Three levels of performance

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Improving Performance (the book).

Geary Rummler and Alan Brache, in Improving Performance, maintain that you can’t do any improving until you’re clear on what level of the organization the performance involves.  They see three main levels:

  • The organization level deals with the organization as a whole — its strategy, its overall goals and measures.  Think of this as the framework of the organization — its skeleton.  At this level, you can easily picture the traditional organization chart, like this one for a fictional computer services company:

Electron Info Services -- organizational level

  • The process level is where the the main work of the organization takes place.  If the organization level is the skeleton, the process level is the muscles.  As muscles connect different bones, so processes involve more than one functional area of the organization.  Looking at the chart above, it’s easy to assume that “marketing stuff” happens within the marketing function while “sales stuff” happens in the sales department.  The reality is different:

Electron Info Services -- the process level

  • Finally, the job/performer level is where individuals perform.  An individual’s job is like a cell of the organization.  The individual works in relation to other individuals, and often finds himself part of more than one process.

Going back to the process level, the second chart shows simplified versions of three processes at Electron Info Services.  The sales process, for example, involves marketing (which collects information about marketplace interests and sales prospects), sales (which performs most of the prospecting, qualifying, and selling of Electron’s services), engineering (the division that will install, configure, and troubleshoot the software sold), and finance (which handles the paperwork related to the sale).

The billing process is connected to but not part of the sales process.  Billing involves some of the same groups within functional areas, and brings in new groups as well.  For example, Sales may have a team to grapple with billing problems so as to free up salespeople to concentrate on new business — but the original sales rep wants to know immediately about any problem.

The third process in the chart, product development, shows how inadequate a function-only chart can be.  Information, processes, and decisions don’t flow in a neat, left-to-right manner.

Rummler and Brache hold that each of the organizational levels has its own needs: its goals, its structure, and its management tasks.  As a result, when you’ve got a performance problem it might result from one or more of nine possible areas — the three organizational levels, and the three needs.

At Electron, if a client’s having problems with the EDI service (electronic data interchange, for exchanging invoices, purchase orders, and other business essentials electronically), analysis might involve:

  • The job/performer level: were the electronic maps written or installed incorrectly?  Are the client’s employees operating the system correctly?
  • The process level: was the service badly designed for the client’s needs?  Is the telecommunications infrastructure inadequate for the client’s needs?
  • The organizational level: has Electron failed to keep up with the marketplace?  Is its strategy inadequate?  Are its products uncompetitive?

A while back, Electron’s goal was to increase revenue from selling services.  Then a salesperson engineered a deal in which Electron sold the computer hardware as well.  The salesperson got a huge bonus for closing the deal — and Electron in effect was telling its sales force, “Sell more hardware.”  In the long run, the effort to sell both hardware and software was counterproductive.  Electron could never successfully compete with computer manufacturers, and the effort to structure similar deals took focus away from the services that are the core of Electron’s business.

What does this have to do with training and learning?  Ask Rummler and Brache:

Most training attempts to improve organization and process performance by addressing only one level (the Job Level) and only one dimension of the Job Level (skills and knowledge).  As a result, the training has no significant long-term impact, training dollars are wasted, and trainees are frustrated and confused.

Similarly, they say, automation often tries to improve performance at the process level, but often automates an inefficient process.  The effort’s not well linked to either the organization level or the job/performer level.

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