Six Boxes Performance Thinking Welcome to the Six Boxes RSS feed. Sat, 25 Mar 2023 09:37:54 PDT en-us <![CDATA[ Strengthening Practice Of Cultural Values From The Inside Out ]]> Most efforts to strengthen organizational culture work from the top down. Leaders agree on the values, model the practices, and in one way or another lead the culture.

This is important, but seldom sufficient, unless it begins with a start-up like Apple or SpaceX, where culture began with a few Founders.

Our cross-cultural work for much of the last decade, particularly the years we spent working with large South Korean companies, such as the LG Group and GS Caltex, taught us a lot about culture. The South Korean business culture had been successsful with command-and-control, and everything that goes with that. Follow orders, don't question your Seniors. Execute. Korean businesses have been extraordinarily successful by being "fast followers" in so many ways. It's how they rose from the ashes after WWII and the Korean Conflict to become an economic power.

But to be innovative, and keep up with accelerating trends, you have to push back, to be a little messier, to engage in vigorous disagreements and welcome new ideas. So when I spoke with the Chairmen of some of the larger companies, they realized they needed to change culture. They were sending many of their young people to American universities for MBAs, betting on American innovation culture. But successful middle and senior management had gotten where they were via command and control.

As I worked with a group of senior leaders at one large companies, I realized that we have a sort of "secret" built into our Performance Thinking® models and logic – a secret for strengthening the practice of cultural values at the ground level.  The units of analysis we have in the Performance Chain model, plus support with the Six Boxes® Model, can address two challenges in important ways.

1) Practices that embody cultural value statements may vary depending on your department, function, or process. Focus on the Customer, or Quality First, or Innovation Leads, might be practiced differently in IT compared with HR or Customer Service. So it's hard to specify practices for individuals and teams from the top, as general forms of behavior, while being specific enough to enable everyone to adapt the values to their contributions.  At least not with certainty. Diversity and Inclusion, for example, might affect the design of user interfaces for IT, hiring and promotion decisions and the configurationof hiring talent acquisition teams for HR, and the photographs chosen for sales collateral by Marketing Communication. And so on.

2) To model, teach, shape, and recognize cultural practices we need more than executives giving occasional awards or HR producing videos of exceptional teams. We need leaders, managers and supervisors helping their people identify what we call their work outputs or contributions (as "countable nouns"), and highlight the ones that might be affected by cultural values. They need to then discuss how criteria for "good" might change based on the agreed-upon value statement, and talk about behavior for making those specific contributions that practices that value.

In other words, we need to help managers and supervisors get specific with their people. And our Performance Thinking approach can help. You can read a slightly nerdy article I published a few years ago on culture or watch our recorded webinar that covers much the same ground.

We address cultural values and practices based on participant interest in both our performance consulting certification program and in our coaching and leadership programs .

- Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ Patch the Holes in Your Sales Enablement ]]> I’ve been involved with sales performance and sales enablement for nearly 50 years. Three of my four companies have focused almost exclusively on sales performance, spanning multiple industry segments across the globe.  Frankly, not much has changed over the years, other than the high-tech tools, and the continued flow of new sales experts, books, and training programs. Two things I’ve noticed have definitely not changed, and I’d like to bring them to your attention.

First, very few sales organizations document their successful sales process in detail. This is, I believe, partly because people tend to focus on behavior or activity, and not on the milestones or accomplishments that successful activities produce.  Yes, there are sales pipelines and funnels, lists of sales objectives, and sometimes even milestones to mark off phases in the sales process, such as qualified leads, meetings with decision-makers, requests for proposals, and closed deals. Those are good, big objectives. In most business-to-business sales, however, the milestones or possible call objectives are more fine-grained. In the field of performance improvement, we call them accomplishments or work outputs. They include relationships, decisions, documents, agreements, appointments, and sometimes many other small achievements in the process from qualification to closing.  

The most successful sales people know about these progress indicators, at least unconsciously, and identify them when prioritizing activities and setting goals for sales calls.  Things like a good relationships with the receptionist, good decisions about who to meet next, the right sales collateral to the right person at the right time, and so on, are what keep the attention of sales stars. These are the kinds of small accomplishments that can make a difference, are often discussed in passing, but seldom codified or documented. If you have successful sales people of your product in your market, then you can study exactly what they accomplish at each step, when they decide to pursue optional milestones, and how they sequence and juggle their work to achieve them.

