By Fred Nickols, CPT
This month’s column focuses on the actions-outcomes matrix. It is a tool for thinking about and examining what Tom Gilbert called “worthy performance.” The matrix suggests four basic kinds of performance issues. Let’s begin by reviewing “worthy performance.”
Gilbert, who many will agree is one of the chief architects of human performance technology, first set forth his worthy performance formula slightly more than 40 years ago. He postulated the following (Gilbert, 1974, p. 14):
In this column I use “outcomes” in lieu of “accomplishments” and “actions” in place of “behaviors,” but they are essentially the same elements of performance used by Gilbert.
Gilbert also asserted, “If you think about it, then, it is only the accomplishments of performance that we value–never the behaviors that produce them” (Gilbert, 1974, p. 13, italics added). “Never” is a strong word and we will come back to this notion of not valuing actions later on.
Actions and outcomes are the yin and yang of performance (see the Actions and Outcomes figure). Said a little differently, your performance is a function not just of the outcomes you achieve but also of the actions that produce them: P = f (A + O). As Gilbert put it in Human Competence, “Performance (P), then, is a transaction involving both behavior (B) and its consequence (C). Or, in shorthand P = B → C (Gilbert, 1978, p. 16).
Presumably, you hold yourself to some set of standards regarding your actions and the outcomes you achieve. Other people in your organization also have expectations of and impose requirements and standards on your actions and on the outcomes you achieve. When your performance is assessed, whether by you or by others, your actions and their outcomes can both be looked at and judged as acceptable or unacceptable.
When you achieve a set of intended outcomes, your actions are deemed to be effective. If you do not achieve the intended outcomes, your actions are viewed as ineffective. Whether or not you achieve the outcomes in question, your actions can be separately judged as efficient or inefficient; that is, they can be seen as sound or as making good use of resources, or they can be regarded as questionable, wasteful, or even damaging.
The interplay of acceptable and unacceptable actions and outcomes yields a 2×2 matrix (see the Actions-Outcomes Matrix). These are the four basic judgments that can be made about performance.
As the actions-outcomes matrix indicates, only when your actions and their outcomes are both acceptable is your performance acceptable. Then and only then can it be said that you “got it right.” To turn in a worthy performance, your actions have to be effective and efficient.
If the outcomes you achieve are acceptable but the way in which you achieved them is not (e.g., you alienated your coworkers, or burned through precious resources, or took far too long to achieve outcomes), then it will likely be acknowledged that, yes, you achieved the required outcomes but you did so in a manner that was “too costly.” In other words, you were effective but inefficient.
However, if your actions were perfectly acceptable but the required outcomes were not achieved, whether not at all or only in part, it can be said that you “fell short.” You were efficient but ineffective.
And last, if you muff it regarding the outcomes and your actions, then, even if people do not actually say it, they might be thinking that you “messed up.” You were ineffective and inefficient.
At this point you might be wondering why I am bothering with all this. Isn’t all this rather obvious? Yes and no. Bear with me as I explain.
Actions or behaviors are more or less costly in relation to the resources they use and consume, which ties to their efficiency. Our actions can also be more or less effective, that is, they can produce or not produce the intended outcomes or accomplishments, and they can do so to varying degrees. We are concerned with actions not just because they drive the cost part of Gilbert’s formula but also because their effectiveness or lack of it determines the extent to which we do or do not realize the outcomes we are after. Our actions, then, drive the cost and the value components of Gilbert’s formulation.
I believe we have to value and be concerned with effective actions as much as we are with the outcomes they produce because without effective actions there are no outcomes to value. The actions-outcomes matrix reminds us of this.
In conclusion, when examining performance, whether your own or that of someone else, look at actions and outcomes and, when looking at actions, pay attention to their effectiveness and their efficiency. Then and only then do you get a true and full picture of the worth of that performance.
Gilbert, T.F. (1974). Levels and structure of performance analysis. The Praxis Corporation Technical Series. Morristown, NJ: Praxis Corporation.
Gilbert, T.F. (1978). Human competence: Engineering worthy performance. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
About the Author
Fred Nickols, CPT, is a performance improvement professional and the managing partner of Distance Consulting LLC. He is a longtime member of ISPI and a frequent contributor to its various publications. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his website at www.nickols.us. Connect with Fred and read his posts on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/fwn2015. Follow Fred on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/@fnickols.