In an online conversation, I found myself again quoting Joe Harless. In this case, the quote was from a March 1975 interview with Training magazine. I haven’t found this online anywhere, so thought I’d summarize a bit here.
A little background: Harless coined the term front-end analysis. As he wrote in a workshop guide, to help our client achieve its business or organizational goals:
We begin at the end and work backwards in the basic progression:
- We first find out what goals are not being achieved satisfactorily, or what the new goals are when they are set by the client.
- We then find out what accomplishment is not being produced satisfactorily that is causing the goal not to be met.
- We then find out what behaviors are not being obtained that cause the deficient accomplishment.
- Then, and only then, can we determine which of the influences need to be manipulated.
The process just described is called Front-End Analysis.
The Training interview asked if FEA were “just the Joe Harless shtick.” Harless replied that it was real “if you define real as having a definite set of procedures…and data and case histories” along with people who are applying these things.
Front-end analysis began with the realization that we could produce excellent training packages, ones that pleased not only the developer but the client. And yet follow-up evaluation ( “which…we jokingly called rear-end analysis” ) revealed that, as often as not, skills didn’t transfer to the job.
So Harless wondered why. “Being devotees of the scientific method, we advanced certain hypotheses… [And] we began testing these hypotheses.”
To Harless and his collaborators, rear-end analysis asks, “Why didn’t the training produce the intended result?” Front-end analysis asks three other questions:
- What are the symptoms that a problem exists?
- What is the performance problem producing those symptoms?
- What is the value of solving that problem?
And that’s where the quote comes from:
Training: Value in terms of what?
Harless: In terms of money. Front-end analysis is about money first and foremost. So is training. If not, you’re baby-sitting or doing psychotherapy.
Harless said this as an aside to the main theme of his interview. Even so, this is a lodestone for anyone working in organizational learning. I agree that the individual needs to have some personal investment in order to learn effectively on the job. She wants to raise her skills, or master a new task, or prepare for a new position, or gain satisfaction from resolving new challenges.
Those are her variables. The organization has variables as well; the relationship between the two sets is an effort to balance the work-equation. How can those skills, those tasks, those challenges make sense for her in the organization’s context? “Is it worth spending X to achieve Y?” Solve for the organization. Solve for your personal goals.
I’m not trying to reduce this purely to dollars, and I don’t think Harless was, either. (The same people who get nit-picky about “ROI for training” are strangely silent when a merger like Daimler-Chrysler–financially analyzed, you’d think, to a fare-thee-well–ends up vaporizing billions of dollars.)
When Harless says, “Value in terms of money,” I see it as shorthand. Money is the most common and most convertible indicator of value in group activity. You can choose other indicators; you just have to work harder.
1975 was fairly early in the history of performance improvement, though I don’t think we’ve yet reached the Golden Age. Here’s the Reverend Harless preaching on a related theme:
You know, trainers are forever going around looking for respectability. They’re always asking, “How can we sell management on the idea of training?”
Well, the answer is, you don’t. You sell management on the benefits of solving human performance problems. You make it clear to management that you are there to avoid training when it’s not cost-effective.
That’s how you get to be a hero. That’s how you get to be respectable…That’s how you avoid being stuck off in some personnel department somewhere.
By the way, Guy Wallace’s Pursuing Performance blog has a 2008 video interview with Joe Harless:
“Almost always, the client came to us requesting the development of some kind of training intervention… [in a typical situation, the workers] already knew how to detect and correct…defects….They were not doing so because…they were being paid for the quantity of production rather than the quality of the production.”