Working Strategically

Categories of Work

There are three categories of work:

Transactional. Identifying and addressing needs of individuals. (e.g., How do you suggest I enhance my management skills? What actions might I take?)

Primary services provided are information and coaching

Quick turnaround expected

Considered urgent

Must be done effectively and in a timely manner or can lose credibility

Tactical. Identifying and addressing needs of workgroups. (e.g., My supervisors need to have better skills in resolving manufacturing problems. What training do you recommend?)

Design and deliver new training, new process, re-organization, compensation system, etc.

Requires substantive resources: time, people, money

Can be implemented integral to a strategic initiative or independent of one

Must be done well or can lose credibility

Strategic. Identifying and addressing needs of the organization and/or business. (e.g., Our business has been losing market share for our signature brands in the past three years. Clearly we need to take some actions. I want to determine the reasons for the situation and the actions we need to take.)

Directly linked to one or more business needs…truly advantaging the business

Solution-neutral for some period of time

Long term in scope (one to five years)

Requires multiple solutions

Client Roles

A “True” Client can be of two types:

Sustained Client. An individual with whom a relationship is developed independent of any project or initiative. Generally, a sustained client is in the mid- to upper-levels in the organization is someone who has accountability for the business goals for a function, division, or group. The level of contact and communication between the consultant and client remains fairly constant over time. The goal is to develop this into a strategic business-based partnership.

Project Client. The individual who owns the business and performance needs for the specific project or initiative that is being supported. This individual has the authority to make decisions and take actions relative to the project.

  • Owns the business and performance needs (Accountable for achieving business results)

  • Has the most to gain or lose from these needs being addressed (skin the game, cares)

  • Has the authority to make and implement decisions and solutions associated with these needs.

  • Can obtain the needed resources for solutions to be implemented.

A Client Team. Consists of a true client (owns business and performance needs), someone within chain command of employee group, and someone who must legitimize the project to other. Some or all of the client team members should be two or more levels above the employee group.

Contacts. Frequently, the person who calls to request support is a contact and not a true client. While this person may ahve authority over the solution that is requested, a contact does not “own” the business and performance needs that are being supported. Often a contact becomes part of the client team.

Employee Groups. These are groups of individuals who share a common job and/or role and can contribute to acheivement of the business need through their day-to-day performance. (e.g., Account Representatives, Project Managers, Team Leads, and Service Technicians) Employee groups are not departments or job families.

Criteria Required to Qualify a Strategic Opportunity

The following criteria are requirements for an initiative to qualify as a strategic opportunity:

  • There is a business need.

  • The consultant has direct access to the true client (i.e., owner of business and performance need)

  • Client does seek performance change or improvement of people in one or more employee groups following the initiative

  • Client is willing to share accountability for producing change

  • Client will provide consultant with time and access to appropriate people in order to obtain required information prior to taking action

  • The situation focuses on a group of employees and not just one or two individuals

Four Organizational Needs

Business Needs. Operational and/or strategic goals for an entity (i.e., a unit, department, or organization). Business needs are expressed in operational terms and are typically measured in numbers.

Examples: Manage operating expenses within the IT budget, Customer satisfaction must increase, etc.

Performance Needs. On-the-job behavioral requirements of people are performing a specific job or role. These needs describe what people need to do more, better, or differently if the business needs are to be met. Performance needs are measured behaviorally.

Examples: Project Managers manage projects on time and within budget, Call Center Reps resolve the customer’s problem in the first call, etc.

Organizational Capability Needs. The infrastructure within the organization, including work processes, information, and incentives that are needed if people are to perform as required. Many organizational capability needs are intangible – you do not see them, you “feel” them.

Example Questions:

  • What are the reasons for the gap between what employees should be doing and what they are doing?

  • If the solution suggested were implemented, what other reasons might still make it difficult for business to meet its business goals?

  • If the solution suggested were implemented, what other reasons might still make it difficult for people to perform as needed?

  • If the employees were to develop the skills and knowledge needed, what are other reasons why they still might not perform as desired?

Examples: Project Managers lack a documented process to follow, CCRs require appropriate prompts on the screen to support obtaining all required information from customers, etc.

Example Solutions: Compensation Systems, Redesigned Work Processes, Redefined Roles & Responsbilities, New Technology, Additional Authority, etc.

