Performance Improvement Principles

Job Performance

Job Performance is the value of the set of employee behaviors that contribute, either positively or negatively, to organizational goal accomplishment. Job performance has three dimensions: task performance, citizenship behavior, and counterproductive behavior.

Task Performance. Employee behaviors that are directly involved in the transformation of organizational resources into the goods or services that the organization produces.

  • Routine Task Performance. Involves well-known responses to demands that occur in a normal, routine, or predictable.

  • Adaptive Task Performance (Adaptability). Involves employee responses to task demands that are novel, unusual, or unpredictable.

  • Creative Task Performance. The degree in which individuals develop ideas or physical outcomes that are both novel and useful. Employee creativity is necessary to spark the types of innovations that enable organizations to stay ahead of their competition.

Task Performance refers to the tasks, duties, and responsibilities that are a core part of the job.

Citizenship Behavior. Voluntary employee activities that may or may not be rewarded but that contribute to the organization by improving the overall quality of the setting in which work takes place. Examples of citizenship behavior include helping, courtesy, sportsmanship, voice, civic virtue, and boosterism.

Counterproductive Behavior. Employee behaviors that intentionally hinder organizational goal accomplishment. Examples of counterproductive behavior include sabotage, theft, wasting resources, substance abuse, gossiping, incivility, harassment, and abuse.

Performance Gap Types

It’s always worth clearly defining the problem (i.e., performance gap) before trying to define the solution. This ensures we are actually solving the real problem and not a problem we don’t have.

Knowledge Gaps. Sometimes a learner’s main gap is knowledge, but more frequently knowledge and information are just the supplies the learner needs to develop skills. It is always critical to start by providing the right information in the right format to the learner.

What information does the learner need to be successful?

When along the route will they need it?

What formats would best support that?

Skills Gaps. A successful learning experience doesn’t just involve a learner knowing more – it’s about them being able to do more with that knowledge. Frequently learners get handed the knowledge in a book or a class but don’t get the opportunity to practice and develop skills. Having a skill is different from having knowledge. To determine if something is a skill gap rather than a knowledge gap, use the question “Is it reasonable to think that someone can be proficient without practice?” If the answer is no, then you know you are dealing with a skill, and your learners will need practice to develop proficiency.

What do they actually need to do with the information?

What will the learners need to practice to develop the needed proficiencies?

Where are their opportunities to practice?

What is an expert doing differently from a novice?

What is the consequence if somebody does it wrong?

If someone is getting this exactly right, what would that look like?

Is it reasonable to assume that someone will get this right the first time, or will they need to practice to get proficient?

Motivation Gaps. If you are asking your learners to change an existing practice, you are probably going to have some motivation issues to contend with. As designers we can help support motivation in a learning experience by showing the learners how something new is useful and easy to use. Learners may need to practice uncomfortable or difficult behaviors until they can overcome anxiety and feel confident.

What is the learner’s attitude toward the change?

Are they going to be resistant to changing course?

If they know how to do something, are there other reasons why they aren’t succeeding?

Habit Gaps. Sometimes, people have the knowledge, skills, and motivation and there still may be a gap. For example, a new manager can have seen the importance of giving good feedback, have learned a method for giving feedback, and truly believe that it’s an important thing to do, and – even after all that – still struggle to give feedback when needed. Change can be hard because learners may have deeply ingrained patterns or habits they have to unlearn, and you need to expect that as part of the change process. Habit formation requires being able identify the triggers for that habit, and having a plan in place to respond to those triggers. Habit formation usually requires practice and feedback.

Are any of the required behaviors habits (ingrained patterns)?

Are there existing habits that will need to be unlearned?

Environment Gaps. The environment needs to support the learner. People are much less likely to be successful if they encounter roadblocks when they try to apply what they’ve learned. If you want somebody to change a behavior, does the current process support it? Are there resources and technology in the work environment to support it? Are people being incentivized and rewarded for making the change? Is the change being reinforced over time?

What in the environment is preventing the learner from being successful?

What is needed to support them in being successful?

Is there anything that we could do, besides training, that would make it more likely that people would do the right thing?

Communication Gaps. Sometimes it’s not a learning problem, but rather a problem of communication, direction, or leadership. Recognizing those instances can save a lot of effort.

Are the goals being clearly communicated?

Human Performance System

In their book, Improving Performance, Geary Rummler and Alan Brache explain that business success can only be achieved if we address the three levels of the Human Performance System (HPS): Organization, Process, and Performer.

They emphasize that we can’t improve performance in isolation. Individual performers are only one part of a “performance engine” that need to align with the process and organization levels. As they say, assuming that individual employee performance is the root of all performance problems is as foolish as assuming that a bad battery is at the root of all car breakdowns. While the battery may be at fault, a good mechanic realizes that it is just one part of a system.

Most training attempts to improve organization and process performance by addressing only one level (the Performer level) and only one dimension of the Performer level (Formal Training). As a result, the training has no significant long-term impact, training dollars are wasted, and trainees are frustrated and confused.

– Rummler & Brache

Human Performance Technology (HPT) Model

Behavior Engineering Model

Thomas Gilbert found that it was the workplace environment, not an individual’s knowledge or skill, as the greatest factor to exemplary performance.

His research showed that 85% of performance problems are caused at the environment level and only 15% of performance problems are caused at the Individual level.

Analyzing Performance Problems

High-Performer Analysis

High Performer Analysis. Seek out and better understand high performers, and then support their team’s transition from high potentials to high performers.


The focus of the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) methodology is to understand and achieve what the customer wants. It was developed by General Electric as a means of focusing effort on quality using a methodological approach.

Define – customers and their priorities

Measure – Process and its performance

Analyze – Causes of defects

Improve – Remove causes of defects

Control – Maintain quality

The Five Whys Technique

Sakichi Toyoda created the 5 Whys technique to stop people solving symptoms and instead tackle root causes. When presented with a problem, you simply ask ‘Why’ 5 times, and then solve the root problem.

Consistently asking why helps companies understand, and solve, high level problems. To evolve the concept, Jared Spool points out danger of assuming there is one answer to each ‘Why’ without verifying. There are lots of potential answers to each why, and as we repeat the question, we need to further extrapolate. The diagram above sure looks neat and tidy, but it carries massive assumptions. In reality it’s more like this:

Once you identify the root causes, we need to understand, quantify, and then prioritize them. It’s good practice to categorize root causes into themes such as user experience, user motivation, etc.

If they’re mostly user interface related, then you should consider a new design (rather than pivoting from a broken one). If your design does nothing but confuse customers, it’s because you didn’t get user feedback before you launched. Why did that happen? How can you solve that?