Closing the performance gap through needs analysis

When a performance gap is identified, a critical error that professionals often make is to automatically assume that it’s a training issue. As a company that focuses on training, even we can admit that training isn’t always the answer.

To properly address a problem, it’s important to identify the root cause. To do so, you must examine both the individuals and the environmental factors. This may seem like a daunting task. However, it’s easier than you might think.

Start with the environment. An environment that is conducive to success is made up of information, resources, and incentives. Here are a few steps to understand and improve your employees’ environment.

Step 1: Do your employees have the right information?

Determine if the roles and expectations are clearly defined. Most people inherently want to succeed – to be successful they must understand what the goals are and what is expected of them. Therefore, timely, relevant feedback is vital.

Step 2: Do your employees have the resources?

Determine if the individuals have the necessary resources to succeed including:

  • Proper training,
  • Tools to properly do their job (up-to-date software, working tools, etc.)
  • Readily available resources (job aids, manuals, etc.),
  • Clear and accessible policies and procedures,
  • Realistic deadlines, and
  • A safe, clean workspace.

While this list is not exhaustive, it’s a good starting place.

Step 3: Do your employees have the right incentives?

It’s not just about the money. Determine if there are non-financial incentives in place that help to make a positive work environment. Measurements should be in place to reinforce positive performance and address performance opportunities. If the environmental factors are not the problem, move on to the individual. The next set of steps focus on factors that equal success for individuals: motivation, capacity, and knowledge.

Step 4: Are your employees motivated?

Determine if the individuals are motivated to do their work – is this what they want to be doing? Are their goals aligned with the organization? Are they a “right fit” for the role and the company? Remember, it’s not just about earning a paycheck. If individuals are engaged in what they’re doing, then the success becomes inherent.

Step 5: Do your employees have the capacity?

Determine if the right people are in the right roles. Does the individual have the capacity to learn and do his or her job? Are there emotional limitations that will prevent him or her from being able to do a job successfully?

Step 6: Knowledge and Skills

Last but certainly not least, determine if the individuals have the knowledge and skills to be successful. The environmental factors are typically the easiest (and cheapest) to address while the behavioral factors are more difficult and costly. In most cases, if environmental issues are resolved the individual issues typically work themselves out. It’s important to note that even if the behavioral issues are addressed, lingering environmental factors can still impede success and create a performance gap. The greatest pilot can’t fly a plane if it has no fuel.

So, before you jump to the “it’s a training issue” conclusion, take the time to identify the root cause. Save yourself time and money by exploring the environmental factors first, then move on to the individual factors. Once the root cause has been identified, you can then determine the appropriate action steps to close the performance gap.

Gilbert, T. F., (1978). Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance. New York: McGraw-Hill. and (1996). Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance, Tribute Edition. Silver Spring, MD: International Society for Performance Improvement.