A Tribute to Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson

By Gary DePaul, CPT, PhD

This concept is simple to understand but difficult to practice (what some might label as “common sense” but “not commonly practiced”). During the past few years, I have observed clients, performance-consulting managers, and practitioners oversimplify performance needs and inappropriately conclude identified problems to be only gaps in performer skills. Sadly, I have done this as well in my career and can understand how professionals can make these diagnostic mistakes.

Bob, the Performance Consultant: What Not to Do
Here is a fictitious example of how this happens. Sue, a sales VP, is concerned that her sales force has trouble securing acceptable margins when contracting with customers. Bob, an internal performance consultant, believes the problem is obviously with the sale force’s weak negotiation skills. Bob prescribes the following solutions:

  • Negotiating training
  • Negotiation best practice job aids
  • Revised contract templates that make it more difficult for sales force to decrease margins
  • Support from Sue to require the sales team to attend training and use the new templates and job aids

Bob identified a perceived capability need rather than a performance need. Too bad he did not conduct a basic analysis. If he had, Bob would have discovered that the actual problem was procedural and had to do with the timing of contractual discussions and methods used by the sales force to engage customers about pricing. Bob would have further discovered that the sales representatives who have high margins realized this selling process problem and corrected the problem in their own practice.

To summarize this example, here are two diagnostic approaches:

1. Bob’s Approach

Simplistic analysis

  1. Interview Sue
  2. Consider previous “successful” solutions to guess what the problem could be

Common diagnosis type

  1. When guessing at the problem, immediately expect a learning (or capability) gap
  2. Bob guesses that the gap has to do with sales representatives’ weak negotiation skills and probably with motivational issues
  3. Way to go, Bob! If Bob is lucky, instructional designers who develop the training will discover the real problem and have the power to mitigate the actual gap.

2. An Alternative Approach
For a better illustration, see the GAPS! Map and Gap Zapper in Performance Consulting (referenced below).

Basic analysis

Go for the SHOULD

  • Based on business goals, determine what margins should be
  • Determine how performance should align to margin goals. Refer to any selling process documentation and training materials. As needed, interview Sue, managers, and team leads

Analyze the IS

  • Review current margin to identify business gaps. Compare targeted margins to specific sales representatives. If needed, interview sales managers as well
  • Interview sales representatives (low, average, and high) to determine what they do to achieve their current performance levels
  • If feasible, observe performers applying the selling process

Calculate the GAPs

  • Identify business and performance gaps. If possible, use metrics

Precise diagnosis

Pin down the CAUSES

  • Determine the causes for these gaps, specifically what the sales force needs to do to negotiate contractual pricing amounts in comparison with what they actually do.
  • Consider three types of factors:
  • EXTERNAL to organization
  • Examples: Market conditions, competitive pressures, and changing customer expectations
  • INTERNAL to organization (work factors)
  • Examples: Clarity of expectations, coaching support, and financial incentives
  • INTERNAL to individuals (capability)
  • Examples: Having required skills & knowledge, internal motivation, and previous experiences

How did I learn this alternative approach?
I first learned about this approach when I worked at Johnson Controls in the Learning & Development Department. Dana Robinson facilitated an all-day workshop that focused on performance consulting. I enjoyed the workshop, but I did not appreciate the Robinsons’ contribution to HPT until I became a manager. Earlier this year, I read their chapter in the Handbook of Human Performance Technology, 3rd Edition. This renewed my interest in their writing. Since then, I have used their books as references to further my professional development.

Below are titles of some of the Robinson’s publications that I frequently reference. Each links to publication websites where you can learn more about them.

About the Author
Gary DePaul is a manager at Lowe’s where he practices performance consulting. He frequently presents at ISPI conferences and contributes to and edits the Chapter Corner in PerformanceXpress. Gary volunteers for the Charlotte Chapter. He is a past president of the Tampa Bay Chapter and served as the Chapter Partnership Committee Chair in 2010. He also is a member of the Armed Forces Chapter. You can reach Gary at gary@garydepaul.com.