Monday, July 22, 2013

From Forage to Human Performance Improvement

The Human Resources function in organizations comes under various banners, but I have yet to hear of a "Human Performance Improvement Department". As a human resources professional with a background in organization and methods, this has always surprised me.

Imagine a senior executive with the trendy title of Strategic Human Performance Improvement Manager, beavering away to do what I thought training was expected to do all along ... help improve individual performance so that organisational performance would improve. A cascading effect.

Early in my career, I worked on what was contemporaneously called Organization and Methods Analysis in the Queensland Police Force (QPF - Australia). The aim of my colleagues and me was to analyse police procedures and make improvements where necessary. And believe me, there was a lot of 'necessary' if the Force was to make the transition into the 20th Century.

The two-volume "Policeman's Manual" consisting of procedures and practices was around 8" thick, crammed with good advice for police officers, but largely well out of date. Police could find anything from how to handcuff an offender to the correct way to package bottles for transportation to the Fingerprint Bureau.

The first job I had was to write an administrative instruction advising the troops how much forage a horse needed to survive. It had become necessary because the QPF had incurred a hefty bill to keep a 'found' horse in forage until its owner could be located. I didn't have the heart to tell my senior sergeant that I didn't know what the hell 'forage' was (I grew up on mines, not cattle stations), but armed with the certain knowledge that it was obviously something edible that horses loved, I trudged off to the Veterinary Faculty at the Queensland University. Before long I had solved the mystery about nomenclature, learnt why horses need forage (if not only to stay alive), and received expert advice about the daily quantity required to keep such a beast alive depending on it's weight. 

My subsequent administrative edict was proudly distributed to every Police Station in Queensland under the hand of Commissioner Terry Lewis (who was later sentenced to a lengthy stretch in goal for corruption). Not to worry, the Police Department would never again over feed a horse in custody (or is it captivity?).

Jokes aside, performance improvement in organizations - even the QPD - has been an activity for probably hundreds, if not thousands of years. What I think has been happening slowly, is that we are getting closer and closer to the cutting edge of organizational outcomes. Rather than asking what training someone needs to improve performance and hoping that post-training it will all lead to higher productivity or improved quality outcomes, we are now finding out what is happening at the outcomes end and working back to see how it can be improved. And isn't it about time?

For years now I have envisaged a Performance Enhancement Department that combines human resources and development practitioners, quality professionals, technical writers, and auditors. The auditors and quality people find the problems, the  HRD people design solutions in collaboration with the others and deliver training. The technical writers create procedures and documentation to promulgate the revised or new processes. 

With this type of link, there is a more synergistic, holistic approach to identifying and rectifying organisational shortcomings.

Unfortunately, everywhere I have worked the audit, training, and quality people have worked separately. Most have never had technical writers, they've used what I unkindly call 'gifted amateurs'. This often leads to mediocre procedures that are poorly written and often difficult for users to understand - which leads to errors, short-cutting and general inefficiency.

The improved Strategic HPI approach takes HRD a step further. An HPI consultant works with managers to analyse a business and its goals, determine the relationship between goals and human performance, analyses performance and the causes of underperformance (if any), and then devises interventions to address these causes. Results are evaluated and hopefully, the underperformance disappears forever.

Whatever we call it, the role of training has always been to improve individuals' skills so that they could do better work for their employers. I can't see that changing any time soon, but linking audit, quality and training and development could have real benefits.

What do you think? Are audit, quality and training associated in your organisation?


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  1. I'm not sure how policing has changed since I was in the QPF, but I imagine they have computer screens in cars on which they can read their rules and procedures. Or perhaps iPads.

  2. Anonymous10:00 PM

    It makes sense to have quality, audit and training working together. I haven't found a company who does it though.


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