By Fred Nickols
Imagine yourself as a technician who has just been asked to diagnose and repair a very large and complicated system that is not working properly. To your dismay, you learn that you will not be provided with any manuals, test equipment, or schematics of that system–the major tools of your trade. In addition, your access to its subsystems is limited and in some cases denied. In short, your hands are tied and your task is well-nigh impossible.
I started my Navy career as a fire control technician, someone who was charged with operating, maintaining, and repairing complex, shipboard weapons systems. I was subsequently trained as an instructor, a programmed instruction writer, and an organization development (OD) specialist. As an internal OD specialist, my job was to study, analyze, diagnose, and intervene in those even larger and more complex socio-technical systems known in the private sector as organizations and in the Navy as “commands.” It was immediately obvious to me there was not much in the way of manuals or schematics of these systems. “Where the heck are the schematics?” I wondered. There were not any; and so I began a career-long effort of developing models, diagrams, and other “schematics” for my own use.
Upon leaving the Navy, I continued developing “schematics” for use in studying, analyzing, diagnosing, and intervening in organizations so as to improve the performance of people, processes, and organizations. To some extent, I have been hampered by the fact that the parallels between shipboard weapons systems and organizations are far from a complete or perfect match. Weapons systems were and are designed and built to perform (i.e., behave) in specified ways under specified (and controlled) circumstances. Organizations are also designed–to some extent– but they also possess numerous, emergent characteristics that are a function of the specifics of the situation at hand, including the unique individuals who populate the organization at a given point in time. A weapons system does not adapt and adjust; it does not innovate; it does not think or ponder the consequences of its action. It simply does what it was designed to do. People do all those other things; they adapt and adjust; they innovate; they think and ponder the consequences of their actions. And, thus, the organizations housing them are said to do those things, too.
Nevertheless, a good schematic still plays an important role in work related to understanding and improving the performance of people, processes, and organizations. That is what a flowchart of a process is– a schematic of the process. That is what an organization chart is, too–a schematic of the hierarchical relations of authority in that organization. And even models, such as figure 1, are schematics; in this case, it is a schematic of human behavior that is based on perceptual control theory (PCT).
What all schematics do is provide a map– a visual display–of the structure and organization of the system being studied. This is as true of organizations and people as it is of a shipboard weapons system or any of its subsystems. A schematic is a kind of map. The schematic or model depicted in Figure 1 shows the structure and organization of purposeful, human behavior. The schematic or model depicted in Figure 2 is a high-level view or map of the key elements of a sustainable organization.
One of the areas in which I have been most interested in devising and developing schematics ties to what I call the “performance architecture” of an organization. Organizations can be viewed as having three related domains of performance: financial, operational, and behavioral. Models of human behavior are quite useful in examining performance at the individual level and of teams or other kinds of work groups. Models of operational measures and process models are useful in examining performance at the operational level. And, of course, models of the various financial measures used by an organization prove useful in examining performance in that domain.
Those three domains–financial, operational, and behavioral–can be mapped and linked. Key financial indicators can be tied to the organization’s chart of accounts, and that chart of accounts can be tied to its units and its processes. Key operational indicators can also be tied to process performance and, in some cases, to unit, group, and even individual performance. All tie eventually to human behavior and performance. It is, then, not just conceivable–but also practical–to map an organization’s performance architecture and, in so doing, provide a roadmap to results, a schematic that can be used to study, analyze, diagnose, intervene in, and improve the performance of the organization, its processes, and its people.
To be honest, I have never “mapped” an organization’s performance architecture in its entirety. What I have done, on several occasions, is map the connections between and among those three domains so as to demonstrate the impact and value of various projects undertaken on behalf of my clients. I have been able to hook what I was doing to the organization’s bottom line. As part of a project carried out for one client that wanted to position the voice-data systems it was selling as solutions to their customers’ business problems, I also articulated a method its sales reps could use to do this. I described how to do this kind of mapping in articles published in ASTD’s Training & Development Journal (Nickols, 1979) and in ISPI’s Performance Improvement (Nickols, 2007). Having done several partial mappings, I know that a complete mapping is feasible. Training and development professionals, along with human performance technologists, who are under pressure to demonstrate the return on investment of their programs would benefit considerably from doing such mapping, even if only on a case-by-case or partial basis.
A good place to get started is with the organization’s key financial indicators. The schematic shown in figure 3 depicts the structure of the first two levels of detail making up a version of a commonplace financial measure known as return on equity (ROE). Many more levels of detail can be identified, mapped, and eventually linked to the organization’s chart of accounts and from there to units, groups, processes, and individual contributors and their contributions. Other financial indicators can be similarly mapped. The same can be done for key operational measures.
So what are you waiting for? Go ahead. Check out the more detailed descriptions in the references and then get started. The payoffs are tremendous, and the costs are miniscule by comparison. If an old Navy technician like me can do it, you can do it.
Nickols, F.W. (1979). Finding the bottom line payoff of training. Training & Development Journal, 33(12), 54-63. (Available at www.nickols.us/finding.pdf)
Nickols, F.W. (2007). Roadmaps to results. Performance Improvement, 46(6), 36-41. (Available at www.nickols.us/roadmaps.pdf)
About the Author
Fred Nickols is the managing partner of Distance Consulting LLC. A former Navy technician turned consultant and executive, he is a longtime member of ISPI and a frequent contributor to its various publications. He can be contacted via email by clicking here and you can visit his website by clicking here.