Performance analysis: Knowing what to do and how by Dale Brethower, CPT

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    Performance Improvement, vol. 47, no. 4, April 20082008 International Society for Performance ImprovementPublished online in Wiley InterScience ( DOI: 10.1002/pfi.202



    Dale Brethower, CPTreviewed by James D. Russell

    Dale Brethower, CPT, is professor emeritus of psychology at Western Michigan

    University and a visiting professor at the Technological Institute of Sonora, Mexico.

    He has been a consultant more than 30 years with a very impressive client list. In

    addition, he has served two terms on the board of directors of ISPI and is a former

    president of ISPI. HRD Press and ISPI publish Performance Analysis (price: $19.95;

    ISBN: 1599960540). The publisher may be reached online at or by phone at 800-8222891.

    PERFORMANCE ANALYSIS provides a fresh look atdetermining what will work to improve performance. Thebook presents a systematic approach to performanceanalysis and includes valuable tools for creating interven-tions that will have a positive impact. The major foci ofthis book are the systems approach and performanceimprovement. It is one of six books in the Defining andDelivering Successful Professional PracticeHPT in ActionSeries designed to define and deliver measurable perfor-mance improvement. The series relates to the Standardsof Performance Technology developed by ISPI. I find itinteresting that each book stands alone as well as inter-relates with the others. Roger Kaufman, Dale Brethower,and Richard Gerson edit the series.

    Brethower describes a process you can use to look atperformance issues through a systems thinking lens todetermine what performance improvement is desired andto identify appropriate interventions. The goal is not sim-ply to change performance but also to improve perfor-mance. Excellent exercises and examples help to clarifykey points. The book contains a very helpful glossary of55 terms. A variety of useful job aids and tools areincluded for determining what to do to improve perfor-mance. Sixty-four tips for analysis are included through-out the book. A very informative summary and references

    are included at the end of each chapter. The appendixcontains blank copies of four tools used in the book. Abrief description of how to use each tool is included.

    The clearly written book has three sections and eightchapters. Each section has an overview to let the readerknow what issues it covers. Section 1 is titled SystemThinking. When successfully analyzing an organizationalproblem, we seek to convert confusion into clarity.Analysis enables us to see the cause of the confusion, ver-ify that a problem exists, and identify one or more solu-tions. A good analysis helps an organization do the rightthings better, faster, or cheaper. Section 2, SpecifyingWhat Improvement Means, focuses on using tools to findappropriate procedures for finding improvements thatadd value to both the whole and the parts. Just makingchanges does not necessarily improve performance.Section 3, Specifying Improvement Options, describeshow to connect interventions to the past, present, andfuture of an organization. Every performance improve-ment project occurs in organizations that are very busywith other goals and outcomes.

    Chapter 1, Systems Analysis, begins by discussing thetactics that an analyst uses to attain clarity of direction fora performance improvement project. Performance analysisbegins by gathering information about the context and the

  • Performance Improvement Volume 47 Number 4 DOI: 10.1002/pfi 47

    critical issues faced by an organization and its people. Thechapter discusses the tactics and strategies used to helpattain clarity of direction for a performance improvementproject. Finding direction for performance improve-ment requires asking the right questions. The chapterincludes a case study with questions for doing an analysis.Data guide decisions that when implemented will improveperformance. Brethower describes how to keep an analysissimple, flexible, and productive. He points out how all per-formance improvement projects can be guided by the fourISPI standards. Analysis generates a lot of data. Good direc-tion requires more than collecting a lot of data. It requiresorganizing it in ways useful to the clients. The overridingmessage in this chapter is as follows: Finding direction forperformance improvement requires asking the right ques-tions (p. 30).

    Chapter 2, The Systems Thinking Lens, identifies theimportant systematic concepts involved in performanceanalysis. The chapter reviews the systems concepts using afamily as a system. Brethower uses the family as an exam-ple of a system because all readers have experiences withfamiliestheir own and others. Excellent examples illus-trate the sameness and uniqueness of both families andbusinesses. He uses families and businesses to identifyimportant information and key variables. Each systemhas its own dynamic. The chapter includes the types ofquestions to be used in analyzing a system. Brethowersays, A wise analyst, like a wise musician, practices a lot(p. 51). The analyst seeks to help the client find a set ofvariables that the client can manage in order to improveperformance.The analysis is complete when the goals areclear and the variables are identified in a way that guidesaction steps (p. 33). Analysis should determine a set ofvariables that can be managed by the client.

    Brethower discusses Systems Analysis of a Businessin chapter 3. The goal of performance analysis is not tochange performance but to improve performance. Theanalysis must look at consequences of the performance itseeks to improve at all levels.

    Brethower relates the content of this chapter toKaufmans ideas from book one in the series, Change,Choices, and Consequences. Brethower relates performanceimprovement to the concepts of mega (the world at large),macro (what relates to organization), and micro (clientexperiences). The challenge of the systematic view is seeingall parts of an issue and getting all the parts to worktogether to improve performance. Without considering thetotal system, improving one little subsystem may make the total system worse. The analyst and client can under-stand the organization better by using diagrams to organ-ize data and reduce complex reality into simple pictures.An organization must have an effective performance plan-ning and management system if the organization is to pro-vide the support necessary for everyone to perform well.

