • What are the possible causes of the problem? (Lack of data, tools, incentives, knowledge, capacity, motives)
  • What is the probable cause? (Of all the possible causes which one is the most likely?)
  • Should we allocate resources to solve it?

The point of this process is to make an early attempt at understanding a problem.  In most cases these questions will bring focus and help determine if more people need to get involved.


Throughout its nearly 90 years of history, Hasbro has grown its business with iconic toys like Mr. Potato Head and acquisitions of well-known companies like Parker Brothers and Tonka.

In the 2000s, Hasbro “needed to refocus, shifting from acquisitions to nurturing the cadre of more than 1,000 brands in its portfolio with the goal of total brand immersion, including games, toys, entertainment and housewares.”

How did they do it?  By developing on internal talent.  In this article, we learn how this change in focus enabled Hasbro to identify and capitalize on new markets and strategies.  The approach they took could be right out of the ISPI handbook (if there was one).  Below are some highlights and my thoughts.

In 2003, the company, in partnership with the executive education program at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, created the Hasbro Global Leadership Program to bolster the talent pipeline and provide opportunity for high potentials to expand their leadership roles. (ISPI standard #4)

To set the initial curriculum, Tuck professor Vijay Govindarajan, faculty director for the Hasbro program, worked closely with Hasbro’s leadership to identify skill gaps and plot where the company needed to go and the skills needed to get there.

Three things jump out at me here.  First, they had a vision for what they wanted to accomplish (ISPI standard #1 Focus on results).  It appears this was used to stay focused (plot where they needed to go).  Second, they identified skill gaps (ISPI standard #5).  This is huge.  I am sure most of the stakeholders had opinions about how to achieve the goal.  Taking a systematic and systemic approach is a much wiser course.  I hope they didn’t end there.  Identifying gaps in knowledge and attitudes is just as important.  Finally, they prioritized they skill gaps.  Focusing on skills that will achieve their goals will maintain momentum and reduce the likelihood of burnout.

So, what did they come up with?

Modules were mapped out to address global strategy, personal leadership, brand building, emerging markets and ethics. Specific modules included “Changing the Rules of the Global Game: Creating the Future,” “Developing Transcultural Competence,” “Emerging Markets: Challenges and Opportunities,” “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” and “Building the Global Organization of the Future.”

To execute this plan they created “action learning teams.”  These teams would talk “about ways to stimulate out-of-season sales, such as promoting the games business at Easter, leveraging Kids Day in Latin America or Canada’s summer cottage season, or the cultural particulars of emerging markets. In some countries with low per-capita income, it is essential for parents to understand the educational benefits of play.”

Is this approach only good from a corporate perspective?

Of the more than 200 participants since the program started, nearly 20 percent have been promoted or taken on greater responsibilities.

HR will love this approach too because the retention rate of participants is around 90%.

Read the whole thing.  It will only take a few minutes.

One of the first questions stakeholders ask in the learning development process is, “how much training credit are we going to give for this?”  This is actually one of the last questions I ask when developing a training solution.

Non-developers ask this question first because they are usually accountable for creating training opportunities that will help employees meet their annual requirements or because they have to fit the training into a larger program.

Developers ask this question last because it places the emphasis in the wrong place, limits the design process, inhibits creative thinking (yes training development requires creativity), and because it is impossible to answer at the beginning of the process.

In Chapter 9 of Designing Successful E-Learning, Michael Allen describes a process he calls “backgrounding.”  This is an information gathering stage that occurs before the actual design of a training solution begins.  In this process he suggests some key questions you SHOULD be asking first regardless of the format of your training solution.

  1. Is there really a human performance problem? This is similar to standard 5 of ISPI’s performance standards which I wrote about here.
  2. Is the problem caused by a lack of ability to perform?  Cause analysis is standard 6, which I wrote about here.
  3. What are the determinants of behavior?  “People do things for reasons.  Their reasons may be built on misconceptions, fears, and lack of confidence, desire to fit in and behave like everyone else, perceived strengths and so on.  To be successful with a learning intervention, instructional designers need to identify the primary determinants of the behaviors that need to be changed.”

When I am “backgrounding” a project I want to know what result we are trying to achieve, what problem we are trying to solve or what opportunity are we trying to address.  ISPI uses the acronym RSVP to describe this process.

R – Results
S – Situation or context
V – Value
P – Partnerships

The answers you get when backgrounding a project will focus your efforts and greatly increase your likelihood of success.  Forcing a topic (assuming it is the right topic) into a predefined time-limited box will greatly impair your design and development effort and may cause you to miss your target altogether.

A key word in this series is “design.”  It would be understandable for a person to ask “when is he going to get around to discussing design?”  I’m almost there.  Before I do, I want to review where we have been in previous posts.

