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What Is Human Performance Technology?

Date: July 1 2005

Human Performance Technology (HPT) is a field of practice that has evolved largely as a result of the experience, reflection, and conceptualization of professional practitioners striving to improve human performance in the workplace. It is a relatively new field that has emerged from the coalescing of principles derived from the carefully documented practice of thoughtful behavioral and cognitive psychologists, instructional technologists, training designers, organizational developers, and various human resource specialists. HPT possesses a base of research and theory but, as a rapidly evolving professional field, its practice frequently outpaces its research and theoretical foundations.

The major purpose of this chapter is to introduce HPT as a significant applied field whose aim is the achievement of valued human performance in the workplace. It presents the field as an evolving one actively seeking to define itself. It also positions HPT as a field with growing international impact. The chapter is divided into six sections. The first presents HPT as a term, exploring the meanings of the words that serve to identify it. The second examines HPT more epistemologically, ultimately focusing on it as a concept with a specific and unique set of critical attributes. The third explores the relevance of HPT for persons concerned with organizational effectiveness and productivity improvement around the world. Section four presents a human performance system model and lays out key elements of human performance systems within organizational contexts. The fifth section describes an operational-procedural model for engineering effective performance. The sixth and final section raises some questions and concerns about the field and provides answers to each of these. The chapter concludes with an invitation to those whose professional interests and practices encompass organizational development, personnel management, human factors engineering, training, and human resource development to explore this emerging technology aimed at improving human performance.

Human Performance Technology: The Term

Generally, HPT is referred to and spoken of without the word human. It is understood that the focus of this field of application is on human performers in organizational and work settings, although recently, there have been successful efforts to apply HPT principles to societal issues. Human is emphasized here, and throughout the handbook, to clearly underscore this focus. For the most part, HP technologists deal with the performance of people operating within results-oriented systems.

With the world firmly embarked upon the knowledge era, there is a growing emphasis on human capital and its essential role in contributing to organizational success. The pioneer work performed by Nobel laureates Schultz (1981) and Becker (1993) have laid the foundation for others such as Crawford (1991), Stewart (1997) and Edvinsson and Malone (1997) to demonstrate that it is people, with their ability to learn, who offer the greatest potential for organizational success. The value of human performance has been empirically demonstrated to yield higher rates of return than physical capital (e.g. Lickert and Pyle, 1971; Stewart, 1994; Bradley, 1996). HPT, as a field, focuses on maximizing the valued achievements of people within work settings.

The word performance is one that tends to disquiet persons who first encounter it in the serious setting of the workplace. At first glance, it appears to suggest something theatrical, rather than substantive; yet performance is an appropriate term for this technology. The word performance also denotes a quantified result or a set of obtained results, just as it also refers to the accomplishment, execution, or carrying out of anything ordered or undertaken, to something performed or done, to a deed, achievement, or exploit, and to the execution or accomplishment of work.

Nickols (1977, p. 14) defines performance as "the outcomes of behavior. Behavior is individual activity whereas the outcomes of behavior are the ways in which the behaving individual''s environment is somehow different as a result of his or her behavior. "Gilbert (1974), in the same vein, equates performance with "accomplishments" that we value. We may even link the term back to Ryle´s (1949) use of the term achievements, which he employs to describe the effects of behavior related to the term performance. Outcomes, accomplishments valued by the system, achievements ¾ these are the concerns of HPT.

Recently, the word performance has gained considerable attention and respectability linked together with improvement. Performance improvement has become a buzzword to connote increased productivity and greater effectiveness as well as efficiency from work groups. Various recent books (e.g. Robinson and Robinson, 1995; Dean and Ripley, 1997; Kaufman, Thiagarajan and MacGillis, 1997; Fuller, 1997) have made performance improvement their central focus. While improved performance is the goal, HPT offers a scientific and systematic means for its successful attainment.

The word technology also often rings discordant in the ears of human resource professionals, for whom the term conjures up mechanistic images. But technology is not simply machinery; in its origins, it is essentially referred to as the scientific study of practical matters. Recently, the term has been used increasingly to refer to the application of procedures derived from scientific research and professional experience to solve practical problems (Clark and Sugrue, 1990; Hawkridge, 1976; Stolovitch and Maurice, 1998). When joined with the word performance and introduced into the workplace, it suggests objectivity and systematic procedure. It implies the application of what is known about human and organizational behavior to enhance accomplishments, economically and effectively, in ways that are valued within the work setting. Thus HPT is a field of endeavor that seeks to bring about changes to a system, in such a way that the system is improved in terms of the achievements it values.

Where Does Human Performance Technology Come From?

