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L&D Capability - Performance Consulting

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Activity Performance Consulting AideMemoir.docx

This post provides an introduction to Performance Consulting and includes a downloadable Performance Consulting Aide Memoir you can use to assist in applying the approach and developing your consulting skills.

Improving performance has become a key focus for organisations seeking to do more with less, maintain competitive advantage or to increase market share. This challenging environment has placed increasing pressure on the learning function to create more responsive solutions with greater reach, flexibility and impact.

There has also been much reporting on the state of perceptions of the learning function. One CLC survey of line leaders found only 24% agreed L&D was critical to business outcomes, only 15% thought L&D effective at influencing talent strategy and only 14% would recommend working with L&D. Clearly we’ve got some work to do if we want to build our reputation and deliver tangible value to our organisations!

L&D and the broader HR function is recognising that the traditional approach will not be effective in responding to current and emerging challenges. One of the key opportunities for HR and the learning function to improve the way they engage, align and create value is through Performance Consulting.

What is Performance Consulting?

There are a number of definitions of Performance Consulting that raise some common and important themes that can define our role and the impact of our work:

‘A performance consultant is a professional who focuses on what people do (their performance) and then considers what it takes (in skills, knowledge, and a range of workplace resources) to do that well’ (Broad, 2005)

‘Our goal, as performance consultants (whether in name or in fact), is to help our organisations or organisational clients achieve maximum desired results from people in ways all stakeholders value. Our mission is to generate worthy performance’ (Stolovitch & Keeps, 2004).

‘Performance Consulting is a process used by L&D and HR Business Partners to understand the real business problems behind requests for people solutions’ (Harrison, 2008).

‘Performance Consulting seeks to understand and develop a holistic strategy to change performance’ (Rothwell, 2013).

Training Needs Analysis (TNA) normally has one outcome – a training solution, and the focus of training is knowledge and skill acquisition. It is argued however, that only around 20% of performance problems relate to lack of knowledge and skill, so we can see that training solutions in isolation, will be unable to solve the bulk of performance problems.

Performance Analysis, as part of a broader performance consulting approach allows HR/L&D to understand the four main factors that affect individual and team performance:

By adopting a consistent approach to performance consulting and working together to develop this important capability HR and the learning function can provide more responsive solutions that provide flexibility and impact. The consistent approach can also help position HR/L&D as a strategic function and trusted business partner.

An example of a Performance Consulting Process


  • Broad, M.L. 2005, ‘Beyond transfer of training. Engaging systems to improve performance’, Pfeiffer.
  • Harrison, N. 2008, ‘How to be a true Business Partner by Performance Consulting’,
  • Rothwell, W.J. 2013, ‘Performance Consulting. Applying Performance Improvement in Human Resource Development’, John Wiley & Sons
  • Stolovitch, H.D. & Keeps, E.J. 2004, ‘Training Ain’t Performance’, ASTD Press

Start a conversation

Consider the following questions to begin a conversation with your team about how performance consulting skills might be developed, applied or improved in your organisation:

  1. Does HR/L&D have an agreed performance consulting approach that allows them to engage stakeholders, understand performance problems and create performance solutions?
  2. Does L&D perform training needs analysis (that produces training solutions that respond to knowledge and skills) or performance analysis (that creates performance solutions that respond to knowledge, skills, motivation and environment)?
  3. How are solutions currently developed or brokered to ensure knowledge, skill, motivational and environmental elements are identified and combined to form a holistic performance solution?
  4. How does L&D respond to direct requests for training? Do they provide training or do they engage in a broader discussion to understand the problem and identify root causes and solution options?
  5. What benefits might an agreed performance consulting approach (and operating model) deliver for:
    • L&D
    • The broader HR community
    • Stakeholders
    • Workers?

Explore Further

A number of free and member only resources can be accessed via the Forum’s Toolkit to explore performance consulting skills further. Consider the below as a starting point:

What really causes Performance Problems?
Five characteristics of high performing people
Performance Consulting Skills – Drawing System Diagrams
Root Cause Analysis Tools and Techniques
Workshop to Analyse Waste in L&D
Learning and Performance Audit Toolkit


Have you used this post to think about how performance consulting is or can be used in your organisation? Do you have an agreed approach that is applied across the HR/L&D function? Do consultants take orders for training or do they work with stakeholders to create performance solutions? Why not share your reflections, questions and experiences with our community. 