Individual Capability Needs. The skill, knowledge, and attributes required of people if they are to perform successfully. Capability needs also include job match and inherent ability.

Example Questions:

  • How do the capabilities of the employees compare to the requirements of the job?

  • What skills and knowledge do employees require if they are to perform successfully?

Examples: Insufficient knowledge of newest technology among potential project team members, CCRs require in-depth knowledge of the products.

Example Solutions: Recruitment and Hiring Systems, Learning Solutions

Business needs are the highest order need, all other needs originate from business needs.

Results = Business Needs, Performance Needs

Causes and Solutions = Organizational Capability Needs, Individual Capability Needs

Root Cause Categories for Gaps

Organization External Factors. Factors outside the control of anyone in the organization.

Examples: Economic Conditions, Demographics, Competition, Changing Customer Expectations, Government Regulations

Organization Internal Factors. Factors within the control of management and the organization.

Clarity of Roles and Expectations: Role clarity including “turf” issues and job outputs, sufficient staffing, job structure, sufficient authority, appropriate workload

Coaching and Reinforcement: Support for appropriate specialists, acknowledgment for accomplishment (single best factor to convert learning to doing)

Incentives: Financial, meaningful rewards, consequences for not performing as needed, interesting and meaningful work, access to growth and contacts to leaders

Work Systems and Processes: Technology and Information systems, defined processes are effective, lack of task interference and obstacles. (Pit a good employee against bad system, bad system will win every time.)

Access to Information, People, Tools, and Resources: Information necessary to perform is available, accurate, and complete. Databases, experts, documentation, EPSS, job aids, computers, phones, vehicles.

Supportive Culture: values and beliefs, vision and mission, norms and accepted practices.

Individual Internal Factors. Factors within individuals that ensure they are capable of performing as needed.

Skill and Knowledge: Possessing required skill and knowledge and/or having access to learning opportunities including self-study and mentoring.

Inherent Capability: intelligence, emotional fitness, physical capability, attributes, personal characteristics, artistic gifts, internal motivation, previous experience, educational credentials

Symptom or Cause?

A root cause is a factor against which solutions can be applied. When these solution are implemented, the cause will be eliminated and/or its effects minimized so that the Business and Performance SHOULDs can occur. A root cause generally fits into one of the nine root cause categories.

A symptom is a sign or indication of a root cause but is, by itself, not the cause. Generally, it is difficult to identtify solutions for a symptom, as the symptom lacks specificty. This will lead to “solution guessing” that may or may not have the desired impact.

Symptom: I lack time to be in the field with customers as much as I should be. You don’t know where to focus the solution to fix the problem.

Root Cause: I lack time to be in the field with customers because there is so much administrative paperwork I have to do in the office. You know where to focus action to fix the problem.

Solution: The solution(s) is to find alternative ways to complete administrative paperwork. In this way, time that is freed up can then be spent in the field with customers. The solution needs to connect directly to one or more identified root causes.

Capability vs. Performance

Capability means we can perform, performance means we are doing so (the execution of the capability) in the workplace.

There is no business or performance measure that improves because of what people know; these measures improve because of what people do with what they know.

Enhancing capability or skill is a learning outcome. It means that people have the capability to perform in some manner. It does not mean that they will. How many of us have the capability to perform activities such as biking or playing bridge, but do not use those capabilities for many reasons? The same is true for every individual we support through our developmental programs and initiatives.

A performance outcome occurs when people take what they know and turn it into what they do on the job. And, of course, making the conversion from learning to doing requires a work environment that supports the capability that was developed. As Geary Rummler famously put it, “You pit a good employee against a bad system and the system will win most every time.”

People develop skills but then need both the will (motivation) to apply that skill, and ability to overcome any hill (obstacle) in the work environment that could impede application. Only then can performance result from capability that has been developed.

We know that performance is what people do on the job. We also know that, too frequently, people acquire capability that they never use on the job. Yet learning solutions are implemented as though they alone will yield results. As talent development professionals, we need to make performance—and not just learning—our business. And we do that in two ways:

  1. We keep clear in our minds the difference between skill and performance. When a manager requests that we enhance skills of a group of people, we ask questions to determine what performance the manager seeks before focusing on the skills that have been identified.