By documenting these small outcomes in the sales process, you capture and define a roadmap that less experienced people can follow, and that can guide all of your sales training, coaching and enablement efforts. You will also set the context for identifying the individual and teams of sales people who accomplish each of these milestones most effectively, efficiently, etc.  In other words, you create a framework for identifying exemplary behavior, those small tricks and tactics that the best people discover to move things forward, and that often account for their exceptional results.

Second, few organizations have an optimal framework for designing, configuring, and aligning all the factors that influence sales performance. Sales enablement is often described as systems (the “sales stack”) and content, combined with training. There are many other factors that influence performance, including expectations at many levels, feedback, many types of tools and resources, formal and informal consequences and incentives for doing the right thing, skills, knowledge, optimal selection and assignment, and an alignment of each sales professional's values and motives with that of the company.

The Six Boxes® Model provides a comprehensive framework for sorting and aligning all the factors that influence sales performance, based on principles derived from behavior science. You need to identify how the various things you provide for the sales force function in relation to the behavior of sales people, how they influence behavior.  The Six Boxes, based on what’s called contingency analysis by behavior scientists, gives us a way to be sure we have not missed anything, and that all the things we offer to support sales function together.

I’ve been in so many sales meetings and sales enablement gatherings where the factors that influence behavior are working at cross-purposes, or are simply missing. I recall the VP of a strategic product group at a major software company telling his people how important a specific product was for the company, while senior sales people next to me pointed out that there was nothing special in their compensation plans for this product and that it would be easier to make their numbers with the old products that they already knew.  I’ve seen marketing groups come to sales teams excited about programs they had developed, without any prior input from sales people, only to be told that the programs would be useless, and that sales people would not likely use them.  I’ve observed sales skills training focusing on identifying customer needs and addressing them with solutions, while product knowledge was taught based on features and benefits (“How cool our stuff is”).

These elements of what should be a system of behavior influences do not align, and often there are conflicts and gaps. The groups that provide elements of sales enablement are too often in silos,  doing their usual things rather than aligning with the performance needs of sales reps who need to achieve specific milestones. We  need to patch the holes, and be sure that all parts of the system line up with one another!

My recommendation, after having worked with sales organizations and reviewed a lot of sales enablement literature, is that to be successful, organizations must avoid these mistakes and approach their sales enablement efforts in a more integrated way. They need to view sales performance as a system, in which everything needs to work together to support a path from prospect to close. 

Interview and observe successful sales people and learn from them all the small “next things” they’re trying to accomplish at each step, in each call, in each contact with their prospects and clients. Find out what milestones they target and achieve, and use to estimate how far they are from closing.  Capture and refine a list of milestones – some standard and some optional, depending on circumstances – that experienced people can agree are indicators of progress. Once you have that, and what it really means to achieve each one of them (“when you know you’ve got it”), then build your sales enablement system around these milestones.

Use the Six Boxes® Model to list and sort ALL the factors in each cell of the model needed to ensure that your sales people do what it takes to achieve each milestone efficiently and effectively.  Find the gaps and disconnects, and fix them. Be sure they are all positive and easy to use, rather than punitive. Use this framework to create a continuous learning environment and culture in which sales people learn with and from one another, and sales leaders coach and support their people to achieve each milestone, large or small. Build hiring, training, sales tools and collateral, support staff work outputs, compensation, informal recognition, software, knowledge and skill development, selection and everything else to complete the Six Boxes, and be sure the pieces all fit and work together.

This is easier said than done. But until companies make the investment to accomplish these things with completeness and attention to detail, and use them as a foundation for continuous improvement, they are going to be re-inventing a wheel that is less than optimal. If you begin down the path of systemic, accomplishment-based sales enablement, the ROI will be significant, and over time you will accelerate results.

For assistance, check out our Performance Thinking® for Sales Enablement package of programs and services. And learn more at our short YouTube playlist on sales performance , or from our longer webinar.

- Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ Executable Strategic Plans? ]]> The well-known Balanced Scorecard experts, Norton and Kaplan, have written a lot about the fact that most strategic plans are not fully executed.  Like many strategic planning experts, they focus on what it takes to execute effectively, and recommend establishing a formal process for execution, engaging leadership in the process, and even having a group or "office" devoted to execution of strategic plans. These are all key recommendations, and they align with principles one could also derive from change management, culture change, systematic performance improvement, and other disciplines devoted to moving whole organizations forward toward goals.