    As described in chapter 4, Systems Analysis of aFamily, Brethower compared a family to other organiza-tions. The performance analyst seeks to determinewhether an intervention will help or hinder performance.The many systemic perspectives of organizations, as wellas families, include the anatomy of performance, the totalperformance system, the value-adding process, the sup-port process, and the management process. The tools forbusinesses can also be applied to families. The tasksinvolved in performance improvement for families andfamily members are interconnected and can become quitecomplex. Brethower points out that to make perfor-mance better, we must look beyond the organization tothe world out there (p. 189). The world provides thecontext for evaluating the organizations performancewhether it is a family or a business. The tasks involved inperformance improvements for families and family mem-bers are interconnected and can become quite complex asthe tasks are in organizations.

    Chapter 5, Anatomy of a Business, illustrates whyknowing about the mega and macro worlds discussed inchapter 3 is important in analyzing performance.Analyzing an organization requires asking good questionsand collaboration with the client to make the answersmeaningful. Managers use numbers to track valueexchanges. For example, cash flow is a very importantnumber for businesses. . .and families! Brethower (p. 102)suggests two good questions to ask: How do you knowhow well things are going? and What numbers do youlook at to tell you how things are going? He also pointsout the importance of having measurable objectives andperformance criteria. Managing a successful business is a

    Brethower describes a processyou can use to look atperformance issues through asystems thinking lens todetermine what performanceimprovement is desired andto identify appropriateinterventions.

  • 48 DOI: 10.1002/pfi APRIL 2008

    relate to critical issues. He also stresses the importance ofmotivation of the people who request a performanceanalysis and the motivation of the people who will imple-ment the recommendations. He cautions that importantorganizational issues have many stakeholders. Every per-formance effort should be performed as intelligently andcollaboratively as possible.

    Chapter 8, Specifying the Tactics, deals with identi-fying the mix of possible interventions. One goal of theperformance analyst is to determine what interventionor appropriate mix of interventions will work and withwhom. Brethower provides guidelines to avoid prema-turely jumping to a solution and to avoid analysis paral-ysis. To do so the analyst must collaborate with clientsto find a set of interventions that will support high levels of performance. Performance analysis is an edu-cational task, that is helping clients learn what should be done, how, why, when, by whom, and how well.Brethower recommends involving as many stakeholdersas possible in the process. He details the process andpoints out not only the importance of change but alsothe importance of maintaining it. Without performancemeasures, people cannot take corrective action when itis called for and they cannot make continuous improve-ments. The key to developing a set of successful perfor-mance improvement interventions is to ensure thatthere are good measurements and management systemsimplemented as part of a performance improvementeffort.

    In summary, Brethower walks the reader through theprocess of performance analysis. I am not a performanceanalyst and found the book very informative and educa-tional. It contains clear illustrative figures, excellent verbalillustrations, and helpful examples. I particularly liked the analogy between families and business organizations.The same systematic variables apply to both. The book isan excellent addition to the HPT in Action series.

    JAMES D. RUSSELL is professor emeritus of educational technology at Purdue University. He contin-ues to teach part-time and works for Purdues Center for Instructional Excellence. During the springsemesters, he teaches at Florida State University. He has been teaching ID courses at Purdue since1976. He continues to coauthor textbooks: Instructional Technology and Media for Learning (ninthedition) and Instructional Technology for Teaching and Learning (third edition). He may be reachedat

    balancing act. Aligning critical business issues, criticalprocess issues, and critical job issues are paramount toimproving performance. Brethower provides the toolsand advice for getting the right information to improveimportant performances in an organization. An analysisis helpful if and only if it helps people understand whatshould be done, why, and how it can be accomplished.

    In chapters 3 and 4, Brethower goes from business tofamily; so in chapters 5 and 6, he goes from the anatomy ofa business to the anatomy of a family. Chapter 6, Anatomyof a Family, is about relationships. Brethower uses familiesas a model to generalize the concept of relationships forlarger organizations. He describes how improving relation-ships within the family can be applied to improving rela-tionships in an organization. Just as we must differentiatebetween issues related to the world outside and inside thefamily, the same is true for any organization. A family hasestablished roles for each individual and so too must amature and productive business. Critical process issues,including measurable objectives and performance criteria,keep coming up throughout the book. Both the objectivesand the means of achieving them are influenced by theorganizations values. The tools described in the chapter areuseful because they help the analyst discover and commu-nicate critical information to clients. Brethower shows theimportance of putting information in the diagrams andsharing them with parents and clients.

    Chapter 7, Finding Out What Will Work and WithWhom, focuses on determining what will improve perfor-mance. Chapter 7 is about tactics for deciding which rec-ommendations the analyst should make. There are oftenmany possible interventions for a performance problem.Brethower recommends working with clients to develop aset of implementation plans. A collaborative relationshipbetween the analyst and the client helps to get the recom-mendations implemented. According to Brethower, if youwant to have positive impact, recommendations must


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