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You Really Oughta Wanna, Essay Example

Pages: 7

Words: 1819

Essay

The term “performance technology” may conjure images of automobile engines being finely tuned or of aircraft being designed for minimal wind resistance, but it actually refers to a much more human and less mechanistic set of ideas and principles. Performance technology, or as it is often known, Human Performance Technology (HPT) is a relatively-young discipline that incorporates ideas and methodologies from a wide array of other fields. HPT brings these different (and often disparate) points of view to bear on the problem of making improvements in systems, specifically those systems that involve human beings. There is a diverse and ever-growing body of literature and empirical research into the field of HPT, and some offers more in-depth examination than others. In much of the extant literature, however there a several recurring themes; the following paper contains a brief overview of and discussion about some of these themes.

Background

According to Stolovitch (1982), performance technology must first be defined for what it is and what it is not before it can be properly understood and utilized in practical ways. This endeavor begins with a look at the words “performance” and “technology,” with the latter of the two drawing the most attention. As Stolovitch makes clear, “technology is not machinery” and the term“essentially refer(s) to the scientific study of practical matters.”In this context, then technology is related to the means of using knowledge to make improvements to systems. As for the term “performance,” in this context it refers largely to the outcomes of behaviors and processes in a system. Taken as a whole, “performance technology” is a framework for understanding and improving systems (Stolovitch, 1982). What makes this meaningful, however, is that it is based in sciences and disciplines, but is ultimately applicable to real-world situations. In the Handbook of Human Performance Technology (Stolovitch& Keeps, eds., 1999) the authors and editors argue that one of the best ways in which to grasp the fundamental premises of HPT is to trace its roots and evolution over the past century or more. In the first chapter, Rosenberg et al (1999) posit that HPT is anchored in a number of educational trends that began to take hold in the 20th century. It was in this period that rapidly-evolving technological and manufacturing advances and equally-rapid growth in the amount of information and knowledge all but forced researchers to develop new educational models. In response to these shifts and changes in the age of manufacturing and industry, researchers and theorists pulled threads together from a range of disciplines and fields of inquiry during the development of HPT.

Among these different sets of source material were the behavioral psychology frameworks developed and espoused by the likes of B.F Skinner; the arenas of Industrial Systems Design (ISD), General Systems Theory (GST) and Information Technology (IT); and other methodologies for understanding the way that systems function, especially in terms of how the human elements of such systems might best be understood. It is this “systems approach” that serves as the fundamental basis for HPT: according to the Handbook of Human Performance Technology, “without a systemic framework, it would be extremely difficult to achieve improved performance” (Stolovitch& Keeps). This conceptual framework is further explicated in terms of suprasystems and subsystems (Stolovitch& Keeps), as subsystems operate within the larger suprasystem. Stolovitch (1982) adopts a definition of “systems” from Checkland, describing them as “a complex grouping of human beings and machines for which there is an overall objective.”  While the inclusion of “machines” may not be specifically applicable in every use of HPT, this definition does highlight two important characteristics of systems in the context of HPT: one, that they contain individual components which must work together (i.e., “human beings and machines”) and two, that such systems operate in service of pursuing and achieving goals and objectives.

Putting the “Performance” in Human Performance Technology

While the extant literature on HPT (and its earlier iteration as simply Performance Technology) provides a myriad of perspectives on an inherently disparate set of concerns and questions, there is a common theme among all of them: that “performance” is central to the positive function of the system. Stolovitch (1982) identifies a “performance problem” as “a gap between an ideal state and what is currently being achieved.” While this definition may appear deceptively simple, it illustrates the underlying purpose of HPT, which is to make determinations about how to improve performance within systems. In order to identify and improve performance issues, however, the desired outcome must first be understood and identified. Moreover, the functions of subsystems and their relationships to the suprasystem must also be understood before performance problems can be indentified and rectified. This “performance analysis” component of HPT is central to understanding how and why it is useful and applicable.

Stolovitch (1982) points to the work of Gilbert and the framework of the “performance audit,” which contains the following steps:

  1. Identify accomplishments (i.e., what the system is currently accomplishing).
  2. Identify requirements (i.e., what the system requires to be accomplished).
  3. Identify exemplary performance (i.e., what the realistic potential is).
  4. Measure exemplary performance.
  5. Measure typical performance.
  6. Compute the potential for improving performance (i.e., the discrepancy between exemplary and typical performance).
  7. Translate this potential into stakes (a measure of economic potential; the savings or improvement that might be expected from an improvement from typical to exemplary performance).

