Event Date: 04/25/2018 (2:00 pm EDT - 3:00 pm EDT)
Sarah: Hi everyone, and welcome to today’s webinar hosted by HRDQ-U and presented by Dana Robinson and Chris Adams. My name is Sarah, and I’ll moderate the webinar. It will be about an hour, and if you have any questions you can type them into the questions box. We’ll be answering these questions as they come in live, at the presentation, or an email if we do run out of time. Also note that we have handouts that can be downloaded through GoToWebinar. It’s the handout tab in your dashboard. Welcome, and thank you for joining us today.
Chris Adams: Hello everyone. This is Chris Adams. I’ll be co-presenting with Dana Robinson today. Dani, would you like to hello, just so they hear your voice.
Dana Robinson: Yes. Hello. Good afternoon, or morning, wherever you may be. Glad you’re with us.
Chris Adams:We’re very glad that you can join us today. Performance consulting, what is it, and why do it, will be our topic for the next hour. This, of course, is our favorite topic to talk about. I was first exposed to the content that we’re talking about today in 1999, when Dana’s husband, Jim, with whom she literally wrote the book on the topic, brought this content to our company, Handshaw. Revolutionized the way that we work with our clients.
Chris Adams: For the past three years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Dana to pay that forward in our client organizations. I’m very excited that you all can join us today, and I get to share the same content, along with Dana, with all of you. Dana, anything else before we get started?
Dana Robinson: No. No, I think we’re good.
Chris Adams: Let’s jump in then. We have a lot of ground that we’d like to cover. We want to provide as much value for you today as we can. We have three objectives that Dana and I have formed for our time together. When we’re done today, we’d like you to be able to define performance consulting, and specifically why we call it a strategic, rather than a tactical, process. We’ll be looking at different types of work as well.
Chris Adams: We’re going to dig deep into the mental model that performance consultants use when requests come in from their clients. There are two components to that. What we call the need hierarchy, and then what we call the should-is-cause logic, or the gaps logic we sometimes call it. Those two components really make the what and the how of our mental model. And then, finally, we’re going to talk about some powerful questions. Performance consulting is about influencing clients through asking powerful questions that help they understand about what’s known and what’s unknown about requests that they may make for various solutions.
Chris Adams: To give you a feel for this strategic versus tactical concept, I want to bring up this slide. This is our first activity. Now, we’re not going to use a poll here. This is really just for each of you individually, to look at the screen, and then choose your responses. What we’ve given you on the right hand side of the screen are three results.
Chris Adams: These are results from some effort within an organization. A new team compensation structure’s been put in place for our sales organization. An organizational structure that supports a more flexible workforce has been put in place. A new succession planning process has been implemented throughout the global organization.
Chris Adams: What we’d like you to do, is as you read over those three, decide for yourself, is this a strategic result for the organization, or this is really more of a tactical result? I’ll give you a moment. I’ll stop talking and let your read through this and make your choice for items one, two and three.
Chris Adams: Okay. Now let me give you our responses to these. For each of these items, as you’ll see, I’ll put up check marks. These are each tactical results. Now let’s talk a little bit about our definitions for different categories of work, and then we’ll come back to this and see why these might be tactical rather than strategic results in an organization.
Chris Adams: We’re going to talk about three categories of work. The first is transactional. Transactional is really about one person meeting the needs of one other person. We’re addressing the needs of individuals. Some examples might be, I need your help in updating my HR record. I’d like to discuss problems that I’m having with an underperforming employee. I’m looking for a leadership development program, what’s your recommendation there?
Chris Adams: Really, we’re providing information, or coaching, potentially, in transactional work. These are requests that come in with an expectation of a quick turnaround. If I’m asking you for help updating a record in a system, the response can’t really be, “I’ll research that and get back to you in three weeks.” You lose credibility if that was your response. So there’s quick turnaround.
Chris Adams: This is also high volume work. This is urgent work that comes in, and to maintain credibility it has to be done effectively. It has to be done efficiently, in a timely manner, or you’re going to damage the relationship with the clients who have these needs. The danger here is the volume. Since this is such high volume work, think about all of the people that you support within your organization. They could call you with a transactional request every day, and so quickly those could pile up. The danger is that a high volume of urgent work, transactional work like this, could become a barrier to doing more strategic work, other important work that you need to do. That’s transactional.
Chris Adams: We differentiate transactional work from tactical work. Tactical work, now we’re moving from the individual, and we’re really looking at identifying and addressing the needs of groups of employees. When we talk about tactics, and we’ll talk about tactics a lot during this hour, we may use the word solution. Because tactical work is focused on the delivery, the design, the implementation of solutions. So when we say tactic, that’s a synonym for solution for us.
Chris Adams: The issue we design, delivery, implementation, is that all requires resources, time, people, money, to build those solutions and put them in place. As performance consultants, in our work we want to shepherd those resources. Who want to be careful how we spend time and money and effort. That brings us to a distinction.
Chris Adams: Tactical work, solutions, can be put in place as part of a strategic initiative, aligned with a strategic goal. But too often, we’re merely focused on the solution, and there is no alignment with a strategic initiative. If we don’t have that alignment, tactics, solutions, all of the work we used to put them in place, may be a waste of that time and money.
Chris Adams: Again, this is work that has to be done well. All of these types of work are important. But we do need to understand, if we want to work strategically, and that’s part of working as a performance consultant, we have to understand the difference. That brings me to the last category.
