By David Wile

Over the years, there have been several models of human performance technology (HPT), by authors respected in the field of HPT, that attempt to model out the contributing factors to human performance in the form of taxonomies that purport to guide the manager. These models make up an evolution of the field of HPT, each adding to the ones before it.

There are more than five accepted HPT models, but I have chosen to analyze models of five of the more prolific HPT authors:

  • Thomas F. Gilbert
  • Allison Rossett
  • Joe Harless
  • Dean Spitzer
  • Robert F. Mager

Gilbert Model
In 1978, Thomas Gilbert offered a performance matrix, which was one of the first HPT models.  He suggests that the manager responsible for performance is “using the behavior engineering model to analyze the alternative ways we might make the pursuit of accomplishments more efficient, looking at:  (1) environmental methods, (2) people programs, and (3) management actions.”

Gilbert’s (1978) category of environment refers to all factors of performance that are not related to the performer or the actions a manager can take. Gilbert refers to the organization of a work group, the rules of work, and the physical environment, such as a work space with the right temperature, lighting, and noise levels. The people category refers to the workers’ skills, the knowledge they have, and the attitude they bring to a job. Management refers to the actions a manager can take, including providing feedback, information, and incentives.

Rossett Model
Allison Rossett in 1992 proposed a model of “causes of performance problems.” She lists the “kinds of causes” as:

  • Lack of skill or knowledge
  • Flawed incentives
  • Flawed environment
  • Lack of motivation

Rossett (1992) defines skills or knowledge and motivation as factors inherent in the performer, and incentives and environment as outside influences, but stops there. She refines Gilbert’s model by breaking the category of management into incentives and motivation.

Harless Model
Joe Harless, as part of his “front-end analysis” workshop, Accomplishment Based Curriculum Development (ABCD),  offers a performance model that asks participants to think of the ABCD process as belonging to the larger field of performance technology:

  • ABCD (“training”)
  • Personnel selection
  • Environmental engineering
  • Motivation-incentives

In the Harless model, a new factor is introduced: personnel selection. This speaks to the earlier point that sometimes a person is not suited to a job. Here, Harless acknowledges that selecting the right person for a job is an important factor in human performance.

Spitzer Model
Dean Spitzer in 1990 wrote, “It has been found that there are seven major factors that underlie human performance.”  These factors are:

  • Expectations
  • Capacity
  • Knowledge and skills
  • Job and task design
  • Incentives
  • Feedback
  • Tools and resources

Spitzer (1990) elaborates on previous models, terming what Harless calls selection as capacity.  Another factor is added, job design, which acknowledges that for performers to be successful, they need a job that is engineered to address what tasks need to be performed when and provided to whom. Another new factor is feedback; to be successful, workers need feedback on how their current performance is meeting standards. Finally, the Spitzer model adds the factor of tools and resources, a factor only alluded to in earlier models.

Mager Model
Robert Mager in 1992 offered a checklist entitled, “Why People Don’t Do What They’re Expected to Do.” This checklist, meant to explain to managers the reasons their employees might not be performing as desired, forms another HPT model:

  • They do not know how to do it.
  • They do not know what is expected of them.
  • They do not have the authority to do it.
  • They do not get timely information about how well they are doing.  (In other words, they do not get feedback.)
  • Their information sources (documentation) are poorly designed, inaccessible, or nonexistent.
  • They do not have job aids to cure correct performance.
  • Their workstations provide obstacles to desired performance.
  • The organizational structure makes performing difficult.
  • They are punished or ignored for doing things right.
  • They are rewarded for doing things wrong.
  • Nobody ever notices whether they perform correctly or not.

Mager (1992) adds some factors unseen in previous models. Workers need the authority to perform, meaning they can have the skills and tools for a job, but must be empowered to make decisions and take actions. Organizational structures are an important new element of the Mager model.

The element of attention is also new. A manager would need to recognize good performance, measure it against a standard, and communicate the good performance in the moment to the employee and perhaps more broadly to a team or organization.

Documentation and job aids are also important elements; separate, yet important. Whereas documentation might be interpreted as codifying important information, job aids are a specific methodology within HPT.

Gilbert, Thomas F. (1978). Human competence:  Engineering worthy performance. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Harless, Joe. Accomplishment based curriculum development. Newnan, GA: Harless Performance Guild.

Mager, Robert F. (1992). What every manager should know about training. Belmont, CA: Lake Publishing.

Rossett, Allison. (1992). Analysis of human performance problems.  In Harold D. Stolovitch and Erica J. Keeps (Eds.), Handbook of human performance technology. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Spitzer, Dean. (1991). Introduction to instructional technology (2nd edition). Boise State University.

About the Author
David Wile is senior partner with the Iago Group ( Prior to the Iago Group, David worked with such companies as Aon Consulting, VCampus eLearning, CVS Caremark, the New Hampshire SPCA, Enterasys Networks, Liberty Mutual Insurance, and the Government of Nova Scotia, Canada.

David is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt from the American Society for Quality (ASQ), a Project Management Professional (PMP) through the Project Management Institute (PMI), and is ITIL certified through Pink Elephant. David has also spoken at assorted industry conferences hosted by ASQ, Pink Elephant, the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF), and ISPI.

David has an MS in instructional and performance technology from Boise State University and an MBA from the University of New Hampshire, where he also teaches.

You may contact David at