Human Performance Technology (HPT)


This article is a great example of the need to include all levels of employees.  It shows that you get better results when include frontliners in the process of identifying and resolving performance issues.  I want to emphasize the role of the supervisor in this process.  Notice the process begins when “a supervisor facilitates the team to define a performance issue that is under the team’s control.”

Its not the Training department or the performance specialist who initiates the effort.  Its the supervisor.  This is evidence of an organization that is committed to performance improvement. The days of centralized training and performance improvement are long gone.  Markets and workplaces move too quickly to rely on a separate department to identify and address performance issues.

In other words, performance improvement is a mindset.  It’s either in an organization’s DNA or it isn’t. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that all the collaboration and development from the Training department (which is where the performance improvement specialist is often assigned) cannot change an organization’s culture all alone.  Supervisors and their upline have to make it a priority and look for opportunities to improve.

How do you instill this mindset?  First, performance improvement has to be a part of the everyday conversation.  Below are some questions you can ask regularly to get the conversation started.

  • What can we do better?
  • What are we missing?
  • Who else can we ask about this?
  • Where are your pain points?

The second thing to do is let down your guard.  Humility and a willingness to accept feedback takes practice.  Supervisors have to demonstrate this on a regular basis.  The best feedback hurts a little.  Sometimes it hurts a lot.  A little short-term pain is worth it if you really want to perform at a higher level.

Third, learn.  There is a direct link between learning and growth.  When a person stops learning or loses the desire to learn personal growth stagnates.  The same thing happens to an organization.  There is no shortage of things to learn in an organization.  There is a risk that you might be focused on the wrong thing to learn about.  It won’t take long to find out what is worth learning about and what isn’t.

Finally, maximize the resources you have.  Expertise is everywhere.  You just have to look for it.  Despite their day-to-day responsibilities, most people have skills that are un-utilized or under-utilized.  Tap those resources.  Many times you will find skills and perspectives you never would have known about.  A hidden benefit to this is increasing the satisfaction of the employee.  We all toil away at our job doing work we have to do to keep the operation running.  Giving someone a break to do something different feels like a reward.  For a few hours or days they get to do something they really love and are good at doing.  At the end, make sure to recognize their efforts.  That will motivate others and motivate others to share ideas to improve.

As you can see from the description above, performance improvement can become self-sustaining.  Employees have to feel that the people they report to are interested in their perspective and willing to act.  Once this gathers momentum the culture of an organization will change.  This sounds scary but it doesn’t have to be.  The change I am talking about is the atmosphere in the workplace.  Organization-wide performance improvement is empowering.  It puts a spring in people’s step.  It breeds confidence. It make people happy at home and at work.  Who doesn’t want that?

This article was a the top of my list from top articles on learning from 2013.  There are so many goodies here that I’m afraid I would plagiarize the entire article if I commented on everything I like in it.  Before I comment on the top excerpts I will offer a few general thoughts.

For years I have sensed a change was at hand in the learning world.  The days of event-based training programs were coming to an end due to the growth of social technologies and informal learning.  As a learning professional, the marketplace has changed.  A training/consumer is not dependent on proprietary learning programs.  In fact, those kind of large scale interventions are obsolete.  The resources (time, budget, personnel) required to develop these types of programs are unwieldy and outmoded.  I first realized this in the late 90s when I was developing CBT.  The development cycle for one 4-8 hour course was 6 months.  The training I was developing was for early Internet technologies.  Even then, before the days of perpetual beta, the technologies were evolving within that 6 month time frame.  As a result, we should have been planning the course update as we released the course.  If that was the case 15 years ago, how much more is the imperative for just in time information now.

The excerpts below address the issues I raise and more. NOTE: L&D stands for learning and development which I prefer of training.

Equally, I asked myself, why would people prefer to get information and learn through the intermediation of their L&D department if they have the alternative of doing so faster and more easily from other practitioners and colleagues, or people in their network who may or may not work in the same team, company or country as them? Especially if they can gain that knowledge and expertise without leaving their desk or workflow.

The answer, I believe, is ‘they wouldn’t’.

Under this view, Learning and Development has to change its focus from a provider of information to an enabler of information access.

[P]eople will only know that through developing a level of trust in their sources of information and learning. And they will develop trust relationships by using the information, advice and expertise they’re provided with.  If they find it helps them get their work done better, faster or smarter then they’re more likely to ask again, and a competence trust relationship builds.

Embedded in this approach is a commitment to learn and pursue expertise.  Not only does the L&D department have to change its approach, but the learner has to take a more active role in their development.

L&D specialists should be focusing on understanding critical business problems that are being caused by underperformance and then working with stakeholders to design the best ways to solve them.  This may, or may not, involve designing, developing and delivering physical or virtual training, eLearning or some other intervention.

This is why I am certified in Human Performance Technology.  If an intervention does not address or solve a critical business problem than it may not be worth developing.

[P]eople “will always use the easiest and fastest way possible to find information”. If they have difficult-to-navigate interfaces, or if anything gets in the way, then they will go elsewhere if they think there’s an easier option for them.

This is a critical challenge to L&D.  I am a strong proponent of lean design.  As the author says later in this paragraph, “If Google created any obstacles, it would not be first choice.”

As a Certified Performance Technologist, I often find it hard to explain exactly what I do. Consequently I’m always looking for examples of performance improvement in practice.  In the past week I’ve been working on a project that brings together many of the core elements of performance improvement.

Let me first summarize the project.  The company I work for is looking to expand its business into a new area.  We have pilot tested the approach to fine-tune our process and learn the best way to engage the market and carry out our plan.  The pilot team included representatives from our marketing, merchandising, and store operations departments.  I was added to the team after several pilot tests had been conducted (this happens in most projects I work on even though I tell my colleagues they would get more value from my participation if I were included earlier).  After the pilot period was over we began to craft the policy that would govern our new endeavor.