Chris Adams: Strategic work, here we’re trying to identify and address the needs of the organization, or business, as a whole. Now, when I say organization here, I could mean an entity within an organization. It may be the organization as a a whole, but it could also be an areas, a department, a shift for industries like manufacturing, a region of the company, but an entity that has business needs. That’s the defining characteristic of strategic work. Strategic work is directly linked to at least one, usually more, business needs. This work truly brings advantage to the business.
Chris Adams: Another attribute of strategic work, we talked about tactics or solutions, strategic work, at least for a time, is solution neutral work. In other words, we have to do some work to understand underlying root cause, to make sure that we’re aligned with the needs of the business, before we bring solutions to bear. That’s working strategically, versus just focusing on a tactic.
Chris Adams: The benefit to the organization for strategic work is long term. This is long term in years, one to maybe five years. We may not work, do the actual work, for that. It may be a period of months in which we do the work, but the benefit to the business is lasting and substantial.
Chris Adams: Finally, a characteristic of strategic work is that it requires multiple solutions. One thing that we always find is that business needles, really actually moving the measures in an organization, those needles won’t move with only a single solution. The reason for that is that gaps that we have in strategic results are multi-causal. There are a number of causes, and so they always require multiple solutions to address those causes. If you’re working and you’re implementing one single solution unrelated to other initiatives, you’re probably working tactically instead of strategically.
Chris Adams: With that definition, let’s go back to the three results that we looked at earlier. If we look at these, each of these focuses on some solution. A new team compensation structure, a new organizational structure for flexible workforce, a new succession planning process. Those are all tactics. Those are all solutions that have been put in place. But what’s missing here?
Chris Adams: If we look at each of these, there’s no results. There’s no business outcomes that we have in these results. So we might consider, what would a strategic result look like? For instance, the first item, a new team compensation structure has been put in place for a sales organization, increasing retention in key roles by 25% over three years. That we be a strategic results. We’ve actually moved a metric there. We’ve increased retention.
Chris Adams: Another example, the second item. An organizational structure that supports a more flexible workforce has been put in place, decreasing time to market of new products by 40%. So there, we’re aligned with a strategic goal. That makes the difference between strategic and tactical. I’m going to turn over to Dana now. She’s going to dig a little deeper into our definition of performance consulting, and start to share our mental model.
Dana Robinson: Thanks Chris. Again, performance consulting is a process that is designed to achieve business results. We want to give you the definition that we use for the process. It is a strategic process, and now we have a shared understanding of what that means, a process that’s focused on achieving operational outcomes for an entity.
Dana Robinson: It’s going to produce those business results by maximizing performance of people and the organizations that they work in. So it’s both the people themselves, and their day-to-day performance, and the organization that surrounds them, so that they can perform effectively.
Dana Robinson: There are a couple of key terms and rules that I want to clarify, that are embedded in the process. The first is client. We define a client as the individual who owns accountability for achieving the business and performance needs we’re supporting through our initiatives. Because they own or have accountability for those results, they have the most to gain, or lose, from achieving those results. They have some skin in the game, as the expression goes.
Dana Robinson: We need someone who has authority to make things happen. Because as Chris mentioned, if we’re achieving business results, it’s going to require multiple solutions. Not all of them are going to come out of the HR and talent development worlds. They’re going to be solutions that might have to do with marketing or IT, and so we need someone who has authority to get those solutions in place and obtain the resources we need.
Dana Robinson: The term client is the term we use. You may prefer sponsor, stakeholder, customer. Again, the term is not so critical as to be clear who we’re focused on, and we’re focused on someone that has these characteristics that you see on the screen.
Dana Robinson: Now, a client is separate and apart from a person we call the contact. A contact is the individual who may call us with a request, and usually the request is for some type of tactical solution, such as, “I need training for my group,” or, “I’d like to talk to you about a new organizational structure,” or, “I’d like some team building.” So, the person who’s calling with the request, and while they may have authority over that solution, they don’t own the business and performance needs that it’s designed to achieve. Therefor, we’re going to need to work with the contact to get to the true client.
Dana Robinson: Bottom line, and this is a critical element, or principle, of performance consulting, we’re about influencing actions. The only way we can influence is, we must have direct access to the person who is the key client, the owner of the business results. We have to be in the car with that individual, so we can influence their thinking. Contacts are not clients. A contact is someone who’s calling with the request.
Dana Robinson: The third category of person we want to be thinking about is employee group. Because when we say performance consulting is about maximizing performance of people, we’re talk about people in various employee groups, who share a common role or job, and who through their day-to-day performance can help achieve the business results we’re supporting. An employee group for me are customer service reps, or sales account managers, are some kind of first line supervisors, or project leads, people who have a shared accountability role or job, and who will influence results that we’re trying to accomplish.
Dana Robinson: With those three criticals that we think about, in terms of performance consulting, let’s move into the mental model that Chris referenced. A mental model is absolutely incredibly important. I can’t overstate the criticality of a mental model. It is basically, as you see on the screen, a way of thinking. It’s how we take in information. It’s how we organize information. It’s how we seek information. It is our framework for operating, our mental platform if you wish.
Dana Robinson: If we can change how we think, we will change the questions we ask, the information we obtain, and the solutions we propose. Our mental model is very, very critical. Our mental model has two components. It is composed of the need hierarchy, which is really what we focus on as performance consultants when we want to partner with clients to do strategic work. And then, there is what is called the should-is-cause logic, which is how we obtain information.
Dana Robinson: Asking powerful questions is a critical, critical skill for those of us who want to to work strategically, and so the second part of our mental model gives us a logic for those questions. I’m going to introduce you to the need hierarchy, and then Chris will introduce you to that logic.
