TEAM Coach | An Introduction Performance Improvement

Human performance is behaviour that produces work outputs that contribute to business results. Work outputs are what the organisation needs from its people to achieve its goals. These outputs are the links between the behaviour or activity of your people and your organisation's results. When you strengthen the connection between people-process-organisation, you improve performance.

Recognise that there are only two kinds of performance

At any given time an employee (or team) is engaging in either Desired Performance or Undesired Performance. There is no such thing as “neutral performance” or “no performance.”

Performance improvement therefore is a systematic and systemic approach to improving productivity and competence by analysing current and desired workplace performance and implementing interventions to close the gap between what you're getting now and what you want.

In simple terms Performance Improvement is concerned with "cause and effect":

1. Identifying the causes for undesired performance so we can eliminate these to close the performance gap (or at the very least reduce their impact)

2. Identifying and understanding the causes that influence desired performance so we can leverage these in order to replicate and sustain "good" performance.

3. Identifying behaviours that contribute to undesirable performance and replacing these with specific behaviours that will result in desired performance.

Performance Improvement therefore involves a systematic process of:

1. Analysing and defining the gap between actual performance (what you're getting now) and the desired performance

2. Designing ethical, cost-effective interventions directed towards changing behaviour to close performance gaps

3. Evaluating the financial and non financial results

Introducing the 9 Variables that Influence Performance

It is essential to define the performance gap and the desired performance within the context of the whole picture. Taking a systems view is vital, because organisations are complex systems that affect the performance of people who work within them. A Performance Improvement strategy will therefore consider the nine performance variables. This process begins by looking at 3 Levels within an organisation:

The Organisational Level
This level is concerned with the organisation as a whole

The Process Level
The specific processes an organisation uses to accomplish work

The Job Performer Level
At this level the focus is on the concrete activities that people perform

Three Levels with Three Performance Needs

At each level organisation's define goals and measures, create designs and establish management practices to achieve the desired goals and measures, therefore the Performance Needs that must be met at each of three levels are:

Performance Need |Goals
Specific standards or expectations customers have for a company's products and services

Performance Need |Design
The structures, systems and processes that enable these goals to be met efficiently

Performance Need |Management
The practices that ensure that goals are relevant and achieved

The three levels and three performance needs combine to create a 9 variable matrix known as the three level performance framework. Each of the nine variables must be considered to determine the impact on individual, collective and organisational performance in order to identify where improvement opportunities exist.

The Three Level Performance Framework
(Rummler and Brache 1990)

Reference: Rummler, G & Brache, A (1990). Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

The three levels are intricately dependant on each other. Any change in strategy will result in a change in process and which in turn will effect the job responsibilities at the job performer (employee) level. Failure to successfully link the connections and relationships between person-process-organisation will result in poor performance. 

1. Performance at the Organisational Level

First we shape our structures, and then our structures shape us“. Churchill

Evaluation and analysis at this level helps us to understand an organisations goals, how the organisation has been designed to achieve these, the way work is currently being done and how departments and individuals contribute to this. This enables us to identify the weak links and disconnects (breakdowns) so they can be fixed. 

2. Performance at the Process Level

If you want to understand the way work gets done, to improve the way work gets done, and to manage the way work gets done, processes should be the focus of your attention and actions. Rummler and Brache

Processes need to be designed to enable organisational goals to be achieved. A business process involves a series of steps designed to produce a product or service. Most processes are cross-functional, spanning the ‘white space’ between the boxes on the organisation chart. Some processes result in a product or service for an organisation's external customer while others produce products that are invisible to the external customer but are essential to the effective management of the business. Basically there are three types of business processes:

1. Management Processes
These are the processes that govern the operation of a system. Typical management processes include corporate governance and strategic management.

2. Operational Processes
These are the processes that constitute the core business and create the primary value stream. Typical operational processes are purchasing, manufacturing, advertising and marketing and sales.

3. Supporting Processes
These are processes which support the core processes. Examples include accounting, recruitment, call center, technical support.

The process level is considered the critical link between organisation and individual employee performance and therefore offers the greatest opportunity for improvement. Even outstanding employees cannot improve their performance where there are poor processes. 

3. Performance at the Job Performer Level

If capable, well-trained people are placed in a setting with clear expectations, minimal task interference, reinforcing consequences, and appropriate feedback, then they will be motivated. Rummler and Brache

The Rummler and Brache Performance Framework is one of the most effective ways of linking Person-Process-Organisation because:

It links the Job Performer to Goals

People make processes work therefore their goals need to be aligned with and their efforts directed towards achieving process and organisational goals. e.g. Job specifications, performance metrics, and individual development plans.

It links the Job Performer to Design

The Job Performer's work needs to be designed in such a way with systems, procedures, and resources to enable them to achieve these goals.

It links the Performer to Management

The Job Performer needs to deliver specific results so at this level needs are concerned with, creating an environment and culture so that employees can do their best, providing effective leadership, performance feedback, consequences, and support, and developing employees through selection, education, coaching and training.

How You Can Work with This

If you pit a good performer against a bad system, the system will win almost every time. [Rummler & Brache]

Although the framework looks complex Team Leaders can still work with it at the Job Performer x Goal x Design x Management level by identifying the factors that currently enable or obstruct employee behaviour. Start by asking your Team and individual team members, two simple questions:

(Obstructions) What makes your work hard?

Look for what's missing, broken, unclear, clumsy, awkward, confusing etc and therefore preventing your people from doing a good job, then focus your resources, time and efforts on managing, minimising and eliminating the barriers to effective performance.

(Enablers) What makes your work easy?

Identify what's working so you can preserve and leverage these factors to sustain momentum and achieve gains in performance.

Don't be surprised to find that many issues originate in the Job Performer x Design Box.

This is a process improvement opportunity which will very likely involve other teams because processes travel across the organisation. While you may not be able to influence this directly you can discuss this with your manager. The three level framework will help you to develop and communicate your business case more clearly.

  • You will be able to explain the links between your team's challenges and opportunities, their behaviour/activity, and your organisation's goals.

  • You will be able to make the performance connection between people-process-organisation. 

A Real World Example of the Three Level Framework in Action

Background Situation: This company was positioning itself for further growth - focused on improving shareholder value and profitability by reducing costs and complexity. There were greater demands for increased capability from people and systems to support the growth strategy.

Excellerate’s preliminary diagnoses indicated that the company was experiencing many of the symptoms associated with the “Crises of Control” (a stage of organisational growth defined by Greiner, 1972) Greater coordination was required, different parts of the business needed to work together more effectively and more sophisticated systems were required to achieve greater efficiencies and manage the predicted growth.

Rummler and Brache's Matrix of Levels and Needs (1) provided the framework for a more comprehensive analysis. With each of the 9 variables representing the “performance levers” within an organization, Excellerate was able to identify where improvement opportunities existed. The framework also provided a means to evaluate the impact of interventions on individual and organizational performance.

Excellerate, together with the CEO, Senior Managers and HR department, designed and implemented a series of interventions over a 12 month period which are briefly summarised in the table below.

Overview of the Performance Improvement Interventions
(within the Matrix of Levels and Needs)

(1) Rummler, G. & Brache, A., (1990). Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass


Posted: Saturday 5 October 2013

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