Just because it says performance doesn’t mean it’s there (sadly)

As a professional in the field of performance and learning, it is important for me to continually learn and to give back. To do that – in part – I have been a long time member of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) and the Institute for Performance and Learning (I4PL) – previously the Canadian Society for Training and Development (CSTD).

I give back a lot more to ISPI as I have always been aligned with its’ larger view of organizational performance. I was really excited when CSTD re-branded to I4PL in 2015, believing that a shift was on the way and the then Society, now Institute, was going to broaden its’ horizons and move beyond training to look at organizational performance from the holistic perspective that is required.

I passed on their last annual conference (which is always in Toronto) after reviewing the program and seeing much of the same old training training training topics, with all the new spins like micro-learning. Not worth my time or money.

Today, I received in my e-mail, an invitation to a webinar that would introduce me to the competencies for “Performance and Learning Professionals.” It had this very colourful graphic included.

for Performance and Learning Professionals, Institute for Performance and Learning

I was SO disappointed. After piece of pie number one “Assessing performance needs” the rest of the pie is ALL LEARNING. YES – I AM YELLING THROUGH MY KEYBOARD. These are competencies of LEARNING PROFESSIONALS NOT Performance Professionals.

Here’s why. When you assess the performance needs, using a methodology, such as needs assessment, you are identifying gaps between current and desired levels of performance at the levels of the worker, the work, the workplace and the world.

NA v NA V5
The Performance Improvement Process Model (PIPM) Adapted from Christensen, 2018.

I4PL’s competency model goes straight from the needs assessment to designing curriculum. Performance Technologists take a few extra steps before jumping to training as a solution (not the solution). What if training doesn’t address the problem?

If you look at the Performance Improvement Process Model (PIPM) above,  you will see a cause analysis step to determine WHY those performance problems are occurring. From there we write a business requirement to describe the accomplishment that the solution must deliver. The business requirement is “intended to stimulate innovation and creativity that ultimately results in more tangible solution options” (Honebein, 2018).

How often have you seen a problem that simply needed some clear direction from management to be fixed? Instead, because no one wants to tell management the true cause of the problem (or worse, no one knows how to determine the true cause), a training program is implemented. Gadzooks! (As my Grandmother Christensen would have said.) What a waste of resources.

I4PL is selling some snake oil by including the “performance” in it’s competency model. It’s not there. If you end up getting a training solution – don’t be surprised.


Christensen, B.D. (2018). Needs assessment to needs analysis. Performance Improvement, 57(7). doi: 10.1002/pfi.21785

Honebein, P. (2018). Business Requirements. Performance Improvement, 57(7). doi: 10.1002/pfi.21785


Needs Assessment or Needs Analysis?

Words are important. I hate to admit it – but they are. There are some folks who love to sit argueand debate from dawn until dusk about the best verb to use in a performance objective statement. I am 180 degrees opposite and want to get the verb that the majority agree on and move on! In my experience, the subject matter experts are pretty good at choosing a verb that works.

There are two terms that continue to get used interchangeably, Needs Assessment and Needs Analysis. Even worse is the fact that both can get shortened to “NA” by practitioners which can lead to even more confusion. Want to get crazy? Add in Training Needs Analysis (TNA) which is also often described as the “NA.”

If you want to find “the” explanation of NA and NA, be prepared for an arduous search through the Internet and many many texts where authors have put their own spin, tweak, massage and a coat of rust-o-leum paint on the definitions. I say “the” because there is no single definitive explanation.

While analyzing a previous client’s training system, the NA and NA terms were being used in very interesting but not necessarily accurate ways. To help clarify how the terms are related (but different) I headed to NeedsAssessment.org to do my own research. Watkins, Meiers and Visser’s (2012) FREE book A guide to assessing needs: Essential tools for collecting information, making decisions and achieving development results is an exceptional resource which helped me to develop the first version of this diagram:

na v na2
Needs Assessment vs. Analysis Concept Map

With some feedback from my colleagues John Egan and Julie Maiilé (merci mes amis), the diagram was tweaked, spun and massaged into the picture above which tells this story:

A performance problem or new opportunity starts with a Needs Assessment. When you do a Needs Assessment you will (should?) use both needs analysis and performance analysis. The results of the Needs Assessment works to improve results through the implementation of non-training and/or training interventions.

If a training intervention is required, then you will have to do a Training Needs Analysis. The TNA uses task analysis to determine what has to be trained and what doesn’t.

One of the big ah-hah’s in this client’s situation was that the Needs Assessment function resides within the training system and was being done by training specialists. How many non-training interventions do you think get recommended?

This is a very macro view of Needs Assessment aimed at making us all a little wiser about when we should use NA or NA… or maybe never use the acronym at all? If you want to learn more, go get that book! Did I mention it’s free!?


Watkins, R., Meiers, M.W., & Visser, Y.L. (2012). A guide to assessing needs: Essential tools for collecting information, making decisions and achieving development results. Washington, DC: The World Bank.