Dana Robinson: Let’s look at the need hierarchy. Inside any organization, and I mean any organization, no matter the size or type, big, small, for profit, not for profit, government agency, it does not matter. Inside any organization are resident these four categories of needs. They rest like boxes in a box, the way you see them on the screen.
Dana Robinson: Now, the highest order need we call the business need. Again, if you’re in a not for profit organization, or a government agency, perhaps you think of them as organizational needs, or operational needs. The terminology is not as critical as the concept underneath, the characteristics. This is what a business need is. It is an operational goal for an entity, and it is always measured in numbers. Let me go back through that.
Dana Robinson: It’s operational in nature for an entity. By entity, I mean a department, a unit, a function, the whole enterprise. But it doesn’t have to be the entire organization, it can be some slice inside of that organization. It could be a region. It could be a shift, if you’re in a manufacturing environment. It is a entity, and the operational goals are always measured numerically. That is, it doesn’t mean that if it’s measured with numbers it constitutes a business need, but any business need is always measured in numbers. Most obviously needs are, we want to grow revenue, increase profit, reduce waste, improve customer satisfaction. Those would all constitute business needs, and they can all be measured numerically.
Dana Robinson: The next category of need is called performance needs. Performance needs are needs for people. Remember, business needs are needs for organizational entities. Performance needs are needs for people, and they describe what people need to do on the job more, better, or differently, if a business need is to be achieved.
Dana Robinson: That’s actually one of our favorite questions to ask once we know what a business need is. For example, we want to grow profit. What do account reps have to do more, better, or differently, if you’re going to increase profits? So they’re described in behavioral terms.
Dana Robinson: When we move to the inner box, now we are moving into what we call the enablers and the potential barriers to performance. We have organizational capability needs, and individual capability needs. Let’s start with organizational capability needs.
Dana Robinson: Organizational capability needs talk about the work environment, or what is surrounding the employees, and either facilitating performance, or making it more difficult. I’m going to go deeper into those, so I’m going to pause on that for the moment, and introduce you to the other need, which is called individual capability needs.
Dana Robinson: Those are needs for people, in terms of their skills and knowledges that they require to perform effectively. It’s kind of a locus of control. For individual capability needs, the locus of control is within the individual. Organizational capability needs, the locus of control is within the organization.
Dana Robinson: Now, before we leave this chart, I want to reinforce what performance consultants do. They partner with clients to define and align the four needs that you see. When they do that, they are then achieving results. Let me go a little deeper into that inner box, because it is so critical. I’d like to talk about the three categories of root cause.
Dana Robinson: What you see on the screen is, you see at the top successful on the job performance. That’s our performance needs box. Above it, of course, are the business results. Performance for people is resting on a three-legged stool, as yo see on the screen. Factors internal to the person, that’s the internal capability needs. Factors internal to the organization, that’s the organizational capability needs. And then, one that we’ll also talk about, factors that are outside the organization altogether.
Dana Robinson: Let’s start with factors internal to the individual. Again, what this is telling us is what are the root cause reasons why individuals do, or don’t, perform successfully on the job. What factors relate to them personally? There are two categories, skills and knowledge, and inherent capability. If I do not have the skill and knowledge to perform a task, it is improbable I will do so successfully. So if skill and knowledge is a deficit, the solution for that cause would be some kind of development.
Dana Robinson: Let’s say the reason I’m having trouble performing successfully is more inherent capability. What I mean by that is my attributes, traits, background experience, education, certifications perhaps. Essentially, the package I bring with me to the job. If I am lacking some of that inherent capability, development is a long term, and somewhat iffy, solution. A better solution is to look to our selection system. Are we selecting the right criteria? Are we selecting the right people? Inherent capability, and skill and knowledge, are inherent in the individual, but lead to different solutions. That’s one of our main things, we must know root cause if we’re going to come up with the right solution set.
Dana Robinson: Now let’s move into the inner, the second category of factors, those inside the organization. You can see there’s actually six categories of root cause that are within and resident within the organization. It is difficult for me to perform successfully on the job if I am uncertain what’s expected of me, or if there’s role confusion, or even role conflict, between me and other groups. If that’s a root cause, then some kind of clarification of roles, maybe even a reorganization, becomes the solution.
Dana Robinson: It’s difficult for me to perform successfully on the job if have been asked to do something I’ve not done before, and I lack access to coaching, and there’s no reinforcement for doing it. Lack of reinforcement, in other words, there’s no reason to do it, no reason not to do it. No one really cares, a good reason why I stay with what I know.
Dana Robinson: Incentives deal with, yes, the financial systems, but also the non-financial incentives, such as access to project work where I grow and learn, opportunities that are avail to me, that give me a chance to grow. Incentives don’t have to all have financial attachments. Work systems and processes. If I am inside a system and I’m doing the job the way the system, or process, is designed for me to do, but that system or process is flawed in how it’s designed, the output I produce will not be, probably, acceptable.
Dana Robinson: Garry Ramler said it best many years ago, “You pit a good employee against a bad system, that system is going to win almost every time.” So we need to make sure that our systems and processes are designed for success, and then hold people accountable for performing that process as designed.
Dana Robinson: Access to information, people, tools, and job aids, is just all of that. Hard for me to make decisions if I don’t have access to the information I need to do so. In performance consulting, it’s very difficult for me to do this work, if I don’t have access to the leaders who really qualify as clients. So access to those things become a critical component for success.
