For more information about Improvid Performance Consulting visit our Human Performance Improvement website.

Part 1 of a series of articles on the 10 standards for Performance Improvement.

Most of us have a favorite pair of jeans we can slip into without thinking. It is a comfort, a habit, a self-confident feeling when wearing those jeans. Unlike a tangible product like jeans, performance in any organisation is a complex issue, but it need not be uncomfortable; in fact, it should become a habit.

Redefining sustainable performance in any organisation is not an easy task. And Levi Strauss & Co. understands this very well. After all, performance is a barometer of the value of your brand to the customer and how your employees are contributing to this. Sustaining performance is not simply planting a few trees to offset carbon dioxide. Levi’s is engaged on a path of setting standards for workers’ rights, a healthy work environment, and an ethical engagement with the planet to redefine their sustainable performance. But this is not an article on the brand value of Levi’s or a trusted pair of jeans. As performance experts, we are interested in a comfortable, easy process to sustain and improve performance.

In the same way that Levi’s is convincing consumers to be more conscious when they purchase a pair of jeans (and that it is not an isolated event), we must, in the same way, redefine sustainable performance as not an isolated event, but a holistic systems approach in our world of performance. Read the Levi’s story here.

This is an illustration in practice of how we should assist business to both focus on results and view performance systemically.

The world is becoming highly competitive, and this also applies to ways we decide to redefine performance sustainability. Information through technology is flattening the world, and we need a way through our work to distinguish ourselves from competitors. You can read more about how you can prepare for the changing workplace in eight steps to focus on in a volatile world.

We are ultimately responsible with management to improve and sustain performance in organisations and therefore we should act now and not postpone the future. The 10 Standards for Performance Improvement are practices for improving and sustaining organisational performance. We do this through our work and apply these as success indicators and measurement of the value impact in any industry and any context.

The first four standards are known as principles because they are fundamental to the other standards that make up the systematic methodology.

The first four standards are:

  • Standard 1: Focus on results or outcomes
  • Standard 2: Take a systemic view
  • Standard 3:  Add value
  • Standard 4:  Work in partnerships

These standards are interconnected to standards 5 to 10, which make up the systems thinking approach of the International Society for Performance Improvement. Visit the website for more interesting information:

Application tip:

Use the matrix below to map the alignment and interconnectivity of the four principle standards (standards 1-4) to the process methodology (standards 5-0) to achieve sustainable performance:

Matrix for sustainable performance

Define the need
(standard 5)
Identify causes
(standard 6)
Design solution
(standard 7)
Conform to design specs
(standard 8)
Implement the desired solution
(standard 9)
Measure and evaluate impact
(standard 10)
Focus on results
(standard 1)
Take a systemic view
(standard 2)
Add value
(standard 3)
Work in partnerships
(standard 4)

In the series of articles on the 10 Standards for Performance Improvement, I’m focusing this month on the first and second standards.


Focusing on results and outcomes puts you in a position to question, confirm, and reconfirm that people share the same vision and goals (organisational level), the job procedures that support efficiency (operational level), and that people have the skills and knowledge they require (people level) to bring about sustainable performance. You need to determine what it is you are trying to solve. You measure the outcomes or results of an intervention and assess whether performance has improved as a result of it. Sometimes it is necessary to challenge the assumed answer to a problem or the expected event or activity of an intervention, and to focus instead on the accomplishment or business need that is the client’s true priority.

How is it done?

As performance consultants, we are not predisposed to a set of solutions, and we will apply knowledge and experience of what is required for performance at all levels. In our work, we will:

  • Help clients and stakeholders define what they want to accomplish as a desired future.
  • Guide clients in how to convert results into measurable terms.
  • Help clients stay focused when unrelated information and needs surface.
  • Challenge assumptions to uncover important priorities.
  • Facilitate discussions about the worth of a problem in terms of costs, human energy, or risk.
  • Help clients weigh the risk of unanticipated outcomes.

By rigorously following this performance standard, the results of your work and how you go about producing the results, supporting the client, the organisation, or society’s goals will be evident in sustainable performance.

Practical guidelines:

In consulting with your client, you can direct your actions and questions to achieve the following:

  • Ask what sustainable performance results the client is seeking. Ask the client: “What does done look like?”
  • Confirm what the desired outcome is so you can better design your analysis, present a set of viable options and recommendations, and judge how to best fulfill the request through project implementation.
  • Identify desired outcomes, which may include process and job efficiency, increase in sales targets, compliance with regulations, retention of employees, professional development, improved productivity, fewer errors, reduced costs, increased customer retention, changing reputation or changing brand value, and so on.
  • Determine what your client is trying to accomplish and what prevents your client from accomplishing it, so together you can identify what to provide in terms of Performance Improvement or sustainable performance. At this stage you should not be doing anything unless you know what the barriers to performance are.  Likewise, you should also know what is working in favor of performance to maximise the Performance Improvement results. The activity to kick-start the process is to develop a should and is template to understand where the gaps exist at an organisational, process, and people level.
  • Identify what employees require to be outcomes focused.
  • Direct and coach employees and management to be outcomes focused.
  • Act as a liaison between employees, management, and clients to ensure everyone is working toward the same goal.

