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CHIPS Articles: Human Performance Improvement: A Proven Process

Human Performance Improvement: A Proven Process
By Susan Lawson - April-June 2006
Human Performance Technologists (HPTs) agree that there are a myriad of solutions that are both scientifically-sound and cost-effective to facilitate performance improvement. HPTs can be found in business and academia, and they have also developed a substantial presence in government civilian and military organizations. One example is the Navy's Human Performance Center (HPC), headquartered at the Fleet Combat Training Center Dam Neck in Virginia Beach, Va.

The HPC serves the Navy as a Human Performance Improvement (HPI) command. Its mission focuses on the identification and removal of all factors that could prevent a Sailor, a team or an organization from achieving its highest level of performance.

"Organizations need to move away from the idea that training is performance; it is not. The goal for a performance technologist is to get our customers to a place where they want to be as an organization, which often does not include [employee] training," said HPC Career Management Directorate head, Ethan Sanders.

"Companies often expend a great deal of time and money on training employees, believing that additional training will remedy performance problems. Yet, training arises as a key performance inhibitor only about 12 percent of the time," Sanders said.

Over the past year, the Performance Center's HPTs completed 33 human performance improvement projects. Their recommendations resulted in a 37:1 return on investment benefit-to-cost ratio, clearly indicating the command's substantial contributions to Navywide performance improvement.

The HPC has the largest concentration of performance technologists in the world — 140 HPTs. Forty-one of these professionals are certified performance technologists. HPC's performance technologists advance mission readiness efforts through their facilitation of HPI processes.

Additionally, they help Navy organizations realize their goals by systematically applying standardized, metrics-based performance improvement processes that aid in the identification and removal of performance deficiencies.

To enhance its human performance efforts, the command has developed professional alliances with the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) and the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD). While ASTD provides fundamental courseware for developing an HPT's understanding of performance improvement theory and practices, ISPI manages the qualification requirements mandated for HPTs to become Certified Performance Technologists (CPTs).

These relationships help advance the field of human performance and allow best practices and lessons learned to be shared. According to Capt. Matt Peters, HPC's commanding officer, "The HPC is convinced that there is great benefit in partnering with the various organizations in the human performance field."

From their alliance, ASTD, ISPI and HPC have often discovered that training, beyond requisite skills instruction, is not the primary cause of performance deficiencies. More specifically, the HPI process lends itself to the understanding that additional job-specific training, beyond that provided for critical job skills, is typically the least relevant factor in improving workplace performance.

There are many other factors that impede success such as a lack of clarity in performance objectives, improper tools and ineffective processes.

Unlike continuous training programs, HPI moves beyond the preparatory stages of perfunctory learning. It addresses workplace performance issues that require a host of solutions and takes into consideration many workplace factors in its improvement assessments and recommendations.

HPI frequently offers more far-reaching and positive results than traditional recursive training efforts. There are occasions, though, in the HPI process when training is identified as a key performance factor. When that occurs, HPTs seek measurable and objectives-based training founded on the principles set forth by the "Science of Learning." SL provides strategies that develop a combination of knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) that increase learning effectiveness.

SL is unique from other training solutions because it focuses on acquiring KSAs, rather than on utilizing them. Because the Science of Learning is embedded in the HPI process, technologists use SL systematically to provide the most comprehensive training solutions and interventions. Therefore, SL is not an independent training tool; it serves as a performance strategy and an integral part of the HPI process.

The first step in the HPI process initiates improvement by determining mission related goals. These goals are defined in terms of desired results. HPTs assist in determining the worth of the goal to ensure that it truly contributes to the success of the organization.

Once the organizational goals have been identified, HPTs then measure accomplishment toward that goal. As solutions are implemented, it becomes evident whether the goal has been positively affected. Once a correlation surfaces, HPTs define all the performance factors that contribute most directly to the successful attainment of that goal.

During the intermediate phases of HPI, the performance technologist seeks to pinpoint the root causes of the problem (organizational, process, people) that inhibit performance. It is vital that a consistent and effective approach using the Human Performance Technology model be applied with every project the HPC undertakes.

Upon completion of an organization's holistic evaluation, HPTs develop recommendations and provide clients with strategic support in the final phases of the HPI process. In essence, HPI methodologies allow technologists to identify performance gaps, characterize them in measurable or observable ways, and select proper interventions to apply them in a controlled manner.

HPTs begin with the end result in mind, and HPI canons give credence to their analyses and determinations. As a whole, the performance improvement process establishes a framework that supports an organization's pursuit of optimal performance and desired outcomes. Training alone cannot do this.

Those outcomes are reflected in the HPC's fiscal year 2006 projections, which estimate the Navy's overall savings at $140 million based on the HPC's 57 performance improvement projects currently underway.

The Human Performance Center has established a community of practice and forged ahead in the field of human performance. By using HPI methods and best practices, the HPC supports mission readiness throughout the Navy.

LSD 41/49 MPDE Availability-Center for Naval Engineering Case Study Human Performance Center Virginia Beach, Va.

Engineering assessments on board LSD 41/52 diesel propulsion class ships identified a downward trend in operational availability. A study was conducted by the Diesel Engine Steering Committee, who identified deficiencies with the Colt-Pielstick 2.5 Main Propulsion Diesel Engine (MPDE). According to the study, 60 percent of the deficiencies were directly related to inadequate maintenance or training procedures. The Center for Naval Engineering was tasked to conduct an analysis of LSD class engineering readiness, specifically addressing manning, personnel training, and operating and maintenance practices.


Utilizing a Human Performance Improvement Model and HPI methodologies, the goals of the LSD 41/52 HPI project are to reduce high priority downtime by 50 percent by the end of fiscal year 2006. Additionally, a long-term goal of the project is to increase the number of hours between overhauls to 20,000. An overall desired organizational impact to the fleet will be an improvement to the mission readiness of LSD class ships.

Performance Gap

Analysis of past and current data showed that the engines are only available 55 percent of the time. Additionally, the engines require overhaul at 13,000 hours. The MPDE failures have resulted in an estimated cost of $40 million a year to maintain 48 engines. A root cause analysis revealed that the Navy does not maintain the engines in accordance with the original equipment manufacturer's recommendations. We also found that personnel with diesel experience on board L-class ships do not want to return to duty on an L-class ship again, and there is no structured on-the-job (OJT) training. Additionally, the ships have a poor quality assurance system that results in poor depot level work being accepted by the ships' company. Since there is no longer a requirement for trend analysis, maintenance personnel are unable to recognize when a failure is about to occur. In many cases, the personnel on board did not have access to technical manuals for the engines. The data also showed that many of the publications are outdated and require revision. Lastly, Sailors do not have the tools to work on the engines. In several instances, maintenance personnel were unable to produce even basic tools.


The HP detachment team developed several recommendations to achieve the desired performance goal. Solutions involved developing a more effective quality assurance system which holds ships accountable for poor diesel engine practices. There should be an incentive program that would entice personnel with diesel engine experience to return to this class of ship and a structured OJT plan in place for crew training. Another recommendation was to re-establish the trend analysis program and develop a self-sufficient engineering support team. This would allow technicians to recognize failures before an issue cascaded into a depot level repair. Lastly, the publications associated with the engines should be reviewed for accuracy and updated appropriately.


Fleet Forces Command and Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) are currently working these issues.

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