What is Performance Consulting?

Performance consulting is an approach to helping companies optimize the performance of their employees. It emphasizes achieving clearly identified business goals and producing a demonstrable return-on-investment.

To produce this return-on-investment, performance consultants conduct analysis, design training interventions, monitor intervention success, and make data-informed revisions to the interventions as needed.

Company leadership often engages a performance consultant when they recognize that their employees are not performing to the desired standards or meeting the required metrics. Here are a few examples of human performance issues that performance consultants can help resolve:

  • Cashiers for a nationwide grocery chain are ringing people up too slowly, resulting in customers leaving the store before buying anything because the lines are too long.
  • A highly qualified sales team is consistently failing to meet its sales goals because they don’t fully understand the products that they’re trying to sell.
  • Patients are leaving bad feedback on exit surveys for a city hospital because the nursing staff treated them poorly during their stay.

It’s also important to note that some instructional designers refer to themselves as performance consultants, and some performance consultants refer to themselves as instructional designers. The title is not as important as the approach itself.

So, for the purposes of this article, we will refer to anyone who uses the performance improvement consulting approach as a performance consultant.

Let’s take a closer look at what performance consultants do to help improve employee performance.

Identify the business goal

The first order of business for a performance consultant is speak with the client and stakeholders to determine the business goal that they would like to achieve. The goal should be specific, measurable, and attainable. This four-part goal includes:

  1. The business metric that the organization is hoping to influence
  2. The percent by which the organization expects to increase or decrease the business metric
  3. The date by which the organization expects to achieve the goal
  4. The specific group that must behave differently to help achieve the goal, as well as what they must do to contribute to the goal.

Let’s consider the business goal for the cashier example that we introduced above. Remember, the cashiers are checking people out too slowly, resulting in lost sales.

Time-per-transaction will decrease 20% by Q4 as cashiers adhere to the proper checkout protocols.

Determining this goal upfront is extremely important, because it’s what all future efforts will be tied to. The performance consultant can likely derive the first, metrics-oriented part of the goal by speaking to the client and other key leadership personnel at the client’s company.

However, to identify the second part of the business goal that focuses on the job group and what they must do differently, the consultant may interview a curated selection of employees who are in the targeted group.

This approach ensures that the proceeding efforts are tied to achieving a clear business goal. Setting a goal like this also makes it easier to define the value that the performance consultant’s efforts will bring to the business.

Analyze the performance problem

With the business goal in place, the consultant begins interviewing, surveying, and observing employees to determine why they aren’t doing what they should be to support the business goal.

Performance consultants do not assume that training will resolve the performance problem or bring the business closer to the goal.

Even when training is part of the solution, it’s rarely the only solution. Let’s consider non-training problems that a performance consultant may uncover during analysis:

  • The point-of-sale software that the cashiers are using cannot keep up with how quickly they are trying to scan the products.
  • The marketing team funnels leads to the sales team, but the leads do not match the sales team’s desired target audience (although this may indicate a reason to provide training for the marketing staff).
  • The nurses are assigned to care for more patients than they could possibly attend to in a single night.

For non-training problems like this, performance consultants recommend solutions that the business can implement without designing or delivering any training. Building off the examples above, a performance consultant may recommend upgrading the point-of-sale software, developing a better lead generation strategy, or hiring additional nursing staff.

However, if the performance consultant determines that the problem is caused by a lack of knowledge or skill, then it’s in their wheelhouse to design (or manage a team to design) the solutions.

Design and deliver the intervention(s)

After identifying a knowledge or skill gap as part of the performance issue, the performance consultant produces performance supports and practice activities to address the issue.

Practice activities allow employees to practice using the knowledge and skills that they will need to use on-the-job, and the formats for these activitiesinclude in-person workshops, self-paced eLearning, virtual webinars, and more (this depends on results from the analysis).

Depending on the size of the project and the performance consultant’s skill set, the consultant may outsource training development tasks to a team. Regardless, the consultant ensures that the interventions are aimed at modifying behavior and improving on-the-job performance.

Once the performance consultant has prototyped, developed, and refined the training solutions, they work with business stakeholders to deliver the training to the employees. Performance consultants may also help facilitate internal negotiations surrounding the proposed non-training interventions.

Monitor learning, performance, and goal progress

Monitoring learning, performance, and organizational data brings us into the domain of evaluation. During evaluation, the performance consultant collects and analyzes data to determine the effectiveness of the interventions.

Again, depending on the consultant’s skill set and the size of the project, the consultant may outsource data analysis to a data scientist or statistician. There are two key types of data that performance consultants analyze:

Learning data

Learning data tells us how employees interact with the training. The performance consultant analyzes data from surveys, interviews, learning record stores (LRS), and learning management systems (LMS) to answer the following questions:

  • Is the training functional? Are employees able to use it without unnecessary friction?
  • Are employees enjoying the training? Is it as relevant to their jobs as we predicted?
  • Do the learning resources (job aids, on-demand content, etc.) help the employees perform better on the practice activities?
  • Are the employees performing better on the practice activities over time?

For those familiar with the Kirkpatrick model of evaluation, learning data falls within the first two levels of evaluation. It primarily tells us how employees are reacting to the training and whether or not they are learning new knowledge and skills.

Performance data

Performance data tells us how the employees are performing on the job. In addition to surveys and interviews, performance consultants view data from company sales systems, internal software, and customer feedback to determine if employee behavior is changing as desired.

The performance consultant also monitors organizational data or communicates with stakeholders who have access to such data. As the targeted job group begins behaving or performing as desired due to the intervention(s), then the organization should make progress towards the pre-identified business goal.

Revise the intervention(s) as needed

The data shows where the intervention is succeeding and where there is room for it to improve. After analyzing the data and drawing valid conclusions, the performance consultant presents their findings to the client and proposes adjustments to the intervention.

This creates a feedback loop to ensure that the intervention improves employee performance as efficiently as possible. Once the organization achieves the business goal and the intervention is optimized, the performance consultant may continue monitoring in case further optimization is needed, or they may continue to serve the organization on an advisory basis.

Conclusion

In conclusion, performance consultants work with organizations to solve issues pertaining to human performance. They solve these issues by drawing on their skills in analysis, training design, project management, communication, and evaluation.

While some performance consultants specialize, organizations may prefer to work directly with a single performance consultant who can oversee the performance improvement process from start to finish.

If you’d like to further discuss the performance consultant’s role and how one can benefit your organization, feel free to contact me for a prompt response.