Agility in efficiency makes the difference!

One of the easiest things to lose sight of in the business world is where we want our business, group, or team to be or what goals we want to achieve.  This concept may seem quite obvious, but whether your perspective is as a supervisor or as a direct report you should be asking the question, “What are we measuring against?”  As a direct report, you should know what you are being measured against to know what you should be doing every day to achieve, and to help your colleagues and supervisor achieve, those goals.  As a supervisor or manager you should certainly be asking yourself, and your leader, what you should be measuring your people against and understand how those things impact the overall organizational goals.  Having this information impacts much more than awareness.  It essentially feeds every other performance impacting systemic component in the macro-system of the organization.

Some other important components (although by no means all inclusive) in human performance improvement are things such as communications and feedback loops, coaching, learning events, information and resources, physical systems (hardware/software, technology, etc.), environment, and work processes.  Keeping in mind the concept of asking what we are measuring against, every single other component of human performance improvement is impacted directly by that.  Think of it as reverse engineering.  As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to get there?  Once you know what you are being measured against, and what you are measuring your team against you can adjust other performance management and performance improvement components to help reach that end goal.

When we look at what makes the concept of human performance improvement effective, an important focus is on making the small changes and correcting the small mistakes or finding solutions to even the smallest challenges.  Think about this: Employees find that a software program is cumbersome and slows them down in completing a particular function.  It is decided that the team can simply find ways to work around it and make it work, and that funds and time should be allocated to a different focus.  As the new focus begins to grow, more time is needed from the employees that currently work on the myriad things that they were before.  The software that was once a slight annoyance is still costing time, albeit potentially somewhat less, as it was before and makes it even more difficult for the team to provide the support for the shiny new product that has come out and is positioned to make the organization more revenue and to gain more market value.  Now because of the launch of the new product, it is decided that there is a change that needs to be made to the software to meet the demand and the software change becomes a priority.  However, now the team has become ingrained in the way they have adjusted their workflow to using the inefficient software which will require a serious behavioral change to the new way.  The workflow will potentially need to be redesigned, the software will need to be redesigned, the group will need to learn the change to the new software, and all of this while learning a new product and adjusting to the new responsibility of supporting the new revenue generating product that needs to be on the market and supported (and in most cases, that product and support was expected yesterday!).

What challenges do you see here?  How much more complicated is the process later down the line?  This is truly death by a thousand cuts.  To be a truly agile organization there needs to be a focus and attention to the small things that can be improved and the small problems that can be fixed before they become big things.  Awareness of issues in the present and focus on improving them as close to immediately when found creates an environment that drives to the future.  Throughout this process, focus needs to be maintained on the initially defined measurements which will create quantifiable evidence that all of the improvements being made are helping to move the organization toward the overall goals.

Not your average action plan

With the many challenges that face organizations and their leaders today, ensuring that learning events, seminars, and conferences provide a true value to the employee and overall organization is even more important than ever before.  The reason this is so important is the need to create an environment built for change and innovation, partnered with the need to attract and keep talent and the associated intellectual property.  People need more than the every day grind, and need to understand that the organization they work with believes they are important enough to invest in.  All of this together makes this a game with very high stakes.  So the question is how to accomplish this intricate intertwining?

In the past, the expectation was that if you were going to some type of learning or communication event, whether internal or external, you would gain whatever knowledge and information you could and hope to find ways to apply it in some way in your daily work once you returned.  That model is simply not effective and with the need for every dollar and minute spent to account for some type of return on investment, we need to find a better way.

Enter the action plan.  For most of us, the action plan may seem familiar.  In reality, most of us use it completely incorrectly and even fewer understand what it really is.  First, let’s talk about what it is not.  An action plan is not a directive from a manager or supervisor of what to do.  It is not a task list, nor is it a checklist.  An action plan is also not simply the “next steps”.  It is much more complex than these things, while encompassing many of the same components.

The best way that I have heard an action plan described is not just as the plan, but also as a living process.  It cannot be a static dumping ground, but must instead be a dynamic process leading up to an initial static document.  To accomplish this managers and supervisors need to schedule time with an employee before an event, and during this time discuss the program or event content, define the expected or desired takeaways are, and identify the expectations of the supervisor or manager after the event.  For the person attending the event, there needs to be a structured way of attending the event to obtain a solid comprehension of the learning.  Participants do this either with a printed form or through simply taking notes, but there are certain components needing identification throughout the program.  These include, for each lesson learned:

  • What did I learn? (This could be per day, week, month, module, book, speaker, etc.)
  • How can this help me do my job better?
  • What action steps, if any, can I take?
  • Start Date
  • Evaluation Date (Should be agreed upon either before the event, or in the post-conversation)
  • What resources will I need?
  • What barriers might I encounter?  Who can help me with these?

By using this process, the participant should have a clear picture of knowledge gains and the best use of those gains after the event.  Further, having this information available will be of great use when debriefing with the leadership afterwards, which is the next piece of the process.

Within the week immediately after the event, the participant and their leadership need to have time scheduled to discuss the event and the answers to the questions posed above.  At this point, the action plan in the sense of what we know it today begins to form, which will offer specific goals and timelines for check in and accomplishment as well as helping the leadership to find what learners need from them in terms of support and resources.  By following this method, the leader and employee share commitment to the action plan as both developed and designed it and both have stakes in it.  For the leadership, this is also an excellent addition to performance plans as a part of the performance management process.


Cowan, C.A., Goldman, E.F., & Hook, M. (2010). Flexible and inexpensive: Improving learning transfer and program evaluation through participant action plans. Performance Improvement, 49(5), 18-25. doi: 10.1002/pfi.20147