An issue that they, among others, do not seem to address in depth is that both the processes and the products of strategic planning vary greatly among different practitioners and organizations.  A simple Google search for descriptions or definitions of strategic planning, strategic objectives, and even strategy will reveal that people use these words differently. And they have different guidelines and criteria for what constitutes a good strategic plan.  Look up examples of strategic objectives and you will find a mix of outcomes, activities, and abstractions that may or may not be easy to verify. Often planners and those who execute plans rely on the measures chosen to accompany strategic plans for verification and monitoring of progress toward success. But in some ways, this is too late in the planning process. Can we make strategic plans themselves easier to execute?

Dr. Peter Dams, trained as a behavior scientist, has been helping organizations create and implement strategic plans for several decades. Peter has also become a Certified Performance Thinking Practitioner, and has been looking at his own work from the perspective of accomplishment-based performance improvement. Over the last several years he has refined his process, and the plans that he helps clients create, based on insights he has gained from Performance Thinking.

Much of the implementation challenge can be addressed more effectively by using the Six Boxes Model as a systemic framework to enable people in the organization to do what they must do, and to achieve what they must achieve, to implement strategic plans. But there is more to it than that.

As he and Carl Binder, CEO of The Performance Thinking Network, have worked together, they were struck by the possibility that execution of strategic plans could be approached by analogy to Design For Manufacturing. In the 1970s and 1980s, manufacturers who had long struggled with the challenge of optimizing the cost and quality of manufacturing by changing the design of things to be manufactured, made important advances in an approach that has now become widespread. In recent years, Tesla, the automobile manufacturer, has made news by radically changing how cars are designed, to make the manufacturing process simpler, with fewer separate parts and less cost for assembly and testing. Why not think of strategic planning with this in mind? Maybe it's the strategic plan itself that can be improved, not just the implementation process.

With a key insight from Performance Thinking, Peter has made a huge step forward in his work with clients. The idea is simple. Just as we can make the process of improving human performance more straightforward and leaner by insisting on definitions of performance anchored to accomplishments, or work outputs, Peter has learned that insisting on strategic objectives as accomplishments can improve execution.

As those who have learned about Performance Thinking know, we anchor our performance improvement work in accomplishments, or what we call work outputs: things that can be described as "countable nouns." If we identify a  widget, or document, or relationship, or decision as a thing that can be counted, and specify characteristics that make that thing "good," we can more easily identify the behavior or activity needed to produce it, who must be involved, and how we need to support that behavior. It turns out that if we insist that strategic objectives be defined as accomplishments, described as countable nouns that have clearly agreed-upon criteria for "good," then we can more easily develop tactical plans and milestones to achieve those objectives.

While Peter also works with clients to create plans for execution, to monitor progress, and to engage leaders in the process, it is perhaps this simple shift to accomplishment-based strategic planning that set the stage for the innovations he has developed in the last few years.

You can check it out yourself. Look for examples of strategic objectives to see how many of them are described as clear, countable "things" or accomplishments. You will probably find a mix. To use a real case example, is it easier to tell if you have been successful when a strategic objective is expressed as "Investigate whether we should build a second runway at our regional airport" or as "Decision whether to build a second runway at our regional airport"? You be the judge.

<![CDATA[ Relationships as Valuable Accomplishments ]]> At our Summer Institute several years ago, we tried an experiment that went very well! We devoted a session to relationships as valuable accomplishments, and applied Performance Thinking.  We have always listed relationships as a type of valuable accomplishment, teaching both managers/coaches and performance consultants to identify them as important work outputs, when they deliver value in exceptional ways. We then apply the performance improvement logic to defining and improving them. We organized a mini workshop at the Summer Institute, and had a lot of fun with it, while at the same time exploring what otherwise might be thought of as a very "soft" sort of performance

One of our earliest examples of identifying relationships as "work outputs" was at Microsoft, years ago when we were working with their Engineering Excellence group. First level managers, who led small teams of coders, user interface designers, software testing specialists, and others, defined what a "good" relationship between team managers might be. They said that the criteria for "good" would include four things:

  • the two managers respected one another's technical competence
  • they responded in a timely fashion (by end of day or within 24 hours) to one another's communications
  • they worked toward shared goals, and
  • they were able to resolve differences quickly.
They claimed that if relationships among team managers met these criteria, that even if the people did not particularly like one another, they would be able to work together well, support operational efficiency, quality, and employee engagement, among other organizational results.
It turns out that most of us, if asked, can list the good relationships we have, both personally and professionally. And, given some prompts and a few minutes, we can typically define what makes them good. In doing so, we can appreciate the good ones, and sometimes gain insights about how to develop or improve the relationships that are not as good as they could be.
When we spent an hour with our colleagues at the Summer Institute engaged in this discussion, beside having lots of laughter and joking around (some participants included their personal relationships in the exercise), there were some pretty big insights. So we decided to incorporate much the same discussion in a webinar, which became one of our most popular recordings on our YouTube Channel .
You might enjoy the recorded webinar. And we are quite certain that many of us, and quite a few organizations, could benefit from the analysis and insights about improving relationships that came out of those discussions.
<![CDATA[ Strengthening Clinical Supervision in ABA Organizations ]]> As organizational performance consultants, we often help companies accelerate business results and gain a competitive advantage by strengthening their leadership and management capabilities. For example, when working with organizations offering applied behavior analysis services (ABA) to individuals with autism spectrum disorder, we often focus on improving the effectiveness of clinical supervision delivered by behavior analysts and assistant behavior analysts. 

We use an accomplishment-based coaching process to help clinical supervisors develop behavior technicians' performance and engagement, maximize trainees' impact, and continuously improve the quality of services delivered by those they supervise. We focus first on the valuable contributions or accomplishments they provide to the organization (e.g., accurate client records, treatment plans, program modification decisions, relationships, etc.). Next, we determine what behavior is needed to produce those accomplishments and then arrange conditions to support that behavior.

This approach, called Performance Thinking , enables supervisors to define and improve performance using two simple visual models with plain English labels. The Performance Chain, Six Boxes® Model, and an easy-to-follow Performance Improvement Logic provide a framework for defining performance and configuring conditions to develop, improve, and support trainees' or supervisees' performance.  The Six Boxes® Model encompasses all the factors or influences known from behavioral research and practical application to influence behavior.

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB®) recently sent an email reminding certificants of many helpful resources to support the supervision, assessment, training, and oversight of behavior technicians and behavior analysts in training. If you are a clinical leader responsible for defining and supporting the supervision processes in your organization, those resources can be valuable as you:

  • Ensure that clinical practice and supervision processes meet compliance requirements. 
  • Develop and refine job descriptions for supervisory roles.
  • Set expectations for supervisors and supervisees, link those expectations to organizational results and align consequences with expectations and feedback.
  • Establish performance objectives for supervisors and trainers.
  • Define the criteria for the performance of specific types of supervision (e.g., case supervision and staff supervision).
  • Describe best practices behavior for supervisors. 
  • Identify performance metrics and design systems to measure the performance of supervisors and supervisees.
  • Arrange opportunities for supervisors and supervisees to receive relevant, timely, specific feedback about their performance against expectations.
  • Design training that supports exemplary supervision practices.
  • Enable supervisors to achieve fluent skills and knowledge and use tools for planning, implementing, and documenting all types of supervision.
  • Define selection criteria for applicants for behavior technician and clinical supervisor roles.

To ensure quality supervision, clinical leaders must set clear expectations, provide meaningful feedback, support performance with accurate & easy-to-use information resources, and reward good performance. In addition, clinical supervisors must be able to communicate and collaborate with direct reports about their performance and the factors that support or obstruct it and establish agreed-upon action steps for continuous development. In short, they must learn how to use the resources listed by the BACB® to achieve quality, compliance, and employee development goals.

Performance Thinking® models and programs offer flexible, powerful means for managing, coaching, and continuously developing employees to support high-quality service delivery, making them an excellent fit for behavior analysts responsible for directing and supervising those who deliver ABA services.

For more about accomplishment-based coaching, here is a short YouTube playlist and a more extended webinar .

-       - Shane Isley, BCBA, Senior Consultant

<![CDATA[ Performance Thinking: Continuous Improvement for The Rest of Us ]]> I just got off participating in a great panel discussion, recorded as a podcast, joining several of our most senior learning and performance colleagues from Europe and the U.S.  We were talking about the challenge of pivoting from training and development in an organization to performance improvement. How do we make training more performance-based, more connected to the work people have to do, and more directly effective? That goes along with the question, how can we optimize the return on our investments (ROI) in training and performance, and in talent development altogether?