Through the end of the pilot period I created a training guide on our internal website to help our pilot stores plan and conduct their events.  The guide was considered a draft and was being pilot tested along with the processes.  When the pilot period ended work began on the final policy that would govern and guide the new initiative.  A key stakeholder on the project, who also initiated the effort, drafted the initial policy and gave it to me to review.

I took the draft and reviewed it with a colleague with experience in the area of the new initiative.  As we reviewed the draft we documented areas of concern and noted issues that needed clarification.  With this information I set out to resolve the issues with the members of the team who either owned or had insight into the subject.  This is a key difference between training development and performance improvement.  The first three standards of ISPI‘s performance standards are focusing on results, taking a systemic view, and adding value.  Training development fundamentally is transferring content from one form to another without regard for results, which departments are involved, or the contribution made by the developer.  I do not mean to cast aspersions on training developers.  I am simply drawing contrasts between training development and performance improvement.

As I worked through the issues we reduced the number of people who needed to be notified of events, we eliminated unnecessary or redundant reports, confirmed the involvement of part-time employees with HR, reviewed how products are handled and tracked, and addressed how to handle exceptions that are likely to arise (such as special requests).

Embedded in this process were the remaining performance improvement standards, determining (or anticipating) the cause of potential performance issues, ensuring the process is feasible and can be easily implemented, and that there are mechanisms to monitor the success of the process and policy.

We are still working to finalize the policy and I am considering how best to communicate the procedure to the chain.  This will follow a the more familiar steps of instructional design, (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation).  However, I am confident the training we create will be more effective due to my early involvement.

What are the benefits of having a CPT on this project?  I don’t know what everyone else thinks but here is my take.  First, I was able to work with all the stakeholders to identify and address conflicts or confusion.  Second, I could take an objective approach to the process (I often refer to myself as Switzerland).  Third, performance improvement focuses on results (ISPI standard #1).  So often the training and policy for a new initiative focuses on the activity involved and the actual reason for the effort is lost.

I found some good reminders about performance improvement in an article on international development.  Apparently the focus of international development these days is capacity building.  This is not a term I use every day so I looked it up (naturally Wikipedia had my answer).

Capacity building is a conceptual approach to development that focuses on understanding the obstacles that inhibit people, governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations from realizing their developmental goals while enhancing the abilities that will allow them to achieve measurable and sustainable results.”

That sounds like what I do every day in a different context.  I can only imagine what obstacles he experiences in developing countries.  He makes an interesting point in his post (emphasis mine).

There is considerably more depth to the ideas than capacity-building-is-more-than-training. There are lots of boxes and arrows that tell you what to do to who, when, how, and how often. In summary, these boxes say “figure out what they want to do; figure out why they can’t do it now; fix that.” And above all – don’t assume the solution is training.

This is a point I make repeatedly and I don’t think it can be made frequently enough.  In fact I have two messages posted on the wall of my office to make sure people don’t forget (including me).


does not always lead to




does not always lead to


The goal of every organization should be to achieve measurable and sustainable results, however that is defined for them.  Often this approach requires a shift in thinking.  The first is the attitude toward learning.  We all get busy and our to-do list grows daily.  Every once in a while its good to return to the basics.

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.

Lowe’s is applying human performance technology (HPT) to revamp their training department from transactional T&D (training and development) order takers to strategic HPT business partners.  Their goal is to develop “a proficient and engaged workforce that delivers optimal customer experiences and business results.”

Their solution focuses on  5 ongoing activities based on the 10 ISPI performance technology standards.

  • Conducting a cause analysis to determine why a gap existed in performance
  • Co-creating a rigorous, emergent, one-of-a-kind learning architecture
  • Building just-in-time, just-enough (not just-in-case) learning solutions during the development phase
  • Piloting and implementing the new way to learn at Lowe’s (to more than 1,700 stores)
  • Measuring new performance with knowledge assessments and performance validations, informally and formally

This is a forward thinking approach that recognizes the value of developing employees rather than simply training them.  One of the key differentiators of HPT from a traditional training approach is its emphasis on a systematic approach.  It appears Lowe’s has a clear vision for customer service and is committed to equipping their employees to carry out this vision.

It will take Lowe’s 5 years to complete this transition which will require a committed executive sponsor, strong leadership, significant financial and resource investment and a lot of patience.

There is so much I agree with packed into this post by Seth Godin.

The space matters

It might be a garage or a sunlit atrium, but the place you choose to do what you do has an impact on you.

More people get engaged in Paris in the springtime than on the 7 train in Queens. They just do. Something in the air, I guess.

Pay attention to where you have your brainstorming meetings. Don’t have them in the same conference room where you chew people out over missed quarterly earnings.

Pay attention to the noise and the smell and the crowd in the place where you’re trying to overcome being stuck. And as Paco Underhill has written, make the aisles of your store wide enough that shoppers can browse without getting their butts brushed by other shoppers.

Most of all, I think we can train ourselves to associate certain places with certain outcomes. There’s a reason they built those cathedrals. Pick your place, on purpose.

The first standard in human performance technology is “focus on results.”  Based on that standard the first question you should always ask yourself is, “What am I trying to accomplish?”  The second question should be, “How do I go about accomplishing it?”

Too many of us view our days as a series of items on our to-do list, measuring our success by the number of items we get crossed off the list.  Don’t go through your day blindly going from meeting to meeting, task to task, email to email.  Approach everything you with intentionality.  Be fully present.

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