Solving Problems to be Solved – The Relationship between Performance Consulting and Training

Pop Quiz!

Your car’s engine is making a strange sound, what do you do?

  • carA) Take it to the mechanic to get diagnosed

  • B) Go to Driving 101 training to learn how to drive it better

Hopefully, you chose A, but in the workplace, line managers often choose option B when it comes to performance problems. In any work that we do as learning professionals, our job is to partner with the line to help solve business challenges.

Training can be a seductive silver bullet when it comes to solving business challenges, but if our goal is to solve the problem to be solved, we need to ensure that all stakeholders understand when training should be used and how. To do that, it’s important to clarify the relationship between human performance technology, training, and instructional design. They are all tools that one can use to improve the performance of the people in an organization, each one serves its purpose in the life cycle of a performance improvement initiative.

When a person brings a car into an auto mechanic for an odd sound, the mechanic won’t suggest a solution without first inspecting the car to determine the root cause. The same goes for training and human performance improvement. Often, managers approach learning & development / training departments with the request for a specific solution in mind. For example, just this week, I was asked to help the manager implement a time management training. However, it often assumed by managers that performance problems are due to lack of skills. In order to “solve the problem to be solved,” (Block), Learning and Development professionals must understand the difference between knowledge, skills, and performance.

What is Performance?

According to Elaine Biech, “performance is the application of knowledge and skills to the workplace resulting in desired behavior or accomplishments,” (Biech, 2008, p. 58). Biech emphasizes that performance, or behavior used to create accomplishments, should not be confused with skills which she defines as “cognitive or behavioral capability,” (p. 58).



Knowledge is information that we acquire through experiences.

However, it is worth going a step further and distinguishing between knowledge and skills, which Julie Dirksen does in her book, Learning by Design. Dirksen describes knowledge as information. For example, I can read 15 books on instructional design, but that won’t necessarily translate into an accomplishment (creating an outstanding training course). Neither will taking an eLearning or attending a training.




In order for me to create an outstanding training course, I need time, deliberate practice, and experience to develop that skill.  Skills are behaviors that can be developed through practice. 


Skills take time and practice to develop.


Therefore, before any training initiative is undertaken, it is important to understand what the performance gap is and whether or not training (providing information and practice) is the best way address that gap. It is also important to help the client understand as well.



Performance Consulting

How does a learning professional identify the gaps? Through performance consulting, which “…is a process [that focuses] on results (that is on performance change and business impact) and not only on solutions (that is, training),” (Biech, 2008, p. 58). Performance consulting, sometimes referred to Human Performance Improvement (HPI) or Human Performance Technology (HPT), is used to identify all of the performance gap(s), root causes and appropriate interventions, which may or may not include training. Performance consulting takes a systems view of performance within an organization by analyzing how internal and external forces contribute to the gap between actual performance and desired performance. There are five major groups of activities that constitute performance consulting:

  1. Performance Analysis – What is the real vs. the presenting problem? What are the root causes? What does success look like?
  2. Interventions Selection, Design, and Development – What do we do to solve the problem to be solved?
  3. Intervention Implementation & Maintenance – How do we put our plan into action and keep it going?
  4. Evaluation – Did our plan work?
  5. Change Management – How can we help people get adjusted to this new way of doing things? How can we reinforce new behavior?

As you can see, the performance analysis phase is where we analyze the problem from a broader systems perspective and not just from the worker perspective. For example, if you continue to get flat tires on your car, you may start to look at the road conditions where you drive (systems perspective) as well as how you drive (worker perspective).

Performance Improvement

The goal of performance consulting and training and development are both the same: to improve performance. Performance improvement looks at all of the levers that one can use to align everything in the organization to create optimal performance. It looks at skills and knowledge, inherent capability, clarity of roles and expectations, coaching and reinforcement, incentives and reward systems, work systems and processes, and access to information, people, tools and job aids.



Training is the solution to lack of knowledge and skills. It is not the solution to other factors that impact performance. To return to the auto mechanic example, if the car is having engine issues, sending the driver to Driving 101 training would not solve the problem. As absurd as those solutions sound, that approach to solving performance issues is seen more often than not. For example, if a team goes through time management training, but the root cause is that they don’t have the appropriate access to tools that will help them be productive and efficient, then the performance will not improve. If they genuinely do not know how to manage their time, but there are also additional environmental factors within the organization that would prevent them from managing their time effectively, they would not be able to improve their performance.

Instructional Design

Finally, instructional design is a systematic process of designing training that ensures that the training (or other output such as a job aid, etc.) specifically addresses the performance issues for the target audience. It also ensures that the training is designed for how people learn. The ISD process uses two models: ADDIE and SAM. ADDIE is the more widespread traditional model that incorporates Analysis on the front end and then move, in a linear way, into its remaining four phases–design, development, implementation, and evaluation. The analysis focuses on the worker level and not necessarily on the process or organizational level. In the HPT process, it comes in after the completion of the performance analysis and the selection of training as an intervention. SAM, or the Successive Approximation Model, is a more agile version of ADDIE and has three phases: preparation, iterative design, and iterative development.

Putting It All Together

In an ideal situation, one would use the performance consulting process to identify the gap between desired and current performance as well as all of the root causes. If lack of skills and knowledge are identified as a contributing factor to the identified performance gap, one would move into the instructional design process (ADDIE or SAM) to design the appropriate learning intervention.HPT Model Sketch


Biech, E. (Ed.) (2008). ASTD Handbook: The Definitive Reference for Training and Development. ASTD

Block, Peter. (2011). Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used (3rd Ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Press.Dirksen, J. (2016). Design for how people learn. San Francisco: New Riders.

Van Tiem, Darline, James L. Moseley, and Joan C. Dessinger (2012). Fundamentals of Performance Improvement: A Guide to Improving People, Process, and Performance (3rd Ed.) Pfeiffer


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