By Robert J. Winter, CPT

In 1964, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously declined to define parameters for “obscenity” in filmmaking, but concluded, “I know it when I see it.”

As we discuss performance improvement practices, we continue to chase an elusive definition of what we mean by “performance consulting.” Some colleagues in our field have provided a standard definition (Jim and Dana Robinson), while others suggest that “performance consulting means something different to every person and every organization” (Judith Hale). Indeed, within my education organization at CA Technologies, we have seen firsthand how difficult it is to craft a usable definition with which everyone can live. I am sure others have experienced the same.

So where does that leave us? If we cannot define it, can we see it? How will we know that we are “doing performance consulting”?

My way of describing it is: We are doing performance consulting when we are completing CPT-worthy engagements. By “CPT-worthy,” I mean that you are engaging in projects that could be written up in your application to earn the Certified Performance Technologist (CPT) designation from the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI). The core requirement of the CPT application is a set of work descriptions where you document the use of each of the CPT Standards.

The CPT Principles (Standards 1-4) describe the behaviors that a practitioner should demonstrate (or at least attempt to demonstrate) all of the time. They include a focus on outcome and results, taking a systems view, adding value, and working in partnership with clients and stakeholders. The remaining Standards (5-10) are basically an ADDIE-like end-to-end process. Documenting Standards 5-10 shows that you have performed all of the behaviors in the full lifecycle of instructional design.

In reality, projects where you can successfully demonstrate all of the CPT Principles are rare. If you have one project in 2014 that provides you with an opportunity to demonstrate all 10 standards, you will have had a good year. Here are some ways that one can document that one is “doing performance consulting,” organized around the four CPT Principles:

  • CPT Standard #1: Focus on Outcomes: Higher percentage of projects define measurable business outcomes before design begins.
  • CPT Standard #2: Take a Systems View: Development of holistic solutions that look at business problems systemically, and not just focusing on training. (Anecdotal)
  • CPT Standard #3: Add Value: Lower percentage of training outputs that have low or no usage.
  • CPT Standard #4: Work in partnership with clients and stakeholders: Our clients start calling us for help with business problems, not just requests for specific training courses. (Anecdotal)

You will notice that even a theoretical attempt at defining these success criteria relies on the anecdotal. Notice also that none of these outcomes has to do with the success or efficiency of our instructional design factory. As free-standing measures, nobody cares (or nobody should care) that we trained X number of people or produced X number of courses. These production-type numbers are the ones most cited by executives (HR, education, and otherwise) in describing the success of training. However, these types of metrics do not, by themselves, demonstrate any focus on performance consulting.

BobWinterAbout the Author
Robert J. Winter, CPT, has been in the learning and development profession for 18 years. Currently, he is a principle education consultant for CA Technologies, in Framingham, Massachusetts, where he supports the transformation of the engineering functions to an Agile development methodology. Robert is a Certified Scrum Product Owner, which he applies in his practice of operating his internal learning function as an Agile Scrum. He is interested in exploring ways to apply Agile development principles to the practice of human performance technology. Robert’s educational background includes a BA in English from Cornell University and an MA in Education from Seton Hall University. He may be reached at