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Gap/Cause Analysis

We have done the math and found that a gap exists between the performance needed to support the desired end results and the state of the actual workplace performance. Unfortunately, in the past, many organizations failed to analyze the cause of performance gaps. Some turned to training as a performance cure-all, and others ignored the cause of gaps. Gilbert (2007) found that managers frequently requested training when training was not the answer to improving human performance. Often we hear workers say something like “They sent me to (the same) training three times. But I already know how to do my job!” Robert Mager (Mager & Pipe, 1997), one of the early performance professionals, became well known for his gun test: If I put a gun to my subordinate’s head, will he or she still be unable to perform as I would like? At the time, Mager was working with the military, which probably could relate to Mager’s gun analogy. Strategic performance and training game developer Dr. Sivasailam Thiagarajan (aka Thiagi) came up with a more proactive example: If you ask someone if he could perform a task for a million dollars, and he says he could, it is not a knowledge or skill deficiency—it is a motivational deficiency. As we discussed with Gilbert’s (2007) Human Competence Model, all too often the idea that training would “fix” people missed the mark when the cause of the gap was unrelated to worker knowledge or skills.

When it comes to identifying the performance gap, we must ask some key questions:

  • What business indicators will we use to measure the performance?
  • What performance is needed to create the desired end results?
  • What is the actual performance?
  • What leading causes are creating the gap between the desired performance and actual performance?
  • Are the leading causes of the performance gap related to information, instrumentation, or motivational challenges?
  • What will happen if we do nothing?

These questions help you analyze the causes of a performance gap. With our approach, we begin by thinking about the desired end results and looking for causes that have a definitive and doable intervention linked to them. Our model, shown in Figure 1.5, provides a small sampling of causes. The next chapter discusses the Work/Life Approach, with practical and effective interventions for reducing performance gaps.

Figure 1.5

Figure 1.5. Performance gaps and intervention strategies

Here are some of the causes of performance gaps on the organization-controlled hard side of management (above the line) in the Information subcategory:

  • Breakdowns in communication. Lack of communication systems, breakdowns in communication from individuals failing to share information, departments and teams not talking to each other, too much useless information such as e-mails sent to everybody when only a small group or specific individuals need the communication.
  • Lack of leadership. Managers who fall short in leadership skills, leading in the wrong direction, unclear expectations, no job description or a job description that does not match the job, too many managers with opposing directives.
  • Insufficient knowledge reservoir. Lack of a viable knowledge management system or too much information without a system to identify useful information that workers need to perform well in their jobs. Or the right information is unavailable when needed.
  • Withholding information. Lack of useful information for the workers who need it. Security measures in place that prevent access to those who need the information. Often kept in a division, group, team, or individual vault without sharing with others who would benefit from having the information.
  • Resisting change. Given the plethora of research on change management and the human resistance to change, this cause may represent lack of vision, lack of resources, lack of knowledge, or complacency.

The performance-gap causes on the soft side of management (below the line) in the Information subcategory likely indicate that the workers do not have the necessary knowledge or abilities or are affected by other influences that impact their ability to process information.

The performance-gap causes on the organization-controlled hard side of management in the Instrumentation subcategory may include the following:

  • Poor physical environment. An environment where the facility causes constraints in workplace performance. May include poor climate control, inadequate lighting, poor facility layout, and safety hazards. Potential hazards and dangerous chemicals with inadequate safety protocols. Frequent injuries or haphazard regard for worker welfare.
  • Deficient ergonomics. A workplace environment where workers must perform physical actions that may cause fatigue or injury over time.
  • Inadequate equipment. Equipment that is poorly maintained, is not functioning properly, causes hazards to workers, and fails to provide the best return on investment (ROI) for its use.

The performance-gap causes on the soft side of management in the Instrumentation subcategory likely indicate that the workers do not have the psychomotor skills, abilities, or competence to perform their tasks.

The performance-gap causes on the organization-controlled hard side of management in the Motivation subcategory may include the following:

  • Unclear work expectations.. It is common for workers to be hired or transferred without a clearly defined job role. All too often managers do not define their expectations or communicate them to their workers.
  • No/minimal incentives and rewards. Lack of rewards, including compliments, recognition, and appraisals identifying positive contributions. Lack of opportunity for career development or advancement. Low pay and/or lack of a benefits package. Elimination of pay, benefits, or other rewards.
  • Undefined workplace culture. A culture that is hostile or less than desirable. A culture where you must lose yourself to conform and survive.
  • Devaluing worker behaviors. Leadership and/or coworkers who do not value positive worker behaviors.

The performance-gap causes on the soft side of management in the Motivation subcategory likely indicate problems in any of the other management categories. This affects the workers’ attitude and willingness to perform.

Every organization has specific issues and concerns that cause performance gaps. The leading scientific methods to identify performance gaps include performance indicators, direct observation, worker interviews, exit interviews, focus groups, project teams, ad hoc committees, and questionnaires. Often results are better when an impartial third party who workers are comfortable with is brought in. As we discussed, all too often organizations omit the performance and gap analysis and immediately conduct a training project to improve performance. And all too often the training strategy selected may not be related to the actual cause of the performance problem, and the intervention may have been a costly mistake. An adage summarizes this perspective: “There’s never enough time to do it right, and all the time in the world to do it over” (unknown author).

It is clear that the gap/cause analysis builds on the performance analysis and determines the cause of the gap between the desired workplace performance and the actual workplace performance. The gap analysis helps determine the criteria for the best intervention to obtain the desired performance.

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