Dana Robinson: And then the last category is supportive culture. It’s very difficult to perform counter-culture. That can actually be, not only debilitating, but punishing. So if we are asking employees to perform in ways that are very different from the culture we’ve had, we probably need some kind of OD solution before we start developing people to perform differently.
Dana Robinson: The last category of root cause that I want to comment on that affects performance is factors external to the organization. These are outside the organization. No one inside the organization can control them. But what we want to do is understand them, because they can have some influence or implication for what people have to do on the job despite those factors.
Dana Robinson: If we’re working in an economy that is adverse to what we do, what kinds of sales techniques do we need for sales people to be successful despite that problem. That’s why we want to understand those factors. We can’t change them, but they absolutely can have implications for human performance.
Dana Robinson: When you add all of this up, there’s actually nine root cause categories that affect human performance, and human performance is what we need to change if we’re going to get business result. Again, why multiple solutions are almost always required, if we want to get business results, because we will have multiple causes.
Dana Robinson: As you can see on the next slide, when we focus on results, we’re focusing on changing performance of people, and affecting a benefit to the business. We do that by identifying the root causes that are preventing success, and then addressing those causes with solutions that are appropriate.
Dana Robinson: Now before we move ahead to the next part of the mental model, I want to give you all a chance to use this part of it. As we all know, we get requests all the time from people who call, either contacts or clients. They almost come with a solution in mind. But rarely do they ever come with all four of these needs identified. What becomes critical for us as performance consultants is to determine, what did we get in the way of information against these four needs, and what is missing?
Dana Robinson: So if, Chris, you could bring up the next slide, let’s look at this first one. This will be a polling opportunity for you, but let me explain it first. What you have on the screen is request from a client. They’re calling because they want to redesign the structure of their function to support a change in accountabilities for people. That request, embedded in that request is one or a combination of the four needs we’ve just described.
Dana Robinson: We give you this scale at the bottom of the screen. BN stands for, they gave us a business need. A PN means that we’ve been provided a performance need. An OC/S means they’ve given us an organizational capability need, like a system or process, or they gave us a solution that focuses on an organizational capability. IC/S means it’s an individual capability or need, or maybe it’s a solution, such as training would be an example of a solution at the IC level.
Dana Robinson: What I would like you to do is read the statement and make your choice, we can bring the poll up now, and determine what need or needs is embedded in this statement. Looks like we only have part of the statement. Well, so, I guess we’ll have to go with that. What need or needs is embedded in that statement that you see? Could you assist me in thinking through a new organizational structure. What need or needs is being given to you in that statement? You can vote now.
Dana Robinson: Okay. About two thirds of us have voted, so let me close that one out. What we see is that the majority of people have indicated that that’s a organizational capability need or solution, and that’s absolutely correct. An organizational structure change is a solution. It’s a tactic. That’s all it is.
Dana Robinson: Now, the entire statement said, “I’ve change the accountabilities of what people need to do,” that is actually a performance need, and the solution is being provided, but we’ve been given no business need, and we’ve been given no root causes. Let’s try the second one and see how we do with that one. If you could bring up the second statement.
Dana Robinson:Customer satisfaction scores are declining. What training do you have for our call center reps that will enhance their customer service skills? That’s the full statement. Now if you could bring up the poll. Again, we only have a part of that, but why don’t you determine what that statement is? Which of our four needs is that statement? The first part of the statement was, “Customer satisfaction scores are declining.” So if you can recall that one, vote on it, and then also this second question that you see there.
Dana Robinson: Again, we’re close to 70%, so let’s close the poll and see the results. First of all, our customer satisfaction scores are declining, which was on the original PowerPoint slide. That is a business need. So for those of you who recalled that and voted that way, that is a business need. What training do you have for our call center reps that will enhance their skill, is an individual capability solution. What we’ve been given this time is a business need with a, essentially, individual capability or training solution. We’ve skipped over performance. We have no data about what performance they want people to do more, better, or differently, and we have no data to tell us what the root causes are for why they’re not performing that way now.
Dana Robinson:This is so typical of the way we come into situations. Clients provide us with a piece of the information, and what we have to do is figure out what is missing, and what do we still need to find out. We do that by using the should-is-cause, or gaps logic. Let me turn it over to Chris, who will take you into that logic.
Chris Adams: kay, Dana. Here are both of the times that we looked at together. To reiterate Dana’s point, you’ll see that we’ve mapped a pattern here. The check marks here, the needs that we found inside these requests, that’s some information that we know. But we’ve also identified these blank spots. We know that we need to get some more information about these requests.
Chris Adams: Remember, Dana told us that the job of a performance consultant is to define and align these four needs with our clients. So as we move into what we call the should-is-cause, or the gaps logic, the second part of our mental model, this is how we use this logic to get this additional information. That’s what I’m going to begin walking you through here.
Chris Adams: Again, we start our gaps logic with the shoulds. The should here is both business and performance. We show this part of the model in those same nested boxes, but this time we’re linking business and performance shoulds. This is the desired future state. These are the operational results for the business shoulds that we need to achieve in an entity, in order to become successful, remain successful over time. And then, as Dana indicated earlier on, the performance shoulds, this is what need in employees to do more, better, or differently, if we’re going to achieve the business results that we desire. That’s the should, the desired state.Moving through the logic then, we have the is. The is, is the current actual state. Again, business and performance. Business, what’s our current operational results. So, if our business should is a 15% increase in revenue, and our business is then might be a 5% increase in business revenue. An increase in revenue is great, but there’s a gap between what we have now and what we desire to achieve.
