Pulp and Paper Canada

Performance Improvement Challenges: the Way Ahead

October 1, 2005  By Pulp & Paper Canada

The question arises how best to cope with the upsurge in the sector and the continuing need to stay abreast with performance improvement challenges given on-going technological innovations and demogra…

The question arises how best to cope with the upsurge in the sector and the continuing need to stay abreast with performance improvement challenges given on-going technological innovations and demographic changes in the workforce? With new equipment comes new operating and maintenance procedures to follow and new computer technologies to master. And of course, the machinery must be kept running in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

It’s a “tall order” but the answer to the question posed is easier to answer than we think!


While it is true that keeping up with computer technologies is a challenge, it is also true that some of the same computer technologies provide us with many more options for coping with performance improvement challenges than have been available in the past. There are many new ways to collect data, to communicate and to update knowledge/skills that are crucial to operating effectively. What we need to do now is STOP and say “Which of these new ways to collect, communicate and manage our company’s information is appropriate for our current and future performance improvement challenges?” This is an important decision to make, since competition in the pulp and paper sector can be intense and coming out of the recession requires a short and long term strategy to stay ahead of the competition.

To make the most appropriate choice we need to identify the most important performance challenges in our organizations and then choose the most effective approach to generate solutions. People in the industry will tell you that three challenges are imminent:

* Large numbers of experienced older workers will retire over the next 10 years, taking with them their expertise.

* Recruitment of younger employees to the sector is becoming more and more difficult.

* Computer literacy and automation of processes will be an on-going challenge.

Given the challenges identified, a systematic approach called Human Performance Improvement (HPI) or Human Performance Technology (HPT) is the most comprehensive approach to take to move ahead. HPI initially identifies work, worker and workplace performance factors and then designs appropriate solutions to deal with performance challenges. HPI as a systems approach to improving the productivity and competence of an organization is not new. It has been around since the 1940s. More recently, leaders like Harold Stolovitch and Judith Hale, both past-presidents of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), have advanced this approach based on research and work within corporations and the delivery of public seminars and courses.

So what are performance factors? We already know most of them. They include:

* Recruitment & Selection

* Skills and knowledge – including training, mentoring, coaching

* Motivation and attributes of employees

* Information – including data, feedback, expectations, standards

* Resources – including people, time, equipment, process support

* Incentives – including recognition, rewards, compensation

In addition to these factors, research tells us that:

* 94% of employees flagged the number one workplace complaint comprising job satisfaction as poor systems and processes, in studies conducted by W. Edwards Deming, the father of Total Quality Management (TQM).

* 75% of performance factors are related to the work and the workplace and just 25% of performance factors are controlled by the worker. Yet human resources managers, trainers and subject matter experts are repeatedly asked to develop programs to resolve knowledge or skill gaps of a worker.

* The other two factors in poor performance — work and the workplace are not considered within the sphere to resolve performance issues and/or not considered part of the mandate for the solution.

* We know also that training to close a knowledge or skill gap can be one of the most expensive ways to improve performance.

Given all that we know within organizations we need to consider not just the worker but the department where he/she is working as well as the work the worker must perform. We need to identify the real causes of poor performance and select the most appropriate solutions to resolve performance problems. So where do we start?

Organizational Goals and Objectives

Start by making sure that the organization’s goals and objectives are clearly identified. We need to start at the macro-level so that we establish comprehensive measures and standards necessary for driving processes and functions toward required critical, organizational results. We need to know how what we do fits into the entire organization. Some people may suggest that you begin at the process level, that you consider Total Quality Management (TQM) or Business Process Re-engineering (BPR), but starting there may not provide the correct fit with the organization’s goals and objectives. Everyone in the organization may not buy into TQM or BPR initiatives and so you will have wasted your time and money starting at the process level.