This is the challenge that I've been trying to address for decades, and that animates the mission of The Performance Thinking Network.  The foundation of our work has been to drive toward simplicity and more effective communication about performance and how to improve it, across the enterprise.  Let me explain.

The simple idea is to shift from a focus on learning to performance. But what does that really mean?  If you look at the literature of Performance Improvement (or Human Performance Improvement, or Human Performance Technology, etc.), you find a plethora of models, algorithms, methods, and concepts that add up to an awful lot. For anyone but nerdy performance improvement professionals like me and some of our colleagues, the complexity and diversity of performance improvement models are daunting. The complexity of behavioral systems analysis, or of the "full" HPT model, stops most people. Thus, we do not really have a straightforward vocabulary or a memorable framework for enabling people to design systemic solutions to accelerate performance and engagement. Nor do we have a way to engage our stakeholders and senior leaders deeply in continuous performance improvement.  Our stuff often looks like analysis paralysis to them.

We spent years creating and refining our two simple visual models, the Performance Chain and the Six Boxes Model.

The Performance Chain defines performance with it's three key elements of analysis: the organization-level business results that reflect the success of the whole enterprise; the valuable work outputs (accomplishments or contributions) that people, teams, and processes deliver to the organization and/or society; and the behavior for producing those work outputs. This is pretty easy for people to understand. We teach precise ways of defining each element, but the basic logic and descriptions make sense to everyone, from entry-level high school educated employees to executives in the C-Suite, and at every level in between. There is a lot more to know about each element than is in that picture, but the model itself is crisp and clear.

The Six Boxes Model, which evolved from Tom Gilbert's Behavior Engineering Model, is a complete and easy-to-understand framework that can encompass any factor or variable known to influence human behavior.  We spent about 5 years in the late 1980s testing out plain English labels for the cells of the model, well before one of our clients suggested a name for it (The Six Boxes). And because of that plain language, labeling only 6 easy-to-visualize and easy-to-remember categories, people pick up on it quickly, and it spreads like a virus.

We teach executives, managers, supervisors, coaches, training professionals, quality and process specialists, HR Business Partners, team leaders, and individual employees these models and how to apply them in their own work. The applications range from strategic planning and execution, to executive coaching, to accomplishment-based training and coaching to continuous improvement by front-line teams.  

Thus, we think our Performance Thinking Practitioner Program , our Performance Thinking Coach and Leadership modules, our approach to enabling HR Business Partners to be agents of continuous improvement, and our emerging focus on Sales Enablement and Individual Self-development – all of which teach our simple models and how to use them –  can enable everyone ("the rest of us") to contribute to continuous performance improvement.

It takes time to implement and drive these programs through organizations. But the impact can be stunning, as it has been in some organizations that have been using this approach for over a decade .

- Carl Binder


<![CDATA[ GUEST BLOG: After 20 Years – A Whole New Perspective on Training ]]> As an instructional designer for the past 20 years or so, I’ve seen a lot of changes, both large-scale and incremental. I recently had the opportunity to learn Performance Thinking, and I wanted to share a few insights that I think you may find helpful.

When you discover something new in business, especially in training and development, it’s typically a new tool or technology that you incorporate into your existing processes or products. But what happens when your discovery is something intrinsic?

I recently found that the best way to improve performance in an organization is to change the way you think about it, the models through which you view it.

As part of a Performance Thinking® Practitioner Program, I saw the power in taking a step back and getting the big picture perspective — and I learned a brand-new new way to look at what you truly want to achieve with your efforts.

I knew that employee behavior affects business results (in my case, more hours = more revenue), but what I hadn’t considered was an accomplishment-based approach. This involves an added factor in the Performance Chain:

                Behavior Influences > Behavior > Work Outputs > Business Results

Working Backward

Prior to this course, I would have said behavior links directly to business results. When developing training programs or initiatives, we’re generally trying to fill a knowledge gap and/or change a current behavior. Most teams quickly go right to the tactics for delivering that knowledge (virtual Instructor-Led Training? eLearning modules? hands-on practice?), and for having employees apply it on the job. We assume (or hope!) that these efforts will achieve the objectives and have a positive impact on the company.

