By Graham
Posted on: 2012-08-15 Futurproofingperformance transfer

From learning and development to performance development: a paradigm shift


Business leaders care about results,

and the individual performance that delivers results.

They invest in order to increase performance; and should only invest in people development when this is a demonstrably effective step to better performance. Performance growth is the primary output that L&D must deliver, and should be measured against. This means a paradigm shift in what most of today’s L&D departments do, including their reach across organisations.

Changes in on the job performance is what L&D is really assessed by when it comes to that crucial budget period, when the executives decide how much to invest. Any disproportionately large budget cut for L&D when money is tight says clearly that L&D is not delivering, or not proving delivery of, the performance shift needed by the business. (66% of business leaders say they do not have the data they need to take effective decisions on people investments. (1))

Forward thinking companies have realised the systemic limitations of a learning paradigm when performance change is what you need.

I think, therefore I am.

René Descartes, a French philosopher

Descartes’ paradigm drives what most L&D departments usually do to achieve their purpose. Assess, by role, the performance that will deliver the business strategy, then offer learning experiences to those individuals with a gap. Accountability for closing the gap is assigned mainly to the individual, partly to the trainer and L&D.

This is only delivers 10 to 30% of the performance shift needed by the business (2). Because the underlying learning paradigm is incomplete. Only 15% of the levers to develop individual performance through learning are in the circles of control of people in the learning experience, the individual, the trainer or L&D.

To get performance development through learning you need a performance paradigm that encompasses all the levers that impact learning turning into performance.

I am because you are.

Ubuntu, a Southern African philosophy.

This paradigm works. For everything from rebuilding a nation from apartheid to full democracy to the individual performance in an organisation. It makes clear that an individual’s performance improvement after a learning experience depends on multiple factors (e.g. their supervisor, peers, incentives, the training, their beliefs, the actual tasks etc.)

This paradigm assigns accountability, according to what is in the circles of control of each.

This shifts from a learning and development paradigm to a Performance Development paradigm. A PD department owns facilitating a process that delivers performance change. This includes the owning the content of training, but goes way further.

It means optimising for the desired performance change a full integral spectrum of factors, including

  • Line manager activities before and after the training
  • Policies, especially incentive policies.
  • Corporate culture
  • Participants limiting beliefs, e.g. in their ability to change

Since many of these are owned partially or completely by leaders or managers across the organisation, and need to be addressed before, during and after a learning event, the scope of a PD department transcends and includes L&D. PD is there to facilitate an integral, whole organisation process including all the levers impacting the transfer of learning into performance.

The generation Y, those who are already knowledge meshworkers, will only be motivated by such integral, whole-system development, not old-fashioned training approaches. And just as importantly, for businesses to thrive in the coming decades, and to contribute what they must to creating a viable, sustainable planet by 2050, we must adopt significantly faster and more effective approaches to developing leadership in all generations. (See more on my talk here.)

A decade from now leading companies will have a Performance Development Department, accountable to the CEO, and staffed with a number of black belt performance practitioners. Contact us for more details on our training for performance practitioners,

(1) PricewaterhouseCoopersInternational 15th Annual Global CEO Survey 2012. Based on a global survey of 1,258 business leaders in 60 countries.

(2) Mary L. Broad – Beyond transfer of training: Engaging systems to improve performance