And then, the performance is is related to that. What are the on-the-job behaviors that we see currently in place that are driving the business results that we have? If I look, if I establish shoulds, and then I establish the is, and I compare the two, that gives us a gap. Hence the name, the gaps logic.
Now we move from here into causes. That’s the middle box. Again, we look at organizational capability causes, individual capability causes, all of those nine categories of root cause that Dana shared with you. But see how it works together in the logic. We have a should and an is. The difference between those is a gap. We look for causes to that gap.
We’re really only going to talk about causes once we know what the gap is. In other words, it’s difficult for us to understand a cause for what. Not necessarily a cause for our current results, or a cause for the results that we want to achieve, but the cause for the gap between those two, that’s where we’re looking. Again, we look at the individual themselves, so we also look at the system, the organization, in which they work.
So, we have should, is, and cause logic. We use that logic to define and align the needs that we have, to gather the information that we don’t have. We do that, we operationalize this logic, by asking questions. We want to ask powerful questions. When we think about the work of a performance consultant, we say the performance consultant’s influenced more about what we ask, than by what we tell.
Again, we’re working in partnership with the client, who’s the owner of the business needs, and so we want to ask questions using this logic, so that we can influence the client, again, to define and align these needs, to shift from the requests that we saw, which were all based in a solution, into putting a pause on that solution, defining and aligning the needs, understanding root cause, and then putting a set of solutions in place, so that we can drive results. Again, that’s our goal in performance consulting, is actually achieving business results.
To do that, we need to ask powerful questions. So what are powerful questions? Let’s look at some examples. Here’s another exercise, and this is very much like the first one we did. I’m just going to allow you to read these two columns of questions. What I’d like you to do, you don’t have to respond in the questions or through a poll or anything. But what I’d like you to do is to decide for yourself which column contains the more powerful questions? Just jot it down for yourself. Column one, or column two, which one contains the more powerful questions? I’ll give you a moment to read through these and make a decision.
Okay. Have you made your decision? Hold on to that. Let’s talk about some guidelines for powerful questions, and then we’ll come back, and we’ll see, based on our guidelines, which of these columns is more powerful.
We give you three guidelines here for powerful questions. First of all, powerful questions should be open-ended. A closed-ended question can be answered with a single word, frequently with yes or no. The difficult with that is, it doesn’t give me an opportunity to gather more data, and that’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to use our logic to gather more data, to get more information from our client, and it’s difficult to do that with closed-ended questions. So we ask open-ended question. Instead of, “Are you on target for your revenue goal?” We would say, “What are your revenue goals?” Or, “What are your associated goals for this quarter?” We make it open-ended, we have an opportunity to gather much more data.
The second guideline is our questions need to be focused on one category, or one part of our gaps logic. In other words, when I ask the question, I should have some expectation about what type of data I’ll receive in return. Will I be getting business data? Is that business should? Is that the desired state? Will I be getting performance data? Am I looking at the actual current performance, or a desired state? Will I be getting data about what’s causing this gap in results?
I want to have a focus here. One question that you frequently hear consultants encourage to use is a question like asking your client, “What keeps you up at night?” The difficulty with that question is, it’s certainly very open-ended, but it’s really too open-ended, because you could get any sort of answer. Your client could have a teenage child that just got their license, and they don’t come home at night. That could certainly keep them up. It doesn’t help us very much to diagnose their business needs. We want to be more focused than that. We want to use our logic to do that. We’re going to give you examples of that in a few minutes.
And then, a final guideline that we have is that we want our questions to be solution and cause neutral. We don’t want to imply that a particular solution, or a particular cause, is correct in our question, because then we’ve shut down the conversation, we’re going to focus on that solution. Listen to these two questions. How do you need your employees to perform more, better, or differently, once they complete this training program? Contrast that with, how do you need your employees to perform more, better, or differently? Second question, much more powerful, because I haven’t focused on that solution. Using that, again, it allows us to collect more data.
Let’s look at, again, the two columns that we provided earlier. If you said that column number one was the more powerful set of questions, then we would agree with that. Compare the two examples at the top for instance. What are your revenue and contribution to profit goals for this fiscal year? That’s very open. It’s focused on one area of the gaps logic. In this case, I’m asking for operational results and what should they be, what are your goals? So that is a business should question, and it’s solution neutral. There’s no implied solution there.
Look at column two however, compare to that first one. Is your department on track for achieving this year’s revenue goals? That’s a yes or no question. You could have a client that simply says, “No. We’re not on track, and I’m upset about it. Thanks for asking.” I’m not going to get any additional information there. That’s very difficult.
The other two items in column two. How do you want to people to perform differently once they’ve attended this customer service program? There’s a solution, the customer service program. It implies the solution, so that makes it a very narrow, solution-focused question. The same with the last item. When must the reorganization of you department be completed? Again, focused on a solution, a reorg, and very closed.
We want to use this more powerful questions that follow those three guidelines, open-ended, focused on an area of the gaps logic, and then solution and cause neutral. That’s how we operationalize the should-is-cause logic. We take those requests that come in, and as Dana said, frequently requests from clients come in already focusing on a solution, and we transition those requests for solutions into opportunities to work more strategically. That’s what we want our focus to be.
Let me give you an example here. We’re going to ask questions, and when we do ask those questions, we’re going to do it in our logic. So, business shoulds would be, what are your operational goals? Performance shoulds, what are the on-the-job behaviors necessary to achieve those goals? Is questions for business will be, current results, operational results in numbers. Is for performance will be actual on-the-job behavior. What do you see people doing? Is a great performance is question. And then cause questions. Business cause, what are the things that are challenging us in reaching our operational goals? Performance cause, what are barriers that people face, or reasons why people are not displaying the behaviors that we need them to do on the job?
