The learning and development profession is experiencing a sea change in expectations—it's no longer sufficient to merely be the knowledge and skills team, reactively executing demands from other departments.
As the learning function becomes more adept at proving its business value through alignment and business-focused metrics, it's no longer acceptable for other business areas to treat L&D like an employee repair shop. Traditionally, the kneejerk response to any performance issue has been to develop training initiatives. But that is flawed, because as we know, workplace performance is about more than just the performer.
To match these new expectations, learning leaders need to change the way their L&D staff members think about themselves. Rather than being the "learning team," in reality we need to become the "performance team"—the folks that the business can rely on to get to the bottom of performance issues and create integrated, sustainable performance interventions.
How do we move from being a traditional, transactional training team to a broader-focused performance consulting team?
Transitioning to a performance focus is a mindset change. It's not about replacing anything; in fact, the services your L&D organization provide potentially need to be better than ever. Instead, we must move away from training being the only tool in the toolbox, to a sense of comfort that we cannot fix everything, every time, for all performance problems if our only tool is training. It is a mindset change from only focusing on knowledge and skill, to focusing on accomplishment and business goal realization.
A learning intervention is often the correct intervention; however, there may be other barriers that, if not removed, will compromise the quality of the learning outcome. Yes, we may resolve some of the performance gap, but is that enough, and how long will it last? A performance mindset is the first step in working toward being the trusted advisors who are called in to close that performance gap.
3 Steps to Establish a Performance Mindset
There are three critical focus changes in approach that are necessary to change the focus from exclusively training to all-encompassing performance.
1. Focus on the entire performance system, not just the performer.
People perform as part of an interdependent system, where changes in one element may cause changes in another. When we're trying to understand the true barriers to performance, if we don't look at this entire system, then how can we truly know the real causes of the performance gap? We have to consistently look at the performance system from all angles, both from the performer (knowledge, skill, and attitude) and external factors that may impact performance (resources, policies, procedures, tools, and incentives).
When conducting a performance analysis, consider all factors and root causes that are contributing to the gap, from every level of the performance system. Doing so will substantially broaden the scope of your performance analysis and increase the chance that most, if not all, of the root causes of this gap will be identified. This allows you to generate integrated performance solutions that have a greater impact and are more sustainable.
2. Take a completely solution-neutral approach.
If you are walking into a "training needs assessment meeting," you've already made your first mistake—you've accepted that training solutions are required to solve the problem.
A performance mindset means that you have no predetermined intention. By looking at a performance gap with a training lens, you have made a critical error. It takes practice, but only when you are completely solution-agnostic are you able to fully appreciate the true need and performance gap. We must not presume to know what a potential solution is; just because something worked last time does not mean it will work again.
3. Diagnose, then prescribe.
Uncovering barriers to performance through a solid root cause analysis is the new tool in your toolbox. Sometimes, training will be a part of the solution, and other times it won't. The point is, until you have diagnosed the problem, you lack sufficient information to propose possible solutions. All potential barriers to performance must be uncovered to ensure that all causes are considered when creating the proposed intervention. Just as a doctor waits for the results of all tests and the subjective examination, so too must we as performance improvement professionals do the same.
Even if training is part of the required solution, now that you have uncovered some other root causes, when you do deliver your training, it will likely be more successful than ever.
Remember, performance matters. It helps people grow and improve themselves, it helps them be productive, and helps companies reach their goals.