The Performance Technologist

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Now try something different. Instead of a trainer, dial up a performance technologist. The performance technologist doesn't jump at the quickest fix. Instead he or she questions you about all aspects of the problem, even riding to work with you several times. The performance technologist notices that you pass a construction site every morning, where nails are scattered in the street. The performance technologist maps out a new route to work, one that bypasses the construction site. Voila! You never have another flat tire. Periodically, he or she will check to see that you're still flat-free-just in case another construction job should spring up along your new route.

Now let's look at a real-world example. In a traditional organization, management might say to a trainer, "Customers are complaining about our service. Give us a training program to teach the customer-service reps how to be nice to people on the phone." The trainer would develop a program on that topic-or buy a packaged one-and train the employees. At the end of the course, the trainees might have to take a test to prove that they learned what they were supposed to. In addition, the trainer probably asked them to fill out a questionnaire saying whether they liked the training and thought it had helped them.

Under the performance paradigm, the job isn't to deliver training. It's to improve performance. In a high-performance organization, management says to the performance-improvement specialist, "Customers are complaining about our service. Help us determine what the problem is so we can work together to solve it." The performance-improvement specialist, often called a performance technologist, would study the situation and collect statistical and anecdotal information to analyze it. If the source of the problem is lousy telephone skills, perhaps he or she would recommend a training program like the one described above. However, the problem might be unrelated to employee skills. For example, customers could be irked about slow response time. Analysis might show that response time is slow because of corporate structures and procedures that require customer-service reps to obtain approvals from managers up the chain of command before they can take action to solve a customer's problem.

Once the source of the problem is identified, the performance technologist can work with management to come up with solutions that may or may not involve training. Results are measured and tracked in both subjective and objective ways. Has the number of customer complaints decreased? Are they still complaining about the same thing? Have sales improved? What's happened to the rate of turnover among customer-service reps?

As trainers retrain themselves to take on new roles in high-performance organizations, they'll have to expand their knowledge. They'll need to know more about the business climate in which their firms operate, more about the strategic directions of the organization, and more about the business structures and language that are second nature to business leaders. They'll have to be more willing to work as partners with line managers, customers, and subject-matter experts.

Organization Development for High Performance

We've talked extensively about the way training changes under the performance paradigm. High-performance work systems also require different skills and approaches from organization development specialists. Companies are under the tremendous pressure to improve their performance. Many are trying to do it by developing new organizational structures that support the push for performance. That includes team-based structures and flatter organizational charts. But the possibilities are endless. Organization developers will have to expand their mental models to think in new ways about how organizations are set up.

Keeping up with-and anticipating- external change is an integral component of high performance. Besides, it's difficult to chart a methodical path toward a goal that's always moving.

"What we know about organization change is becoming insufficient," says W. Warner Burke of Columbia University, as quoted in Galagan's article. "We need to know far more about such areas as how to maintain the momentum of change, how to help people deal with the chaos they experience during a transition, and how much and when to communicate about change."


Team building has long been a subject for workplace training initiatives, but in the past few years its importance has ballooned. More organizations expect employees at all levels and in all areas to work on teams. Teamwork is an integral component of popular business initiatives such as total quality management. It's increasingly important as organizations downsize-leaving fewer employees, who must be able to handle a wider variety of tasks, and fewer middle managers to handle administrative functions such as hiring employees, structuring work, ordering supplies, and evaluating employee performance.

Teams are prevalent in today's business climate. In Training magazine's recent survey, reported in its October 1995 issue, 78 percent of responding organizations said that at least some employees work on teams. And 31 percent have at least one team that is classified as "self-directed," meaning it operates with little direction from a direct supervisor. Members of self-directed teams set work schedules, deal directly with customers, arrange for training, deal with suppliers, set performance targets, and handle other tasks usually reserved for managers.

Training for Teamwork

How does the trend toward teamwork affect the jobs of trainers? In the Training survey, 70 percent of responding organizations were providing their employees with training in team building. Respondents also named the sources of their team-building training. In 17 percent of the organizations it was designed and delivered by in-house staff only. In 8 percent all team training came from outside sources. And 45 percent of the respondents provide team training through a combination of internal and external sources.

In addition to specific skills for teams, working as part of a team requires a wide array of competencies that many solo employees simply have not developed. Managers-or team members themselves, if a team operates autonomously-might call on trainers for help in many areas, including the following:
  • Leadership training

  • Train-the-trainer programs (to teach teammates how to train each other)

  • Listening skills

  • Presentation skills

  • Techniques for conducting meetings

  • Negotiation tactics

  • Problem-solving skills

  • Decision-making skills

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