  2. We view the building of capability as a means to the end, not the end. Our end goal is to enhance on-the-job performance that benefits the organization. We need to know when the work environment will not support skills we plan to develop. We need to partner with the leaders who can work with us to ensure skills will transfer to the workplace. And when a leader is unwilling to be so engaged, we need to state our belief that learning alone is unlikely to yield the desired results.



Business SHOULDs. List the operational goals that indicate how the business need is measured. Each goal should have a number.

Example Questions:

  • What are the goals for your business/group? (e.g., What should the production output be? What are the region’s sales goals for this year? What is the standard rate for acceptable wastage?)

  • What are the metrics that need to be achieved?

  • Is there any region or group achieving the goals now? What are they doing differently to contribute to these results?

Example Responses: 20% reduction in maintenance and repair costs

Business IS. List the actual operational results that occur now. Each result should have a number; have one operational result for each operational SHOULD noted above.

Example Questions:

  • What are the current results? (e.g., What is the current production rate? What are the region’s actual sales results? What is the current wastage rate?)

  • What are the actual results of the region/group?

Example: 5% reduction in maintenance and repair costs

Factors External to Organization.

A gap (or potential gap) needs to be identified before questioning on root.

Example Business GAP Questions:

  • What are the reasons for the gap between your goals and your current results? (can yield internal or external factors) (e.g., What are the primary reasons why current output is below goal? What factors are making it difficult for the region to achieve its sales goals? Why is the wastage rate increasing?)

Example Root Cause: Tight labor pool

Solutions. Initiatives taken to address external causes we have identified.

Example: Create an apprentice program internally to supplement external hires


Performance SHOULDs. List the specific on-the-job behaviors that people in the employee group use to obtain the operational SHOULDs.

Example Questions:

  • If the goals are to be achieved, what on-the-job performance is required of (name of workgroup)? (e.g., If the goals are to be achieved, what should customer service rep do when responding to a customer complaint?)

  • If there are start employees, what do they do more, better or differently to achieve these goals? (Think of your best salesperson. Describe for me what she/he does to close a sale successfully, What are the procedures a technician is to use in troubleshooting a production problem?)

Example Responses:

  • Develop documentation for complex processes

  • Mentor other mechanics and operators in techniques to use to maintain efficiency

Performance IS. List the actual on-the-job behaviors and practices people are typically using now. Have at least one actual behavior for each SHOULD behavior noted above. You may also have behaviors that are used now but should not be used.

Example Questions:

  • What do the employees in the work group typically do? (e.g., How do CSRs manage customer complaints now?, What does the typical salesperson do when closing a sale?, How do technicians troubleshoot a production problem?)

  • What have you observed that leads you to believe people will benefit from (the solution that has been mentioned?)

Example: Process documentation is incomplete and contains errors, Some Mechanics mentor others, while some do not (inconsistent)

Factors Internal to Organization. Could be outside on inside client’s control. If addressing a business problem, identify reasons for gaps between what SHOULD be and what IS. If addressing a business opportunity, identify barriers that may make successful achievement of the desired goals difficult.

Example Performance GAP Questions:

  • What are the reasons for the gap between what CSRs should be doing and what they are doing when responding to customer complaints?

  • Why are salespeople not closing sales at the required percentage?

  • If we were to remind technicians of the importance of following stated procedures, what other reasons, if any, may prevent them from doing this?

Example Responses:

  • Engineers are not partnering with mechanics on technical problems (outside client’s control)

  • Limited coaching and reinforcement by maintenance supervisors (inside client’s control)


What are some solutions we might take that will address the causes have identified?

Example: Changed accountability of engineers to include rotating on Help line, Developed and held accountable coaching mechanics.

Factors Internal to Individuals. Identify skill, knowledge, and inherent capability needs of people in the employee group focused upon.

Example: Many maintenance mechanics lack sufficient skills to utilize the computer systems available to them, There is wide variability in technical and mechanical competence of mechanics.


Example: Developed maintenance mechanics who lacked skill to utilize tools.

Reframing Discussions

“We are experiencing an increase in preventable accidents and incidents. Safety is a primary goal for our manufacturing facilities. I’d like you to run a refresher course on safety for operators and supervisors.” 

“I have two teams that are in continual conflict. I would like some type of team-building experience for them. What do you suggest?” 