Whenever an organization is dealing with a performance problem, the focus must be on results (ISPI standard #1).    You may think training is required.  You may discuss who is or is not doing what they’re supposed to do.  Some may suggest investing in new software or systems.  Resist these temptations.   Focusing your efforts on results will put your discussions into the right context.  This will enable you to collect the right information, understand the true cause of the problem, and come up with a solution that will achieve the desired results.

Focusing on improved results sets the tone for the entire effort.  You must also consider the situation or context (ISPI standard #2) and decide what resources are required to effectively achieve the desired results.  With a clear understanding of the context and the right people on the project (ISPI standard #4), it is time to do a detailed analysis of the problem (ISPI standard #5).  Your preliminary research and partnerships will help.  Throughout all of this, resist the temptation to draw conclusions too soon.  Patterns will emerge.  Solutions will seem appropriate and attractive.  Wait until you have all the data and have analyzed it before you draw conclusions.  Let the data reveal the true nature of the problem and what is causing it (ISPI standard #6).

I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen an organization decide training will solve a problem without any idea what results they are trying to achieve.  They see that something is going wrong so they automatically assume training will fix it.  What do you train on?  Who decides what the training should be about?  How will you know the participants got what they’re supposed to get?  To find the right answer you have to ask the right questions.  Here are some ideas to get started.

  • What are your expectations (be specific)?
  • What does “wrong” look like?
  • What does “right” look like?
  • Who is doing it “right?”
  • Why is this person doing it “right?”
  • Why can they do it “right” and others can’t?
  • How will we know we have achieved our goal?

This process does not have to take months to complete.  Depending on the scope of the situation, performance improvement can be achieved in weeks or possibly even days.  Do not automatically assume that this process will consume a lot of time and resources.  It is not unusual for this process to save money.

This is a time-tested approach to achieve a successful outcome.  It isn’t always glamorous, but it works.  With the review behind us, lets get on with the discussion of ISPI standard #7, design.

Resuming my overview of ISPI’s performance standards, the focus of this post is cause analysis.  According to ISPI, “some causes are obvious, such as new hires [who] lack the required skills to do the expected task.”  Training should be a part of the solution for onboarding new hires.  However, one should not always assume training will resolve every need a new hire or any other employee has.

What is implied in the quote above, but not explicitly stated, is the fact the underperformance can be caused by factors that are not fully resolved through training.   These can include organizational priorities, lack of access to resources or individuals, inadequate or defective tools, poor morale, ineffective incentives, or ill-defined processes.

Settling on a solution because it seems right or because it is the way you have always done things is a common mistake.  I encourage you to look beyond the obvious and explore what else could be causing a performance problem.  This may take some effort and will definitely be challenging but you will be well on your way to coming up with a solution that will actually improve performance.

Going through my backlog of articles I want to read I came across an interesting post that touches on how to manage millennials.  No I am not obsessed with them I just post what I think might be helpful.  There is also a learning angle to this but you’ll have to read on to find it.

In this post, Tammy Erickson reviews the events that occurred in the formative years of millennials and how that has formed their identity and habits.  Below are  a few excepts I found interesting.

  • Y’s want to feel they are doing work that is challenging and important.
  • Focus on the actual completion of tasks; hold them accountable for outcomes, not for time spent.
  • Create a collaborative, team-based environment.
  • Leverage technology to create more efficient processes.
  • Provide frequent feedback; first-line managers should teach rather than assess.
  • Provide a variety of world-class learning opportunities.

Aren’t you glad you read to the end to find out what the learning tie-in is?  Read the whole thing.  It will only take a few minutes.  There is more in the post that is worth taking a look at.

I am planning a job analysis for an internal team in a retail organization.  They are skeptical about the need and process.  The buzz around the office is that this effort will be time consuming, tedious, and unsuccessful.  With this in mind, my supervisor has challenged me to develop an unconventional data collection plan.  In short, his vision is that we will break the “rules” of data collection.  For example, do we really need to convene a group in a room for 2+ hours?  Can we break the process into smaller chunks and still get reliable data?

To be clear we are not setting out to break “rules” just for the sake of doing it.  There is a bigger goal behind the vision, culture change.  Many habits (whether positive or negative) have become ingrained.  As you can imagine this has led to a stagnant culture.  We cannot afford to be stagnant.  We need innovation.  We need to be able to recognize and respond to opportunities.  I am hopeful we can have a successful analysis and begin to break the behavior patterns that are preventing us from performing at to our highest potential.

To break the “rules” we need to know what they are.  Please help me compile a list and share any other ideas, regardless of how crazy they may seem.

Here is some additional info that may be helpful.

  • Everyone works the same hours (more or less)
  • Everyone works in the same location
  • There are about 12 participants
  • All the participants have 5+ years of experience with the company

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