Those are the types of questions we’re going to ask in the logic. Let’s use one of the requests that we looked at before. Here’s an illustration. I’ve changed the accountabilities of what people need to do in my function. Now, I’d like to redesign the structure of the function to support this change. Could you assist me in thinking through a new organizational structure?
Let’s think about, what are some should-is-cause questions we could use to respond to this request? One rule that we use, again it’s sort of a rule of thumb, is we start with a performance question, we want to stay with performance until we understand that gap, and ask about root causes for performance before we move to business. For this example let’s start with performance, and let’s ask a performance should question that will get us more data about this request.
We see that one solution’s already been put in place, a change in accountabilities. Another solution’s being suggested, which is redesigning the structure of the function. But we don’t have a lot of other data, so we can start with performance. A performance should question might be, you mentioned that you’ve recently changed the accountabilities of people in your function, what do you need those in your function to be doing more, better, or differently? Again, that’s one of our favorite questions Dana mentioned earlier. What’s the performance should? What do you need to see them doing? That will start to gather some performance data.
I’ll get some data about that, “This is what I need to see them doing,” and I can continue the conversation in the logic. So again, following in the logic, how does that compare with what those in your function are currently doing? So now I’ll get a gap. I’ve established, I need them to be doing this. They are doing this. That gives me the opening, the opportunity in the logic, to ask about cause. A performance cause question might be simply be, what factors are making it difficult for those in your function to exhibit the behaviors you’d like to see? So I’m asking about performance cause.
Now, by keeping it in the logic it’s a very natural conversation. I’m starting with the mindset of the client, and then I’m following the logic to ask really questions that flow from the request, but they’re not about the request. In other words, so far I’ve been solution neutral. So, I understand should-is-cause on the performance side. I’m going to move over to the business side.
Here’s an opportunity to transition into a business should question. I can relate it to the performance. I can say, “If the people in your function performed as you described, how would your operational results improved?” In other words, “What benefit will you have through these changes?” Again, I’m not addressing the solution in my questions. I’m just gathering more data, and I’m understanding the business should.
I’ll get some data from the client. I can ask a followup that brings me business is data. So an example there might be, “What impact has the current performance of the people in your function had on your operational results?” Again, I’m linking performance to the business, but I’m establishing a gap. What are the metrics we should be meeting? What are we currently achieving? And then I can ask again for cause.
A business cause question might be, other than the performance of your employees, which you’ve already mentioned, what factors are challenging us in achieving our operational goals? So there again, I have a gap. Only wants to understand the gap. Do I ask for cause? I ask should-is-cause on the performance side, and then I move over, and I can ask should-is-cause on the business side. Very natural conversation that clients will feel very comfortable in responding to, and using our logic to drive out the unknowns from the request.
Of course we have to do that in the context of a relationship. You have to establish that relationship with your client, so that you have a standing to ask these questions, and have this conversation. Dana’s going to talk a little bit about that relationship, how we establish it and grow it.
Thanks Chris. Yes, the relationship is critical. What we like to think of is with our clients we need to use what we call the ACT approach. The ACT approach is an acronym that stands for access, meaning that the client is willing to meet with us, give us face time. It doesn’t have to be face-to-face. It can be on the phone, obviously, but we have access to that person. We have credibility, which means the client is confident in our capability to deliver results to the business. That is critical. And trust, that the client is confident in our integrity and reliability to achieve those results in support of the business.
In the little bit of time that we have left, just want to comment a bit more on each of these, starting with access. A lot of critical issues that we face when we bring in and install this approach, is, how do I get access to these mid and upper level leaders, where the strategic are? If that access is currently not available, volunteer to serve on high visibility project, where you being to meet those individuals and support their issues, or start to form a, what we call, sustained relationship, an ongoing relationship, and ask, inquire, if you can have an opportunity to meet with them every couple of months to discuss the business, not their HR training needs, but their business issues. Those are just a couple of suggestions.
When you move to credibility, the one that I want to stress that is so, so critical, is that first one. We, if we are going to be credible in doing strategic work and partnering with our clients, we must have deep knowledge of the business of the business. David Ulrich has recently said that HR is not about HR, but begins and ends with the business. I like to think that I am a business woman first, who happens to specialize in the human side of business.
So business has to be top of mind, and it has to be deep. So learning more about the business of the business becomes critical, but then presenting what we do in business language, in a financial case making sure that we are talking about, not only the investment being made, but the potential returns. A pushback means that when the client is insisting on doing something that will not result in the benefit they seek, we need to push back on that and offer our reasons why. That is also a critical behavior.
Dana Robinson: Trust, of course, is one of those things that, it takes some time to build, but if we lose it, it takes a while to gain it back, and sometimes we never gain it back. Trust is something that we need to be very cognizant of all the time. Congruence, what you see in the last bullet, is one of those techniques that is critical. Being congruent in our words, in our actions.
Dana Robinson: As we’re wrapping up, and before we turn this over to some questions, one of the things that we wanted to leave you is, what is it, and why do performance consulting? What we know is that there’s a great deal of research that has been done on this process to affirm its efficacy and its benefit. What you see on the screen is one such result from the CEB. Where they determined that when organizational barriers come down, and what we call those, are those organizational capability factors, those cause factors in the organization. When those are addressed, and HR business partners do become more strategic, they can achieve the kind of results you see on the screen. It is powerful. I can’t stress enough the power of the process, when people have the skill to do it, and the support to do it.