Stolovitch notes that within the performance audit framework, poor performance can often be given a positive spin; in short, by effectively and accurately identifying areas in which performance does not meet expectations, it is possible to design improvements to the applicable subsystems in order to bring performance in line with expectations. In this manner, performance audits and the subsequent solutions offered via HPT are often embraced by managers who are concerned with the bottom line, as solutions and improvements to performance are typically associated with cost savings for the organization (Stolovitch, 1982). When performance problems are identified, interventions can be developed and implemented to bring about improvements, which in turn should ostensibly lead to improved function within the larger system(s).

The Handbook of Human Performance Technologydescribes the field of HPT as a “two-sided coin: on one side, analysis is concerned with identifying specific problems and opportunities. On the other side, interventions seek to fulfill the recommendations of the analysis.” This duality underscores the fundamental premise of HPT as a means of first indentifying and then solving specific problems. The term “intervention” further shows the practical nature of HPT; if a process is not leading to the desired outcome, then something about the process must be changed, redirected, or removed. Such interventions can include training programs designed to help workers better understand how to perform a given task, improvements or changes to the way tasks are expected to be performed, incentives and rewards for good performance, and disincentives for poor performance (Stolovitch& Keeps). No single intervention is appropriate in every case, and effective interventions will be tailored to suit the circumstances.

The Human Element

A cursory examination of the available literature might lead a reader to conclude that HPT is, at its core, a mechanistic discipline. While it is true that it shares some elements of mechanistic fields such as accounting and engineering, it would be a mistake to ignore the “human” component of HPT. In the article “Performance technology: An introduction,” Stolovitch (1982) addresses the notion that HPT is dehumanizing:

“This is one of the cruelest myths and misconceptions attributed to a field which is essentially concerned with human performance…performance technologists are very aware of the individual nature of human motivation, goal orientation, and value systems…(interventions) cannot possibly be effective if the characteristics and value systems of performers are not taken fully into account.”

The preceding quote effectively embodies the duality inherent in HPT; it is concerned both with data and analysis and with ways to use that information to develop practical, real-world solutions to address performance problems.

As Mager and Pipe (1976) make clear, performance problems are often simply a matter of motivation. If an individual or group of people are not performing as expected or desired, it may simply be that positive performance is disincentivized in some manner. While training and education are often appropriate and necessary interventions for performance problems, no amount of training will make up for a lack of effective motivation. Just because a worker knows how to do something as expected, that does not mean that he or she will be motivated to do so. Mager and Pipe list “four common situations” in which the conditions or consequences are not supporting positive performance:

  1. It is punishing to perform as desired
  2. It is rewarding to perform other than as desired
  3. It simply doesn’t matter whether performance is as desired
  4. There are obstacles to performing as desired

Mager and Pipe offer a variety of hypothetical scenarios to illustrate each of these four points, though the overarching point is that training is not helpful if the problem is a lack of appropriate motivation. If positive behavior (and the positive outcomes of that behavior) is not acknowledged and rewarded in some manner, and negative behavior is not sanctioned, what incentives do employees have for meeting expectations? It is in this analytical framework that the human element of HPT comes into focus. A system can be analyzed before it is implemented so desirable outcomes can be identified, and subsequent performance problems within that system can also be identified, but neither of these steps are meaningful if the human beings that perform within the system are disincentivized to meet expectations. Effective interventions must be designed not just with the needs of the larger systems in mind, but also with the needs of the people within that system.

The Art and Science and of HPT

When reading the available literature on HPT, a common theme begins to emerge: HPT is in an aggregate of a variety of different fields, combining elements of rigid analytical and statistical sciences with more subjective, practical aspects of psychology and human resources. In order to understand what HPT is and why it is valuable, it is first necessary to examine the evolution of the field as it merged the insights of behavioral psychology with the systems design theories. It is further helpful to keep in mind that HPT is ultimately concerned with human performance within the larger system, and effective interventions for negative performance must often be made at the individual level. In order to bring about positive changes in performance, such changes must be both possible and valuable to the individuals who perform within the system. By bringing about changes at the subsystem level, it is possible to make improvements to the entire system. Human Performance Technology offers a framework for understanding how to conceptualize, develop, and implement systems in which positive performance is both expected and achieved.

References

Mager, Robert and Peter Pipe, 1976. ‘You Really OughtaWanna.’ Nursing 76 Career Guide. 6(8).

Stolovitch, Harold D. ‘Perfroiamnce Technology: An Introduction.’ Performance & Instruction. 21(3): 16-19.

Stolovicth, Harold D. and Erica J. Keeps. 1999. Handbook of Human Performance Technology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

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