Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Are You a Performance Consultant?

By Dean Hawkinson

Let’s face it – the title “Instructional Designer” comes with a reputation that designing instruction or training is all that we do. We have been placed into a box that can be a real challenge to get out of, especially when it comes to moving into more of a performance consulting type of role. How do we break beyond the barriers that have been placed on us and convince our clients to look beyond training as the only available solution?

So…what is Performance Consulting, anyway?

Here is an illustration to help clarify the concept of performance consulting. Imagine that you have been experiencing some minor pain in your arm. You go to see the doctor and explain your symptoms. Now, imagine that after you explain your symptoms, your doctor looks at you and says, “I know exactly what you need. You need heart surgery. Let’s schedule that for you right away.”

What was wrong with the doctor’s approach? She did not take the time to really listen to you and investigate ALL of the potential factors going on before jumping to a solution. Have you been exercising muscles you have not used in a while? Did you suffer an injury? Do you have any pain anywhere else? None of those questions were asked.

Training clients can tend to do the same thing – they jump to the solution (“training”) without investigating the various other factors that might be impacting the expected performance. This provides an excellent opportunity to consult and partner with those types of clients to look at all of these environmental and motivational factors.

Gilberts Behavior Engineering Model

Thomas Gilbert (1927-1995) created a model for performance consulting known as the Behavior Engineering model (BEM). The BEM provides six categories for investigating all of the factors impacting performance. The six categories are split between two larger categories, Environmental (external factors in the environment) and Individual (internal factors to the worker). The categories are listed and explained below:

Environmental Factors

  • Data – This category is all about standards and feedback on performance. This category asks if workers truly know what is expected from their performance and if they are getting the right amount or type of feedback on performance.
  • Instruments – This category is all about the tools they use to perform their job. In this category, we ask questions about the efficiency of the systems or other types of tools they use for performing their jobs and factors in the work environment that might be impacting performance (lighting, ergonomics, etc.).
  • Incentives – In this category, we ask if the workers are provided with the right incentives to do their jobs. Remember, this may be factors beyond just how much they are paid, and keep in mind that different workers are motivated in different ways.

Individual Factors

  • Knowledge – For this category, we ask if the workers have been trained properly and if they have the knowledge needed to do the job. If the answer is no, then training may be the solution, or at least part of the solution. If they have the knowledge needed, then we would look to the other factors and intervention types to solve the issue.
  • Capacity – Capacity looks at innate ability to do the job. Here, we look at any individual physical or mental limitations that might exist in workers that would keep them from performing.
  • Motivation - In the motivation category, we look at workers’ internal motivation to perform. For instance, are individuals willing to work under the conditions provided by the organization? Do they want to do the tasks of the role they are in?

Influencing your Clients

So, how do you transition from a simple “order taker” to a true consultant? Using tools like the BEM to frame your conversations is a starter. I have used this model to frame my questions to the client to truly understand what the situation is. I went so far as to show my client the document and take notes as we covered each category. That really went a long way in pointing out the other factors that might be at play.

Another thing to do is to develop success stories. As you become successful at partnering with your clients to uncover these factors and work with them to suggest alternative solutions (which you may or may not play a role in implementing), keep in touch with them as they implement the solutions and gather these success stories to share as you try new approaches. These will go a long way in convincing clients to trust you to consult with them on factors that support their business, beyond training.

Have you tried any other consulting approaches that have worked? Feel free to share your experiences.


  1. Hi Dean,

    Great post! As an instructional designer in my organization, I find that my stakeholders often do not want to hear the real truth when I tell them that training may not be the answer, or may only be part of the solution to solving the problem at hand. I have struggled with finding a way to consult through this process, and I was really excited to see the BEM categories in your post! This is a great roadmap for me to start giving stakeholders a more complete picture of the problem and potential solutions.

    One consulting approach that I have used with internal clients and which has been somewhat successful is Peter Block's model for dealing with resistance. Block gives 3 steps for handling it: 1. Pick up the cues (be able to identify resistance when it's happening, because it may be subliminal or vague); 2. Name the resistance (address resistance directly with the client); 3. Be quiet and let the client respond (in other words, LISTEN!). Unfortunately, there have been situations where this approach falls flat, so I'm excited to have learned about the BEM categories to use in the future.


    Graduate student, Roosevelt University M.A Training & Development

  2. Lisa - thank you for your post. The BEM was widely used in my graduate program through Boise State, and several other practitioners have built on or extended the model.

    Here is a good source on the model that might help you out as you begin to use it:

    This includes some information from one of the professors at BSU, Yonnie Chyung.

    Thanks again for your post and good luck!


  3. Good post. On the page before the BEM - in Gilbert's Human Competence book (1978) - is the Model for Creating Incompetence. I would quickly show clients the BEM and the 6 Boxes (as Carl Binder calls the version of this that he markets) then flip back one page and review this other version a little slower. This is one that clients could really relate to - and get a chuckle from. It resonated with them - and I think made the next slow - the slow review of the BEM more interesting to them. Thanks again for your post!


Thank you for your comments.