The cost to any organization of people who make mistakes, or of people who are unable to perform their jobs effectively is very high. The same holds true for processes that are not operating at full capacity. These types of bottlenecks can take away from an organization’s bottom line. While some problems can be resolved quickly and efficiently through training or alternate forms of performance improvement interventions, some problems may require a more strategic or long-term approach in order for the desired results to be obtained.
Training comes with a price tag: The cost of capital, facilities, materials, computer or video equipment, time away from a job, or travel expenses involved with transporting trainees or trainer(s) to and from a facility. But, whether you are a small five-employee company, or a large for profit, or non-profit organization, one of the first steps toward solving a performance problem is to gather more information about the source of the problem(s). Some commonly used methods include the traditional interview, survey, or focus group.
Five Tips for Gathering Information
• Decide which method will yield the best results. Online surveys are a quick and effective data gathering tool but ensure that each question asks only one piece of information, and limit the number of questions. For instance, “Was the salesperson professional and courteous?” is better presented as two separate questions: “Was the salesperson professional?”, and “Was the salesperson courteous?” Interviews are best used when qualitative information such as opinions are sought. Focus groups are best limited to five to eight people, and skilled facilitator(s) should be used to conduct the session(s).
• Include a short cover letter or explanation that includes instructions on how to complete a questionnaire or survey. Group questions by topic from general to specific when putting together questions, and understand the difference between a Likert scale and interval scale.
• Avoid using jargon and never assume that people will understand acronyms. A technical term that may be familiar to a group of people in one part of a company, may have no context or meaning to others located in another part of the world. Gender-neutral terms such as chairperson are also always preferable.
• Pilot test an instrument whether it is a questionnaire, interview form, or survey. This can help identify problems with questions, clarify difficult language or technical terms, and help determine whether additional questions are needed.
• Summarize results using an executive summary, or include large amounts of data in an appendix.
Four Diagnostic Approaches
Consider a large consumer products company undergoing a restructuring while launching several new product lines. The company will face several challenges: displaced workers, creation of new marketing jobs, training on new web-based technology that will need to be implemented, and an examination of the company’s business or competitive strategy with respect to current or future economic conditions. A smaller company facing the same challenges may need to confront some, but not all of the issues facing the larger consumer products company, and on a much smaller scale.
Four different approaches can be used to help both companies undergo the transition smoothly.
Firstly, the displaced workers can be given a knowledge and skills assessment to determine which similar positions within the company will fit their existing skill sets or profiles, and what additional training will be needed in order for them to assume different job tasks.
A job and task analysis can be completed for all the new jobs that will be created. These position descriptions will contain information relating to the specific job responsibilities, competencies, and training that will be needed to perform these jobs successfully.
A competency-based approach can be used to identify the core competencies and behaviors that will be necessary for developing a competency model for, say a, technology performance manager. Some competencies essential for this position might include product knowledge, sound knowledge of the technology and information systems, proficiency in the software and hardware requirements for the system being implemented, and excellent decision making and management skills.
An analysis of the consumer product company’s business strategy with respect to its competition and standing in the marketplace will require a more in-depth or strategic approach. This can involve an examination of the company’s mission and business goals, internal or external factors causing loss of market share, supply chain risks or threats, causes of performance gaps, and recommendations for a performance improvement plan.
Time is a critical factor in determining which approach will best fit the needs of an organization. While a knowledge and skills assessment can be completed in a fairly short amount of time, the latter three approaches can take anywhere from a week to several months, depending on the complexity or objectives of the assessment.
Kavita Gupta, a Mequon resident, is author of the best-selling resource A Practical Guide to Needs Assessment (Pfeiffer) co-published by the American Society for Training and Development and co-edited by Dr. Cathy Sleezer and Dr. Darlene Russ-Eft. She has served in numerous leadership positions on boards and committees in the Milwaukee area including Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, the American Cancer Society Midwest Division and University School of Milwaukee.
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