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Human Performance -- The Three Essential Issues Made Easy for Business

by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.

In business, there has been a great deal of writing about human performance. Yet despite the development of many theories, systems and practices to make it a practical, useful subject, most people in business primarily associate it with the struggle called "performance appraisals" time.

It actually has a lot more usefulness to it. And, once understood in context, even performance appraisals make a lot more sense and seem simpler. In fact, if you know what it's for, you can see the study of human performance is critical to every aspect of your business. No matter how large or small the business.

Human Performance is a field of study. But, like any field of study, most of us aren't interested in it from an academic viewpoint. What we really want to know is how it's used in practical ways in disciplines like business, sports, health, music, arts and entertainment. In all of those practices, there are three essential issues that have to be resolved to make the study and analysis useful.

1. Measurement and Definition.

For anything to be useful, you have to know what it is. You have to have a name for it and a way of describing it. You have to have a way to tell the differences between the "thing" you are describing and other "things." You have to know how and why it changes over time. So, your first step is to measure and define it.

In business, one of the hardest ideas to get through to management is the need for constant observing, recording (documenting), analyzing and appraising human performance. That's even harder than making it clear how important it is to have job descriptions and orientation manuals. And just forget trying to convince small business owners to do the documentation and analyses. Yet, they are as big a part of making a business run as accounting and financial analysis.

It's far easier to see how measurement and definition work in human performance if you apply it to sports. Take golf as an example. (Even if you consider it a game rather than a sport.) Is there anyone who plays golf who doesn't learn the rules and regulations? Who doesn't know the area and layout of the course he's playing? Who doesn't measure his performance against his past record and against the other players with him? Who doesn't know the difference between golf and tennis? Who doesn't have an idea of about how long it should take to play 18 holes with two people as opposed to four people?

2. Management and Improvement.

The main idea behind all the measurements and definitions is to be able to manage and improve specific performance. You want to apply standards to getting the job done. Then you want to find ways of doing it faster, better and more easily. And how to get more of it done.

So, you keep watching how you or the people you manage do it. You keep on keeping records of your performance and/or theirs.

You see if any of you are failing to meet the standards or are doing better than the standards. You correct the behavior of those who aren't up to snuff. You give rewards to those who are doing well. And you learn from your own performance and others what the difference is between those who do poorly, those who meet the standards and those who do better.

When you know the differences, you can use training and coaching to help everyone improve. If you do this consistently, in small tweaks every day, you continually improve and progress. (Oh wait, didn't someone named Deming suggest this?)

3. Replication.

When you find some behavior that works very well, you want to be able to do it again and again, at will. You want to replicate it. In yourself and/or others. In all applications of human performance, this is mostly accomplished by training and practice.

It's easiest to see how that works in music. Do you know many accomplished pianists who took no training in and never practiced their instruments? Even the self-taught talents had a learning process. And part of that process involved practicing, making mistakes, correcting mistakes, doing better and then doing the whole process over and over. Both the formally trained and the self-taught do the same thing: they learn what others do that is right and they try to duplicate it. Until they do it the right way.

In business, this means that you want to have models of correct performance for all your processes. Just like the musician has great musicians as models for his own performance. It's where measurement, definition, management and improvement all come together.

Large business or small, you have to know what your processes and systems are, how to best accomplish them and who does them well. You need to have records of who does what and how they do it. And you need to be able show others the what and how.

It sounds so simple when it's put that way. Yet even in prosperous times, the training and coaching necessary to improving and replicating performance get last place attention and budget support in most organizations. That includes the most needful of all: the practice of on-the-job training. These things are not extras. They are basic to your operation and your profits.

If you are able to show your old employees how to improve and your new employees how to do almost any function in your business, you have a business that works like a machine whose parts are all perfectly aligned and attuned.

You save time and money.

Start observing and recording your business processes and systems, establish models and best practices, and train yourself and the people who work for you into the best work habits. It's what makes a business work and succeed.


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