Accomplishments instead of behaviours

Secondly, employees need to have clear expectations of what they are required to do before we observe or assess their performance. Clear expectations and specific measures related to accomplishments should be part of any performance improvement initiatives. These expectations are actually steps in the organization’s overall process to achieve its goals and objectives. (For more information about expectations and accomplishments please refer to an article written by Carol M. Panza called “Performance Improvement – Beyond Total Quality Management and Business Re-Engineering”. The article was published by the Performance Improvement Journal in July 1997).

Set-up a human performance system

Thirdly, put in place a human performance system to ensure that performance expectations, accomplishments and any changes are linked back to your organization’s desired goals and objectives. A human performance system would not only track expectations and accomplishments but also record a performer’s knowledge, skills and attributes, state the resources required as well as incentives needed and provide a place for comments and feedback.

In addition, make sure that the human performance system is supported by a community of practitioners within the organization who support the performers and make suggestions related to the work, workplace and accomplishments required for the performers (workers) to be effective. These communities should include representatives responsible for:

* Organizational performance – strategic planning, change management, management/leadership initiatives etc.

* Organizational design/alignment – culture, company values and practices etc.

* Instructional systems – instructional systems design, knowledge management, e-learning etc.

* Process improvement – re-engineering, Six Sigma, lean manufacturing etc.

* Performance management/appraisal – motivation, incentives and feedback etc.

* Analysis, evaluation and measurement – needs assessment, ROI, benchmarking.

Currently, one of the software solutions available to help a community of practitioners stay connected and one that I am familiar with, has been created by Luminance Inc., a performance consulting company that works with its clients to design, develop and implement performance improvement solutions.

The community portal has four integrated components that provide opportunities for a community of practitioners to stay informed (knowledge management), learn as needed (training), obtain guidance performance support) and share inf
ormation (user forums). What this software accommodates is:

* Individual needs and differences

* A learning map; and

* Opportunities for employees to build individual job paths.

Although training is important, it alone may not produce effective performance and desired results.

Practitioners are more effective with a knowledge management system that organizes the collective experience and successes of practitioners and makes that knowledge accessible to each user — on demand.

Practitioners are more effective with a performance support system that embeds standards and best practices in process tools and guides each user to desired outcomes — as needed.

Practitioners are more effective with a forum that enables the community to share what they are learning every day from external sources, internal discoveries, personal successes and occasional failures.

The shared intelligence feeds into the knowledge management system and flows through to training and performance support.

The Luminance community portal provides a central place in your organization for a community of practitioners to access crucial information or discuss ideas that are focused on making the organization work more effectively. Practitioners can access information at any time and still manage to stay in touch with other practitioners in the organization. For example, challenges such as the loss of experience from retirees or computer literacy can be discussed and ideas from other practitioners can be considered who may not necessarily in the past have been spoken to about such topics.

So as you think about recruiting new employees or coping with the loss of experienced workers, I would like you to think instead about what strategy on a macro-level can be put in place to deal with this short and long term problem. Take advantage of your company’s existing human capital (or employee expertise and experiences). Ensure there is a computerized system in place that is capable of managing the collective expertise, knowledge and performance capability of your organization. When this data is accessed by a community of practitioners, it will provide an enormous support system for the achievement of your organization’s goals and objectives. Coping with the challenges of expertise leaving the organization, on-going recruitment of new employees and new computer technologies and computer literacy are not just the responsibility of an operations manager or human resources manager but of the entire organization, of the entire enterprise.


Hale, Judith. Performance-Based Management. Pfeiffer, 2003.

Panza, Carol M. Performance Improvement – Beyond Total Quality Management and Business Process Re-Engineering. Performance Improvement Journal, July 1997, Volume 36/Number 6.

Stolovitch, Harold D. Handbook of Human Performance Technology: Improving Individual & Organizational Performance Worldwide. Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 1999.

Elizabeth Miller is an Associate with Luminance Inc., a performance consulting company. She has partnered with corporations over the last 16 years to develop performance improvement solutions including projects focussed on pulp and paper skills upgrading and new knowledge/skills learning initiatives for mill modernizations and greenfield sites.

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