With Performance Thinking, you start with business results and work backward on the Performance Chain to ultimately find the behavior influences that can ensure a project’s success. Business results can vary widely among organizations, and they are not always tied to revenue.  They can include such organization-level results as client satisfaction, regulatory compliance, and quality of service.

Another key point was that many people don’t understand their link to the company’s mission. They don’t understand how their performance ties into any kind of business result. To connect to those business results (what stakeholders really care about), keep asking “why?” In fact, you’ll need to ask probing questions to gain clarity on each element of the Performance Chain.

Getting Input on Outputs

While correctly identifying business results is a critical piece of this process, so is separating them from work outputs (accomplishments). Work outputs are what connect behavior to business results. They’re not activities or processes; they’re things that you actually produce (design documents, quarterly reports, PowerPoint templates).

Work outputs must be valuable countable things.  And everyone should be able to agree on what “good” looks like. Even relationships and decisions can be work outputs when properly defined.

One of the Performance Thinking® tools is the Individual Performance Map, which we produce by interviewing performers about their customers and the work outputs that are produced for each one. A customer is anyone who receives value you deliver inside or outside your organization. This discussion can be eye-opening for both the interviewer and interviewee as they go through the process, identifying the obvious ones first (reports, design documents, course materials), and then diving deeper into others that are just as important but may be intangible (client relationships, project decisions/approvals). 

Identifying Behavior

Behavior is any type of action. When you’re defining it for performance improvement purposes, you need to know enough about it to ask good questions about the factors that influence it.  

The best way to uncover current behavior is to talk directly to the performers themselves because their descriptions of behavior are based on direct experience. Managers may be able to give you an overview based on what is needed to produce expected work outputs, but if they are not current successful performers, they're likely to omit critical details.

In many cases, we may be looking at inner behavior — thoughts and inner visualizations, for example. It’s important to identify this behavior in conversations and observations, often requiring performers to describe what they're thinking as they do work, since such inner behavior often includes critical parts of a task or step.

Measuring Up

It’s important to be able to evaluate performance objectively so that you can plan, prioritize, and provide the right feedback. Measurement should also be ongoing; you’re not just making sure something worked once and not evaluating it again. Measurement will help you to monitor progress and quantify the impact your efforts are having on the organization.

Measurement can also ensure that feedback is more objective, and arguably, more effective. It can help establish expectations and give performers the opportunity to see their progress and growth.

You can measure each link in the Performance Chain, not just the business results. It’s essential to consider all elements of the performance you want to develop or improve. Often counting work outputs that do and do not meet criteria or standards is easier that watching behavior or relying on lagging measures of business results.

Changing Behavior: The Secret Sauce

In instructional design, most of us are familiar with the ADDIE model (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation), but traditional training and change management programs usually lack specific follow-up or sustainment plans. Sustainment really should be a key element – you’re not just training someone to pass a test, you’re trying to permanently change performance. With Performance Thinking, you’re adding an “S” to ADDIES by following up to be sure that interventions continue to work.

The secret to sustainment is the Six Boxes® Model, which enables you to identify all the behavior influences that affect a performer’s behavior, both environmental and internal to the individual. The goal is to ensure that you have the right types of support in place to sustain performance improvement, and that they continue to be effective.

Environmental behavior influences range from expectations and feedback to tools and resources to consequences and incentives. Individual influences may involve skills and knowledge, selection and assignment (based on individual characteristics), or motives and preferences.

My biggest takeaway on this topic was: A behavior influence is only a behavior influence if it IS! 

For example, consequences and incentives do not always work as planned. Programs like employee-of-the-month single out one person — what about all the others? And, saving employee feedback for annual performance reviews misses the opportunity to recognize it earlier (and either praise or correct it).

For that matter, it really all starts with expectations. Are the expectations clear? When you interview performers about expectations, do they say the same thing as their managers?

The target is to identify behavior influences that are specific enough to be actionable and as complete as possible across all six cells of the model. You need to look at each part of the Six Boxes system. They represent an integrated approach, so using them independently won’t be as powerful as using them together.

A Different View

Performance Thinking is like the difference between problem-solving and design engineering for performance improvement. Instead of looking at a way to “fix” a problem, we look at optimizing the end goals. In other words, instead of creating a generic course loaded with product information, we look at what we want each performer to do and produce, and consider each of the Six Boxes cells to support the behavior and work outputs that the organization needs.