Dana Robinson: What we also know from David Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank, is that 43% of our value is coming from those strategic contributions. That’s almost half of our work. We will still need to do and address the transactional needs, and there still will be tactical needs that we are working on, but almost half of our work and the value we do, comes through that strategic efforts that we put forward. So it is critical that we do this work.
Dana Robinson: As we’re wrapping, as a quick recount of what we wanted to leave you with today, there are three categories of work that we do in HR and talent development worlds. All three are needed, but they’re very distinct in what they are, and what they produce, and the way it results. Our focus today was on the strategic.
In order to do strategic work, we use a mental model, a way of thinking. That need hierarchy, where we’re trying to define and align the four needs, and the should-is-cause logic, that allows us to ask those powerful questions and influence the thinking of clients through those questions And then, lastly, we wanted to leave you with some of those questioning techniques. How to ask powerful questions that are open-ended, focused, and solution-cause neutral.
Dana Robinson: Now we’re ready for, in the few minutes we have left, for questions. Sarah, we’ll take it back to you.
Sarah: Okay. Perfect. Thank you so much. Yeah, we do have some time for some questions. Go ahead attendees, shoot those into the questions box now. Let’s see, some are coming in. Let me scroll a little bit. This one’s coming from Rudy. He said, “You talked about root causes for why people do not perform as a need to do, but you did not mention motivation. Where does motivation factor into your model?”
Chris Adams: Yeah. That’s a really good question. One thing that we can stress, is that when we look for root cause, we need to be careful to address root causes, and not symptoms. Motivation is typically a symptom of some, maybe more than one, underlying root cause. So we would want to see, look at those six categories, well, the nine total categories, and see, is there a llack of motivation because of a lack of coaching and support, for instance? Or, is there an issue with incentives? Whether they be monetary or intrinsic incentives. So again, lack of motivation, typically a symptom with some other underlying root cause. We would dig deeper on that.
Dana Robinson:Let me just add, that another symptom, that is often presented as a cause, is, “I don’t have time.” Lack of time is not a root cause for why I don’t perform effectively. It is a symptom. What we need to do is understand what is taking up the time that’s preventing you from doing whatever it is that we’re wanting you to do, because that’s when we can come up with causes. We can’t add more time, that doesn’t … But if you’re burdened by too much administrative work, then we find ways to address those administrative needs and free up time.
Sarah: Perfect. Let’s see, next question. What competencies and soft skills do performance consultants need in order to be successful in the field?
Dana Robinson: Another great question, and we can certainly provide you with a complete list. I’m going to go off top of head, but it won’t be the complete list. Relationship skills, questioning skills, strategic thinking skills, are all critical components of being successful. Tolerance for ambiguity is what we call a characteristic or attribute. Being real comfortable that we don’t have an answer yet. We’re kind of living in the gray zone, trying to figure it out. So we don’t push for solutions too early, before we’re ready. There’s this clear analytic component to this that is critical, so analysis skills are very important. But I will definitely make sure that in response to your questions you receive the entire list of competencies that we’ve identified over the years as critical.
Sarah: Wonderful. Let’s see. Next question is coming from Laura. “How would you develop the skills on performance consultants?”
Chris Adams: I think you can take that two way. We do this work with teams in talent organizations to develop the skill. We very much start from, again, the mental model. What we do is we try to provide a positive model for working with a client in this way, and for us, that takes the form of skill practices. Where we look at a particular business situation, we have people apply the model and the logic in simulated conversations with clients, and then we coach them through that.
Chris Adams: And then, what we recommend is following that, is that people apply. In other words, reach out, start to establish relationship with sustained clients. When requests come in, treat those requests not as marching orders to, “I need to quickly provide a solution,” but treat them as an opportunity to apply this model to see what data is known, and what data is unknown, and then to begin to work with that client, to ask those powerful questions, and do it.
Chris Adams:The best advice that I think we give when we do this development work with our clients is start small, but start. Begin to adopt this mental model and be intentional about the actions that you take in applying it.
Dana Robinson: And just to add to this, one of the things you can do is to really do an analysis of your readiness to begin to move in this more strategic way. What is your confidence that you have knowledge of the business of the business? Or is that an area that you need to grow? One of the best ways I know to gain that knowledge is to ask some of your managers what they suggest you do to learn more about the business of the business.
Dana Robinson: Is questioning and analysis an area that you feel you need to develop? There, you may need to do some virtual learning, or book learning, and then maybe partner with somebody who is very good at doing this. Learn from them. It’s, first, analyze your readiness and where you see some needs for growth, and then form a developmental plan to address those areas.
Sarah: Great. Thank you. That is all the time we do have for today. But I know we did not get time for all the questions, so what we’re going to do is we’re going to put those into a Word document, and then we’ll send them over to Dana and Chris, and if they could answer, and then we’ll actually be sending those out in an email, probably about mid next week, with those questions are answered. Dana and Chris, would you like to add any final thoughts before I go ahead and wrap up then for today?
Dana Robinson: I’ll just say thanks to all of you for being with us. We really appreciate it. This is such a powerful process. We love talking about it, and sharing it, and hope it’s added to your day, and perhaps your work in the future.
Chris Adams: I’ll, again, add my thanks to Dana’s. I’ll note that in the handouts you’ve got an email contact information for Dana and myself. Also, we’re both active on the LinkedIn platform, so if you’d like to stay connected or get more information about this topic, either of those are ways to reach us.
