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Do You Have a Performance Improvement or a
Training Department?

by Freda Turner Ph.D.


Just a few years ago, an organization's competitive advantage was measured in terms of physical capital. Today, organizations with the best talent, ability to access information, and ongoing performance improvement programs have the best opportunity for success. This has given interest in measuring performance improvement instead of training. For example, British Petroleum (BP), a major international integrated oil company, used performance improvement to increase profits by $30 million per oil well. In the past, drilling workers would solve problems using trial and error. When workers discovered a new process that improved efficiency, it was never shared beyond the single drilling platform team. What BP did was to take all the tacit knowledge found among the different drilling teams and create a culture of shared knowledge and performance improvement measurements.

Demand for performance improvement is increasing exponentially and many organizations are now renaming their training department and holding trainers responsible for performance improvement results. Below are best practices in getting higher productivity for the training dollars.

Performance Improvement Strategies Used by Top Organizations

1. Align skill development with organizational objectives.

When implementing new training, communicate with all employees informing them of the opportunity that it presents to broaden skill sets. When Jack Welch was CEO of GE, he wanted to implement Six Sigma training. He provided stock options to employees that attended Six Sigma training and met other organizational improvement goals. Results achieved included the design of a new CT scanner that reduced chest scans from three minutes to 17 seconds, airraft engine delivery reduced from 80 to 5 days. Performance improvement even improved HR's hiring time. Helping employees develop new skills does result in organizational improvements.

2. Beware of the "Can't see the trees for the forest training syndrome."

Trainers often get on a treadmill doing repetitive training such as new employee orientation. Orientation is important, however, measurable, new performance results are also needed for a competitive advantage. Survey supervisors/managers on what new training efforts might produce increased performance or contribute to new organizational goals.

3. Extend accessibility and training reach with e-Learning.

As the downturn bites, e-learning has a vital role to play in rapidly re-skilling people and organizations for the tougher times ahead. An added bonus to being faster, e-learning costs per head are 88% lower than traditional classroom training once implemented. According to KPMG Consulting, IBM saved $200M per year by moving 70% of its courses online. The Department of Education indicates that 84 percent of U.S. colleges and universities now offer on-line learning opportunities to provide wider learning opportunities in a cost effective manner. Trainers might consider developing and presenting a business case to use the Internet to push and implement e-learning. Advantages include cost savings of training documents, consistency in content/delivery, ability to change/update curriculum instantly, broader access to corporate experts and authorities, opportunity to reach numerous geographical locations without incurring the costs of travel and loss of productivity due to travel.

4. Employee suggestions better lever corporate knowledge.

Top organizations improve performance from a strong employee suggestion program. General Ideas Inc., now develops software that merges an organization's email system into a more efficient and effective way for an organization to manage employee suggestions, costs savings, corporate information and data. Supervisors and managers must be encouraged and held accountable to stimulate a culture of employee sharing, suggestion submission and feedback.

5. Recruiters and trainers are business partners in employee selection, training and outplacement.

This minimizes recruiter/trainer burnout and allows each to develop new skill sets. Partnering allows trainers and recruiters to anticipate numbers and needed new skills. During recent downsizings, some organizations have used their own recruiters, trainers and software technology to help downsized employees find new career opportunities reducing outplacement costs and harvesting good will with exiting employees who don't feel kicked out of the nest.

6. Mentoring and coaching is a catalyst to performance improvement.

Everyone has a blind spot. Internal coaching programs, assessments and mentoring programs assist employees into reaching higher levels of productivity. Supreme Court Justice Douglas is noted for saying, "90% of all decisions are emotional and that creates most all problems." Think about that! The crimes committed such as theft, rape, hit and run are emotionally driven. This same decision-making process often occurs in organizations. Yet this is where most individuals have the least amount of training. "A decision is the action an executive must take when he has information so incomplete that the answer does not suggest itself." Training supervisors and managers in emotional intelligence, mentoring/coaching/networking strategies can lead to higher productivity and less problems.

The bottom line is that performance improvement and intellectual capital is fast becoming prime drivers of organizational success. Research reflects that US companies spent 25% of their training money on outside companies, however, approximately 60% of change strategies are quickly abandoned if not taught, measured and reinforced by ongoing internal performance improvement departments.


The Author


Freda Turner, Ph.D. is a researcher of best business practices and is affiliated with the Doctoral and Graduate Studies programs at University of Phoenix and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. She may be reached at

Many more articles in Training & Development in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2002 by Freda Turner. All rights reserved.

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