Once you start using Performance Thinking, you’ll see how broadly you can apply it to performance improvement in an organization. And you’ll realize why some practitioners call it their Performance Thinking® super power. It’s a power you can’t help but use — and one you’ll want to share!

- Cathy Godlewski, Write Mind, Inc.

<![CDATA[ What is Performance Management? ]]> A recent blog post that was highlighted in the monthly digest from the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) caught my attention, not so much because of what it said, but because of the question it asked.

The writer proposes an answer to the question, "What is performance management?"  While we can certainly point to numerous definitions, including the one proposed by Dr. Aubrey Daniels, the renowned international consultant who literally wrote the book on performance management, it seems that in most companies performance management is not what it's cracked up to be.

The blog post distinguishes between performance management and performance appraisal.  Sadly, in many organizations they are essentially the same. At infrequent meetings between managers and their direct reports, managers assess performance, provide some feedback, and write it up until next time – which could be months in the future. There is often little focus on specific capabilities or contributions that the employee makes or needs to make. And these discussions, which typically lack the frequency of a coaching process, do not serve as effective vehicles for talent development as suggested by the phrase agile talent development highlighted in the excellent Harvard Business Review article, HR Goes Agile, several years ago.

What's worse, typical performance management processes often depend on rating scales ("refined opinion") rather than objective measurement to assess employee performance on a number of competencies, often with the caveat that you can't "give too many 5s." Organizations may then use the rating scales to rank employees and decide on compensation.  In the worst form, they look like the infamous topgrading approach made popular by Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, who used the system to get rid of the bottom 10% of employees every year. In that form, the process becomes more of a culling exercise than a development engine.

At The Performance Thinking Network we think it makes sense to focus performance improvement, leadership, management, and coaching on the valuable accomplishments (i.e.,work outputs) that employees contribute to their organizations.  In our view, the job of leaders and managers is to accelerate business results through the performance of people. All of our programs teach a process that starts by identifying valuable work outputs, followed by a collaborative effort for improving employees' ability to produce those contributions more effectively and efficiently. At the same time, because we use the Six Boxes Model to drive performance management and coaching conversations, effective application of this approach leads to continuous improvements in both productivity and in employee engagement.

We want productive and engaged employees. And that is what we think performance management is about.

- Carl Binder, CEO



<![CDATA[ Focus on Sales Milestones to Accelerate Sales Results ]]> In the several decades that I've been involved with building sales training and performance interventions for business-to-business sales, I've learned about the important advantages of defining sales performance by identifying the milestones and progress indicators or accomplishments that exemplary sales people work day-to-day to achieve in their territories and accounts.

This is an accomplishment-based approach to exemplary sales performance. We've described it in a recent YouTube playlist and in our white paper on sales performance. We teach sales performance analysis in our Performance Thinking® Practitioner Program for performance improvement professionals. Our accomplishment-based performance coaching program offers a results-oriented coaching methodology for sales managers.

Here is a list what sales organizations can do to accelerate results once they have done the hard work of identifying the milestones in their best practices sales process, based on analysis of their top performers.

Anchor all training and development to sales milestones: Build this framework into all your training and coaching. Do this throughout beginning and advanced sales training, in field-based coaching, and in development of tools and resources for sales people. Define progress from initial prospect to closed deal and beyond with sales milestones that describe the purpose of everything we learn or teach, of all the strategies, tactics and tools we provide to enable sales.

Leverage the expertise of exemplary performers throughout the sales organization: Once we know what sales people need to accomplish at every step, we can harvest successful strategies, tactics and tools for achieving the milestones from successful sales people. "What will this help you accomplish?" is a good way to frame it all.

Shift from knowledge-based training to performance-based training:  A lot of so-called product knowledge training is focused on the features and benefits of the product, and perhaps on the comparative features and benefits of competitive products. However, once we set the context for sales knowledge based on which milestones one is attempting to achieve, we can teach and assess competitive strategies and tactics, what one would say and do in specific situations related to the milestones, as well as what one might not need to say. This helps make training leaner and more performance-focused.