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Performance Consulting was introduced to our Senior Managers and State Managers as a way to support the development of their team members in each state and as a approach that L&D will be utilising to ensure that performance solutions were identified correctly, instead of reverting back to training as being the solution for lack of performance or to improve an employees knowledge and skill. The concept was presented through a PowerPoint presentation, and was open for discussion and all Managers seemed to like the approach and have reported that they have been using the concept. However, I do look forward to seeing how this approach is used with the teams across the country to see how Managers have really engaged with the process.

I have recently had an indepth conversation with a peer within our organisation, in adopting the Performance Consulting process with a couple of team members, and he was looking at more training being the solution to what seemed a performance issue to me. Their team members skill, competency and engagement had not improved in using a new software package that he had been implementing and requesting that they use daily, following a number of face-to-face training and hands-on demonstration of the system. By using the Performance Consultancy 7 step process we were able to identify together through some coaching, that the solution was not more training, but support was needed with the motivational factors for using the system. Follow-up with how the strategies that were discussed were implemented and engaged with is yet to happen, but the response from the Manager I was dealing with in using the Performance Consulting approach was satisfied that it assisted to really digging deep for the cause of the performance issue, that then he could address.

I used this resource as part of reflecting on and re-enforcing my learning and development practice. I have always used a coaching and internal consultancy approach when analyzing training needs as quite often the training solution is not what's required and the client needs some support in enabling them to identify the real need and then ultimately the possible development options. 

When joining the organization, there were a number of outstanding learning and development enquires that identified a particular training solution and asking what was available to support these.

I arranged to meet with the client area and the HR manager to discuss what the actual needs were and use the model in the toolkit and a coaching approach to identify what the actual needs were. Through this discussion it was identified that the persons development event wasn’t to go on  a project management course but to have some support via mentoring and on line tools to understand how to priorities, better make use of their time and adopt planning and organisational skills in the first instance. This thus saved the individual and the department time away from their job and money to pay for the course. Instead it offered sustainable development that could be practiced immediately in the office and reinforced through reflection and practical advice in a mentoring session.

The advice I would offer is that when approached with a training or development solution, the need isn’t always apparent and a consultancy conversation should always be used in the first instance.

This activity in conjunction with “What really causes performance problems” have inspired me to approach our line leaders in a new way.

Everyone’s goal is to improve performance and to date this has rested with the L & D department.  This year I introduced “Manger as Coach”.  To build skills, we had a face to face training session, online training and a toolkit developed.  Most of the mangers, had six coaching sessions with an experienced Coached.   This one on one time with a staff member a had a slow uptake and when I questioned why, it was mostly because of time, ‘it’s hard’ and lack of confidence.

Part of the problem is that all the Line Mangers wear two hats – technician and Manager.  Most of them are far more comfortable in their technician’s role.  

A mindset shift needs to happen and it be easier if they are part of the solution creation.  

Our next meeting will workshop:

·         The difference their role as a Manger will make to the performance of their branch

·         Identifying the key challenges for their ‘Manger’ role and workshop solutions with the whole team

·         Ensure they all understanding the difference between a training needs analysis and a performance needs analysis

·         Agreeing on performance solution outcome based on the performance problems we have already identified.

The goal is to have every manger work in conjunction with the L&D department, using a performance consulting approach to improve performance.  Some will hop, some will jump and some will leap into this new framework.

I found the performance consulting tool very useful when talking to manager’s about underperforming employees. The whole idea of looking at underperformance more holistically would ensure managers arrive at the right conclusion as to why a person may be underperforming or unable to complete their tasks. This would also assist in managers not having adverse action complaints against them, which is a new industrial relations requirement enacted in March 2017.

Example: The employee’s work performance diminished after 2.00pm.  There could have been a number of reasons for this, but due to the manager consulting with the employee about environment and motivation as well as lack of knowledge and skills it was found that the sun hit the computer screen at about 2.00pm and the employee needed to be given more work by late afternoon as she runs out of work.

If the consultation was just based on the skills or knowledge of the employee the problem would not be found because the employee was proficient at their job.

The performance consulting process can provide a number of positive outcomes:

  1. reduced training costs
  2. establish performance gaps
  3. increased communication with employees
  4. increased alignment between learning and the workflow
  5. building relationships with employees
  6. less adverse action complaints.

This is not a new concept for developing performance but I think in the L&D world it is good to be reminded that sometimes it’s not all about training it can be other issues like personal problems, bullying, environment issues and that work may not be stimulating.