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What Really Causes Performance Problems?

The first thing many HR and learning professionals hear about a performance problem is when they get asked to arrange or deliver a training session.

The reality is that knowledge and skills that are supported by training solutions only account for around 20% of performance problems. The other 80%, the vast majority of performance problems, are caused by other challenges such as:

  • Motivational Factors including unclear expectations and a lack of performance measures
  • Environmental Factors including resources, tools, processes, culture and feedback.


Stolovitch and Keeps offer a simple test of the above. Take a moment to reflect on your own performance and to answer the following question honestly, ‘Could you possibly perform better than you are currently?’

The answer should of course, be ‘yes’. We all have room to improve!

Take a moment to think about what in your workplace is preventing you from performing at your best. An alternative way to look at the question is to consider what would most help you to improve your performance.

Look at the above table. Which of the four areas (try to focus on one) would have the greatest impact on improving your performance, or the performance of your team?

  1. Is it building your knowledge?
  2. Do you need to develop your skills?
  3. Are expectations, accountabilities, measures, incentives and/or consequences in place (motivational factors)?
  4. Are the tools, processes, broader environmental and cultural factors conducive to high performance? 

You may see opportunities in all four areas, but the greatest impact on your performance is likely to be driven by motivational or environmental factors.

Implications for 70:20:10

The objective of 70:20:10 is to extend learning to improve performance.

Training Needs Analysis (TNA) usually has only one outcome and that is a training program.  Performance Analysis helps get to the root cause of performance problems (the four quadrants detailed above) allowing you to develop holistic performance solutions.

Performance Consulting is an essential skillset for the learning function to develop in order to create effective performance solutions.

At the heart of the performance consulting approach is stakeholder engagement and the conduct of performance analysis. Each of these critical actions is important in solving performance problems.

Performance Consulting also plays a key role in defining the impact of performance solutions and the metrics that will be used to demonstrate value creation and stakeholder satisfaction.

Performance Consulting is a truly transformational skillset for the learning function and should be a key priority within any 70:20:10 strategy.

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:

L&D Capability - Performance Consulting
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

You can also explore more information about employee motivation and the performance consulting process from the following:

In this wonderful animation, Dan Pink shares some valuable insights into employee motivation
Performance Consulting: UK  offers a simple and highly effective 7-Step Performance Consulting Approach

This post raises a number of important considerations in terms of how problems are presented, how solutions are created and of course, the skills required of the HR/L&D function. Are your HR/L&D teams taking orders for training, or working to create performance solutions? How are you supporting the transition and what challenges or success are you having? Why not share your comments and experiences with our community. 

Copyright © 70:20:10 Forum 2016. We encourage you to share our freely accessibly Content, however we do not allow extraction, unauthorised use and/or duplication of this Content without express written permission from 70:20:10 Forum. See our terms and conditions


We recently used this information and the 20:80 grid as part of an introductory workshop for our 70:20:10 Practitioner Certification group.   Without having seen the above information participants were asked to consider a performance issue they were dealing with - and place cards labelled 'Skills', 'Knowledge', 'Lack of Motivation' and 'Problems with the work environment’ on an 20:80 grid according to what they believed were the major/minor causes of the Performance problem.   In fact two groups identified that 80% of the cause of the problem related to both ‘Lack of motivation’ and ‘Lack of knowledge’. We were comfortable with this because it just points out the variety of factors that may be at play in performance problems.  Of course the 'Lack of motivation' points to solutions not usually found in f2f training. We then discussed the findings from the Stolovich & Keeps study. 

Our aim was to continue to explore the nature of performance issues and how more than just traditional face to face training solutions may be required to address them.

It was the second activity of two – the first activity was ‘Manager led activities that improve employee performance’.  Both activities recommended as ‘awareness raisers’.

Addendum to above post:

The previous post was made at the beginning of our Certification journey.  Now that our five staff members (four Operational Managers and myself) are nearing the completion of Practitioner Certification, what have been some of the outcomes in relation to individual and team performance and employee engagement?  The results have been heartening.  The four Operational Managers surveyed all agreed that 70 & 20 strategies they have employed over the past nine months have contributed to individual and team performance and employee engagement (stated benefits of the 70:20:10 Approach - see 70 +20 + 10 = 100.  The Evidence behind the numbers, Charles Jennings, Laura Overton and Dr Genny Dixon, 2016).   Their comments include:

  • ‘the team is working and thinking more on a regular basis as a team to take on tasks.  This was happening before but the team is now more mindful of it.  I’m now having performance conversations and talking about that word ‘performance’ – I wouldn’t have done that before.’
  • ‘Staff are now accountable with more ownership [of their work].  They are happy with accountability because they prefer to know what mistakes are being made. The expected performance is much clearer; there is increased performance and morale.’
  • ‘Taking on new things is now not such a heavy weight; it’s an opportunity.’

Staff also recognise that in an environment of change they need to ‘futureproof’ themselves.