Drive sales coaching with a focus on milestones:  Once you have identified the large and small milestones and progress indicators in the best practices sales process for your organization, managers and their people can discuss which one(s) are most important for their business right now. They can then zero in on discussions about how one might best achieve those milestones. This is a far more focused and reliable way to coach people than assuming specific behavior as being necessary. Once milestones are clear, sales managers and representatives can decide what behavior might be best for achieving them. Behavior-based coaching by sales managers is common. The organization defines behavior believed to make a difference in the sales process, e.g., delivering the message, asking open ended questions, asking for the business, etc. The sales manager then uses a job aid to record and provide feedback to the sales representative. This might or might not be helpful, depending on whether the behavior happens to be what is needed to achieve an important milestone in a sales call. Frankly, I've had more than one top sales person roll their eyes while telling me that when their manager is present, they exhibit the expected behavior, but when the manager is not with them, they focus on what they're trying to achieve. An accomplishment based approach drives results in a way that behavior-based coaching cannot.

Use sales milestones to adjust to changes in the market:  When market conditions change it is sometimes necessary to shift how sales representatives achieve milestones.  Perhaps there is a new emphasis on what's important to clients, and one needs to speak with new stakeholders to achieve a request for proposal. Possibly the world moves from in-person to virtual meetings, in which case one might need to learn new behavior to conduct an effective virtual meeting for achieving a given milestone. But with clear milestones to achieve, it is usually the behavior or tools and resources that must change when conditions change, not so much the milestones themselves. Having defined the best practices sales milestones in your sales process will make that adaptation easier and quicker. In other words, it will support agility in your sales force.

Design competitive sales training and coaching based on sales milestones:  Which milestones in your best practices sales process offer the greatest competitive leverage? Rather than merely teaching competitive features and benefits, identify the milestones in your sales process most likely to put the competition at a disadvantage or to give you an advantage. Once you have identified those milestones, individual sales representatives can target those in their own accounts and territories.  Sales training and coaching can drive more effective strategies and tactics for achieving those milestones, well beyond providing additional competitive product knowledge.

Organize internal social networking tools and resources around sales milestones:  Structure communication and collaboration among the members of your sales organization around the milestones they need to achieve in the sales process, not around knowledge topics or subject matter. Answer the question, "In this situation, what's the best way to achieve this milestone?"

Revise product training to deliver situational product knowledge: Product knowledge should not be "academic." It should not be separated from the situations in which one must know and do what is required. It should not be taught out of the context of the milestones that the sales person is attempting to achieve.  While some basic training might be needed in technical knowledge to lay a foundation for further understanding, product training should shift as rapidly as possible to teaching and practicing situational product knowledge – what one must do and say based on the milestones one is attempting to achieve.

Integrate sales milestones into your CRM software:  If you use sales support software that monitors progress through the sales cycle, you might be able to build more refined milestones into that system rather than using the "big" generic ones that often describe the sales pipeline in CRM software.

First determine the milestones and progress indicators that consistently exemplary sales people work to achieve. Then encourage sales leaders, sales training and sales operations professionals to base their overall definition, management, and development of sales performance on those milestones. 

And, of course, we offer Performance Thinking® programs and services to support such an approach for organizations that choose to go in that direction.

 - Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ Agility = Innovation + Execution ]]> Another great Harvard Business Review article, The Agile C-Suite, got my attention this month.  It talks about the balance that leaders need to find between efficiency and innovation, particularly in uncertain times. 

At the Performance Thinking Network, we say that agility is a combination of innovation and execution.

Since before last summer's 10th Annual Six Boxes® Summer Institute we've been exploring the combination of Design Thinking and Performance Improvement with our friend and colleague, Surya Vanka, of Authentic Design in Seattle. There is something in that combination that enables organizations and leaders to be more agile.

Surya has captured the essence of Design Thinking in his Design Swarms® process. He takes teams through a sequence of activities to produce innovative solutions, designs, or plans that can be implemented and have a compelling value proposition. Design Swarms enable teams to produce innovation on demand.

At The Performance Thinking Network, we've distilled the essence of human performance engineering, or organizational performance improvement into our plain English, simple but powerful Performance Thinking® methodology . We teach and certify Performance Professionals of all kinds to conduct organizational performance improvement projects, many of which involve systemic planning and implementation of new systems, processes, programs or initiatives. Some of our colleagues at large organizations use this approach for big, global implementation projects. Performance Thinking® is a process for reliable execution.

We're continuing to find new ways that these two flexible and widely applicable approaches can be integrated, always looking for opportunities with clients to drive agile performance improvement or change. So it was hard not to think about that aspect of our work when I read The Agile C-Suite.

- Carl Binder, CEO