Dana Robinson: If you’re going to be at the ATD conference in two weeks, please look us up. We’d love to see you.
Sarah: All right. Wonderful. Thank you again so much, and everybody on the line, we appreciate your time, and we hope you find this webinar information. Thanks all. Bye.
Dana Robinson: Thank you.
Chris Adams: Bye bye.
In this webinar Dana Robinson, the author of several books on strategic partnering and performance consulting, joined by senior performance consultant Chris Adams, will answer these questions.
Who Should Attend
- HR professionals
- HR business partners
Participants Will Learn
- Define Performance Consulting and why it is a strategic, not tactical, process.
- Describe the two components of the mental model used by performance consultants to analyze requests.
- Ask powerful questions in responding to solution requests.
What is Performance Consulting?
Performance consulting involves influencing clients through asking powerful questions that help them understand what’s known and what’s unknown about requests that they may make for various solutions. This is a strategic rather than a tactical concept. It is a process that’s focused on achieving operational outcomes for an entity.
Three Categories of Consulting Work
- Transactional Work. Transactional is really about one person meeting the needs of one other person. We’re addressing the needs of individuals. Some examples might be, I need your help in updating my HR record. I’d like to discuss problems that I’m having with an underperforming employee. I’m looking for a leadership development program, what’s your recommendation there?
- Tactical Work. We’re moving from the individual and really looking at identifying and addressing the needs of groups of employees. When we talk about tactics, we may use the word solution. That’s because tactical work is focused on the delivery, design, and implementation of solutions. So, when we say tactic, that’s a synonym for solution for us.
- Strategic Work. Here, we’re trying to identify and address the needs of the organization or business as a whole. It may be the organization as a whole, but it could also be an area, department, region, etc. That’s the defining characteristic of strategic work. Strategic work is directly linked to at least one, usually more, business needs. This work truly brings advantage to the business.
Performance Consulting Mental Model
Our mental model for performance consulting has two components. It is composed of the need hierarchy, which is really what we focus on as performance consultants when we want to partner with clients to do strategic work. And then, there is what is called the should-is-cause logic, which is how we obtain information.
The Need Hierarchy
There are four categories of needs inside any organization:
- Business needs. An operational goal for an entity that is always measured in numbers. Examples include: we want to grow revenue, increase profit, reduce waste, improve customer satisfaction, etc.
- Performance needs. These are needs for people. They describe what people need to do on the job more, better, or differently, if a business need is to be achieved.
- Organizational capability needs. Organizational capability needs talk about the work environment, or what is surrounding the employees, and either facilitating performance or making it more difficult.
- Individual capability needs. These are needs for people in terms of their skills and knowledges that they require to perform effectively. For individual capability needs, the locus of control is within the individual.
The job of a performance consultant is to define and align these four needs with our clients.
Clients provide us with a piece of the information. In performance consulting, what we have to do is figure out what is missing and what we still need to find out. We do that by using the should-is-cause, or gaps logic.
- Should. We start our gaps logic with the should. These are the desired states for both business and performance needs.
- Is. What are the on-the-job behaviors that we see currently in place that are driving the business results that we have?
- Cause. We have a should and an is. The difference between those is a gap. We look for causes to that gap. What we should be looking for is not necessarily a cause for our current results or a cause for the results that we want to achieve—but the cause for the gap between those two.
Dana Robinson founded Partners in Change, Inc. in 1981 and served as its President for 27 years. She is a recognized leader in the area of performance technology, assisting organizations in defining the performance of people needed to achieve required business goals. As a consultant, Dana has assisted hundreds of HR and Learning functions to transition from a traditional and tactical focus to a performance and strategic focus.
With Jim Robinson, Dana has co-authored seven books, including the first book ever published on the subject of performance consulting. This book, Performance Consulting: Moving Beyond Training, was published in 1995, and was selected by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) for its book of the year award. They have also co-authored a book with Ken Blanchard entitled Zap the Gaps! Target Higher Performance and Achieve It! (2002). In 2005, a book focusing on the role of HR business partners, entitled Strategic Business Partner: Aligning People Strategies with Business Goals, was published. The third edition of Performance Consulting, co-authored with Jack and Patti Phillips and Dick Handshaw, was released in the spring of 2015. Collectively, books authored by the Robinsons have been translated into more than 15 languages.
Dana has received numerous awards throughout her career including the Distinguished Contribution Award by ATD and the Thought Leadership Award by ISA. In 2010, she was inducted as a Fellow into the Leadership and Organization Development Hall of Fame, and in 2013, she and her husband were given the Thomas Gilbert Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement from ISPI.
Chris Adams is a performance consultant and instructional designer with over 20 years of experience helping clients engage people, apply processes, and implement technology to improve human and organizational performance. He is currently a senior consultant for Handshaw, Inc. in Charlotte, NC.
In 1999, Chris was co-inventor of Handshaw’s award-winning software, Lumenix- one of the first content-managed platforms for e-learning. Chris has been a featured speaker for a number of ISPI and ATD chapters and has presented at regional and international conferences such as Training Solutions, The Performance Improvement Conference, and the Coast Guard Human Performance Technology Conference.
Chris is a long-time member of the International Society for Performance Improvement and was a founding board member of the Charlotte chapter, where he served as chapter president in 2013.
Chris holds degrees in mass communication and instructional systems technology. He is currently a doctoral student in the Instructional Design and Technology program at Old Dominion University, where his research interests include applying new perspectives from design research to human performance technology.