A practical tool:

Use the framework below to identify the barriers, how to mitigate the risks, and plan for expected change as a positive outcome when focusing on results.

Focus on results and outcomes (standard 1):

Avoid barriers Mitigate risks Expected change
Organisational level
Solution seeking paralysis Unnecessary leadership decisions are eliminated, and all employees are focused on end results. Fads are ignored, and business plans are focused on results that add value.
Operational level
Misalignment of policies, procedures, systems, and processes Unnecessary activities and processes are removed from the value chain. All systems and processes are aligned for improved productivity.
People level
Poor or no identification of holistic performance needs Training and development plans are focused on actual performance gaps. Precise training and development budget are achieved.
Societal level
Too slow or too late response to industry or environmental change that has an impact on talent Continuous results-driven talent management strategies. Anticipated technology changes affecting job losses are appropriately planned.

Here are some video links and articles you may find useful:


Taking a systems view is vital, because organisations are very complex systems that affect the performance of the individuals that work within them.

It is important to distinguish a systems approach from a process model. A process contains inputs and outputs and has feedback loops. A system implies an interconnected complex of functionally related components. The effectiveness of each unit depends on how it fits into the whole, and the effectiveness of the whole depends on the way each unit functions. A systems approach considers the larger environment that affects processes and other work.  The environment includes inputs, but, more importantly, it includes pressures, expectations, constraints, and consequences.

The human performance technology (HPT) methodology begins by looking at the desired results and then works back to determine what behaviors can produce that result.

How is it done?

In our consulting, we help clients recognise:

  • How functions are interconnected and interdependent.
  • That a change in one area or system will affect other systems in achieving sustainable performance.
  • The relationship between internal practices and the business environment, society, and the world.
  • The difference between symptoms and causes.
  • The impact of misalignment and gaps of goals and practices.
  • How decisions and misalignment affect the ability to be competitive in the marketplace.

Practical guidelines:

In consulting with your client, you can direct your conversations, actions, and questions to achieve the following:

  • Determine if and how the processes, organisational indicators, or industry environment support or impede the desired organisational and group performance.
  • Determine if and how the current culture supports or impedes the professed performance.
  • Have conversations around barriers in the workplace that may affect sustainable performance.
  • Introduce systems thinking sensitising or development.
  • Identify if and where there is a lack of alignment between or among key factors affecting the success of the solution.
  • Determine if and how the barriers support or impede the proposed solutions and the future desired organisational performance and how it will affect the greater environment of the organisation as a whole.
  • Analyse how the proposed solutions will affect the greater environment of the organisation as a whole.
  • Determine whether and how the results of your work and how you plan on going about producing those results might jeopardise the client, the organisation, or society’s well-being.
  • Help ensure that the methods of deploying the end results will have a positive impact on the client, the larger environment, and society.
  • Increase awareness throughout the workplace of the benefits of a systemic view.
  • Develop processes that enable staff to have a systemic view.

A practical tool:

Use the framework below to identify the barriers, how to mitigate the risks, and plan for expected change as a positive outcome when focusing on a systemic view.

Systemic view (standard 2):

Avoid barriers: Mitigate risks: Expect positive change:
Organisational impact level
No systemic approach and view. Tunnel vision may get lost in translation when implemented. Holistic and sustainable strategic change.
Operational impact level
Misalignment of policies, procedures, systems, and processes. Reengineer value chains and refresh all processes in the performance architecture. All systems and processes aligned for improved productivity.
People impact level (worker) Poor or no identification of holistic performance needs. Change from a skills audit to a performance audit. Unanticipated savings of talent management budget.
Societal level
Poor or no scenario or performance landscape planning. Manage in the present with a strong focus on the future. The future of work is a given and accepted and has societal impact.

In conclusion, another aspect of the HPT results-based and systemic approach is that it is essentially an engineering and design methodology for sustainable performance. This helps many non-practitioners to understand more quickly what we are doing. Because it is more “design” rather than “repair” focused, it has allowed HPT to comfortably extend its work into areas such as process improvement strategy development, customer experience management, organisational design, cultural alignment, and many others.

Here are some video clips and articles you may find useful:

Over the next 12 months, I  will publish a series of articles that will focus in-depth on the 10 Standards of Performance Improvement. Each article will focus specifically on tips; tools; short application case studies; and links to articles, websites and more. Stay posted!

If you would like to know more about what we do, please visit our website or connect with Belia Nel on LinkedIn.

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