Concepts on Competency and Human Performance Improvement

NL57 Concepts HPI

Iman Fiqrie@William E Hamilton
Lecturer, Malaysian Maritime Academy,

Change disrupts the status quo…breaks momentum and continuity in organizations, processes and performers…[c] hange shocks… out of a comfortable place…moves one [to] discomfort” (ASTD 2013).

Figure 1 – Human Performance Improvement (HPI) Model

The Competency Dilemma Revisited

Last month, there was an article in the newsletter on Competency Based Education, Training and Assessment (CBETA) called– Untangling the Competence Dilemma. It was an excellent article, still many suggest that there is no commonly held view on this topic

and just as many acronyms. It seemed only fitting that since there was momentum on the topic of competency that enhancing the discussion on outcomes in the context of performance improvement was the right thing to do.

Is the focus on competency the same the thing as performance?

The intent of this article is to inform one of the way in which Talent and Development (TD) Professionals in the Learning and Development Industry (LDI) view performance improvement issues, outcomes, and solutions; firstly, with the anticipation that it will spark more academic discussion and debate on the subject of competency and performance improvement; secondly to emphasize that training is not always the best solution for performance problems; and lastly, persuade readers of such. All performance improvement models (e.g., the HPT or HPI models) have at least three principles in common– they are results-based, use a systems approach and see organizations as systems. Pointedly, even if training ends up being the “prescribed solution” to a needs assessment (not necessarily a training needs assessment, e.g., but as part of a performance needs assessment)– while expected outcomes in the LDI also exist, the significant difference is that outcomes here refers to “results” in terms of the business drivers and goals. This is quite a bit different than explicitly suggesting a training action, behavior or outcome is the outcome one wants or needs! All outcomes are not the same. Some may suggest minor nuances or splitting hairs here, but the difference may be as wide as the discussion on accuracy and precision for which most are familiar– one can be precisely wrong and yet can do all the correct behaviors or actions with the so called needed outcomes; e.g., climbing the wrong ladder or tree proficiently and efficiently, it’s still the wrong ladder or tree no matter how it’s assessed! In Human Performance Improvement (HPI), one would not prescribe training for a problem that was caused by e.g., external factors like a lack of information, resources, incentives, motivations or negative consequences. One might say neither would MET, but how would they know if they didn’t look for it?

Putting things in context, Stone Age to present

In context, since the Stone Age people have been amassing knowledge, using it for survival and passing that knowledge on to the next generation; in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s groundbreaking theories regarding Bloom’s Taxonomy, Behaviorism, Single and Double Loop Theory, ADDIE, Cognitivism, Constructivism, Pedagogy, Andragogy, Experiential Learning, Adult Learning, etc., were abound. MET and many other training institutions have principally latched onto to a few of these concepts like behaviorism and pedagogy and have never looked back. Possibly because real change is uncomfortable and disruptive; newer concepts and paradigm shifts seem to reside outside the realm of the comfortable and possible. Why, one might ask? It seems it takes many years for “innovative” theories to find their way into mainstream application. For example, we’re still talking about and using theories that happened nearly a half a century ago! We only have now really started to sink our teeth deep into Competency Based Education application and many still misapply it.

And then there was light at the end of the tunnel: Human Performance Improvement (HPI)

All arguments aside, if we were given a blank sheet of paper, knowing what we should know as lectures (facilitators) about expected performance and were asked to come up with a system and methodology to continually improve the performance and priority business results of the organization– what would it look like, figure 1 above? How then do we bridge or link the problem with “the fix”? If you notice, the word training was not mentioned. This is important and instructive in that what is it that we really are trying to accomplish? Change a performer’s behavior or ensure that the performer’s behavior leads to certain outcomes, more specifically– directly tied to business drivers, results and outcomes? I think the latter might be the case. As mentioned previously, a competency based outcome is necessarily not the same as an outcome tied to a business result the same way that a sales person’s actions or behaviors doesn’t necessarily lead to the sale; lest we not confuse the sale with the seller– the sale is a unitary outcome or result we are after and not the necessarily the behaviors or actions of the seller. As some have suggested, results-based outcomes are like the difference between a noun and a verb; the result being the noun (result, report or goal) and the verb an action or behavior for which we may know little about (ASTD 2013).

Other examples causing performance problems might be illogical reporting relationships, turf battles between managers and lack of accountability for outcomes. Why does the aforementioned occur, misalignment with required business results? Whose fault is this? Clients may come with a want or need and practitioners take them at their word that this is what is required or the real performance issue.

Organizations as Systems and their meaning in HPI

In the last paragraph, it is important to see the organization as a system that also includes processes and job performers. And, as systems theory suggests– when one pushes on that system, it usually pushes back as something called “compensating feedback” and affects other parts of the system one may not have anticipated; facilitating chaos and affecting change negatively. As such, during any “fixes” or solutions to the system, change management must be an integral part of HPI and exist throughout the entire process of performance improvement. Who is your company’s change champion?

And what of the other performance indicators a business has?

An organization has several tools at their disposal to determine how its performance is doing and just as many chances to make required corrections. So why the continued problems that apparently require training, but don’t work? Fundamental contributing factors to the aforementioned issues may be the business’ organizational and cultural frameworks that fail to address and contend with performance system issues and
encourage continuous non-performing behaviors; global slumps and employment threats to the business exacerbated by issues highlighted here and possibly a lack of follow-up on management instruments such as the organization’s SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats), Balanced Scorecard (roughly how the business is doing in areas like customer, finance, process and capacity), Strategic initiatives and other broken mechanisms. This is proof that not all of an organization’s ailments are about training. For example, minimal focus on real performance solutions; competency issues related to business results; alignment in structure, process, and priority performance
requirements; which brings us to where we presumably are today—seemingly not yet competent (NYC) in many required and important areas concerning maritime competencies, industry and MET as evident by the continued high number of catastrophes
each year.

The Mechanics of HPI and Results-Based Outcomes

For the record, the results-based approach always works in the following sequence:
 Identify an organizational problem or goal.
 Articulate a relationship between the problem or goal and
human performance.
 Determine a quantifiable performance gap between the desired
level of performance and the actual level of performance.
 Conduct an analysis of the root causes to reveal the reasons for
the performance gap.
 Implement a series of solutions to address the root causes.

Another big part of the problem is the organizational culture piece mentioned earlier that supports and feeds to the “performance misalignment” and the perception that there is no problem; continually doing the same things one has always done before; then one will continue to get the same things they’ve always gotten— most of us have heard this or another version of it many times before? Performance incentives and rewards programs also feed the same beast of distorted continued cyclical behaviors and outcomes.
There are, however, enough fingers to point all around– from top to bottom.

And lastly, I conclude with the stark retelling of the story of the boiled frog. It’s been said that if you put a live frog in a pot of water and slowly bring the pot to a boil, the frog will stay in the water until it is completely boiled and cooked to death. Are our organizations in
MET like the boiling frog? Maybe we don’t know if we’re in hot water and are being cooked to death because we fail to change.

A metaphoric realignment of the organization, process and job performance based on goals, results and priorities may be required to help ensure our survival. Inexorably, however, I believe the cycle will endure as it must just as summer follows spring and winter fall!  And, as always– hope to see your article and comment soon– see you on the blog.


ASTD (2013), ASTD Learning System, The Official Resource for CPLP
Study, Virginia: A STD Press.

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1 Comment

  1. February 20, 2018    

    Just wanna comment on few general things, The website design and style is perfect, the written content is really excellent : D.

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