In each instance the manager, who is your client, is coming with a solution in mind. But if the safety training did not work the first time, why is a refresher program going to have any better results? And how do we know that team building will resolve team conflict? The challenge is to get the requesting manager to put a pause on implementing any solution before determining the root causes for the problem. How do you do this without the client thinking you aren’t supportive? The goal for a performance consultant in these scenarios is to engage the client in a reframing discussion.

As learning and performance professionals, we influence more by what we ask than by what we tell. It is imperative that the skill to ask questions that influence thinking of others is one we develop to a high degree, and then employ that skill so we reframe solution requests into discussions about desired results.

In a reframing discussion, the performance consultant steers the conversation away from a focus on the requested solution toward a discussion of the business and performance results the client wants to achieve. Consider the team-building request noted above. Although the client has identified a team-building solution, it is highly probable that the client seeks results that go beyond delivery of this solution. Resolving team conflict would be one possible result; enhancing work efficiency could be another. In a reframing discussion, you do not focus on the solution (the team-building activity), but the desired performance and business results the client seeks. You are reframing what is discussed.

Unstated Purposes:

  • To determine if the situation qualifies into or out of a strategic approach

  • To agree in principle to conduct a performance assessment, given the situation qualifies for a strategic approach

  • To identify, and gain agreement to meet with, all “true” clients for the project

  • To position oneself in the role of trusted advisor

  • To transition client(s) away from thinking that one solution (alone) will be sufficient

  • To begin the process of sharing accountability for results by clarifying the role of the client and the consultant in the initiative

  • Avoid agreeing on a single solution, unless there is strong evidence this solution will be sufficient to achieve the client’s desired results.

Stated Purposes:

  • To increase understanding of the client’s needs and desired results

  • To agree on next steps to be taken regarding the project

1. Confirm and agree on purposes and timeframe for meeting

  • State your solution-neutral purposes

  • Seek client purposes

  • Confirm time for meeting

2. Confirm personal understanding of the situation

  • Summarize what you know about the situation

  • Verify client’s desired result(s) from this initiative (if known)

3. Ask questions using Gaps logic beginning with highest-level need presented by the client.

  • Ask questions about one side of the Gaps Map entirely before transitioning over to ask questions about the other side. You need to ask questions that follow a compelling logic path.  This means you begin by starting with the client’s mindset. Imagine this client’s reaction if the first question asked was, “What are your business goals for the coming year?” The response is likely to be, “Huh?” There is no connection—or logic—between the request and this question.

  • If the only need presented is a solution of some type, acknowledge the request and ask a question such as, “What have you observed that leads you to believe (this solution) would be helpful at this time?,” which will typically move the discussion into one about performance needs. Once you have obtained information about performance as it should be and as it is, and the causes for any gap, you can move to a discussion about the business. An example could be, “Once your teams are performing as you have described, how will that performance benefit your business results?” You want to discuss business results, but need to do so in a manner that is logical to the client.

  • If you receive an “I don’t know” response to a question, ask if it would be helpful to determine the answer to the question before moving ahead with a solution.

  • Deep-drill key issues. “What is it that people do who evidence the type of X approach you value?”

  • Push-back. “You indicate that the desired goal is to reduce turnover in the unit, and in our discussion we have agreed that currently, we are uncertain what the prmiary reasons are for this undesirable turnover. I am concerned that moving ahead to create a career planning system, before we can confirm that lack of known career path is a cause for turnover, may not have a desired impact.”

  • Use a “Yes, and” approach. Agree to implement the solution while also proposing one or more additional cation to increase probability of success. Ask if you could seek input from participants about what, if any, work environment challenges they anticipate as they begin transferring the newly-acquire skills to the job. This information could be obtained off a reaction evaluation at the close of the program. Ask the client commit to having a meeting with you to review the findings and discuss what, if any, additional actions may be required.

4. Summarize what is known/unknown about the situation. Determine if situation qualifies as strategic opportunity.

  • These questions provide content regarding what is known and unknown about a situation. Uncovering what is unknown, but key to deciding the appropriate solutions, provides you an opportunity to partner with a client to obtain this missing information. Your role moves from solution provider to solution influencer and decider.

5. With client, form next steps which could be any one or combination of following:

  • Move ahead to obtain more information before deciding on a solution

  • Move ahead to implement one or more solutions

  • Agree that no further action will be taken at this time

6. Seek client’s satisfaction with the meeting, and ensure next steps for both the client and consultant are mutually understood.

We are consultants, not a drive thru