HPT is one of the many offspring of general systems theory, applied to organizations. It conceives of a system as "a complex grouping of human beings and machines for which there is an overall objective" (Checkland, 1972, p. 91). HP technologists take a systemic (total system) approach to performance analysis and change, as opposed to making piecemeal interventions. HP technologists adopt a holistic viewpoint toward performance problems. This means that they examine any given problem (defined as a gap between desired and actual states) within the broader context of the subsystem in which it is situated, other interacting subsystems, and, ultimately, the overall system where it occurs. This does not suggest that, for every problem, HP technologists endlessly examine all systems in an exercise that lasts forever. It does mean, however, that each performance problem is studied in relation to the more global aims of the setting within which it is identified. Study extends to settings beyond the immediate place of occurrence, if the performance of these other settings is (or eventually will be) significantly affected by the problem or by its solution.

While HPT is concerned with systems, it is not generally conceived of as applying to all systems. It is a technology that has application to results-driven, productivity-oriented systems (as opposed, for example, to pure social systems). This makes HPT particularly valuable for business and industry, where organizational purposes and goals are generally clearly defined. This does not require, however, that HPT be limited only to the workplace. At recent conferences of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), a number of sessions have focused on HPT in the community. Roy (1998), for example, has applied HPT in a research study to improve the quality of life of chronically ill elderly persons while decreasing their medical emergency and rehospitalization rates. HPT has also been applied to social issues such as workplace equity (Stolovitch, 1995). In summary, HPT is applicable to all systems seeking improved performance (Dean and Ripley, 1997).

HPT also has roots in behaviorism and is often seen as an offshoot of the programmed instruction movement. Ainsworth (1979, p. 3) has critically suggested that "what theory does propel performance technology is still closely allied to programmed instruction theory." HPT is concerned with measurable performance and the structuring of elements within the system to improve performance. The HP technologist must identify and analyze stimuli within the system that may affect performance, responses that are emitted, and the consequences of those responses (rewards and punishments) in order to uncover root causes of performance inadequacy. Once this is done, he or she can go on to define observable and measurable performance objectives. According to Ainsworth (1979, p. 5), "A cornerstone of performance technology is outcome signification, discovering valid, useful performance objectives and stating them in terms that are easily understood." Suitable interventions are designed to effect change, and these are monitored and modified until the system attains the required level of measurable performance. Brethower, in Chapter Four, discusses at length behaviorism´s contributions to HPT.

More recently, the cognitive sciences have come to strongly influence HPT. Work during the industrial era was largely manual. The current knowledge era demands more mental tasks and activities from workers. If work in the twenty-first century is primarily knowledge generation and knowledge processing is a mental task, then HPT must become increasingly attuned to cognitive operations as well as enriched by findings from the biological and neural sciences.

In the motivational arena, research trends have moved away from focus on external rewards to center its attention on internal beliefs and expectations of individuals and groups with respect to external events and rewards (Solso, 1995). Flattened organizations encourage empowerment of individuals and work groups which in turn implies a need for understanding how people perceive their environment and make choices.

Thus while HPT´s roots extend deeply into behaviorist soil, current nourishment flows from the cognitive sciences. (See Chapter Five by Clark.) In the past, HPT was mostly concerned with external events. Today, it is equally interested in the internal consequences of those events. Research evidence suggests that examination of both provide HPT with more powerful means for influencing human performance.

One of the emerging influences on HPT is the field of neuroscience. Along with the cognitive sciences, discoveries about how humans physiologically treat information and how they store and retrieve it offer insights hitherto hidden from professionals seeking to influence the performance of people. Research by neuroscientists such as Alkon (1992) have delved into how memory is actually formed and what it takes to alter behaviors that are deeply entrenched. The chemistry of the brain, information load limitations, memory facilitators and inhibitors are just some of the discoveries that have implications on how HPT practitioners may set performance expectations and engineer change.

Economics, particularly that part of it dealing with human and intellectual capital, is also becoming a major contributory foundation to HPT. The emergence of awareness that human capital is the key commodity for organizational (even national) success (e.g. Becker, 1993; Crawford, 1991), has stimulated a demand to find ways of "refining the value extraction of idle intellectual property" (Edvinsson and Malone, 1997, p. 18). Skandia, the largest insurance and financial services company in Scandinavia, has pioneered the effort to measure and report the value of corporate intellectual capital in ways that speak credibly to financial experts and shareholders. Its success has attracted worldwide attention and laid a foundation for HPT specialists to work from in order to demonstrate the value-add features of human accomplishment. Stolovitch and Maurice (1998), for example, have built on the work at Skandia creating a model for calculating return on investment in training and performance. This resulted in the ability to report the increased value of human capital. Phillips (1997) has produced a comprehensive set of tools for calculating the financial return in training and performance improvement programs. As further refining work is done, HPT will naturally increase its relationships with economic theory and practice.

HPT also carries with it a number of underlying assumptions. These have been well articulated by Geis (1986) and remain largely true today. What follows is an adaptation and updating of key points:

1. Human performance is lawful and can often be predicted and controlled.

2. Knowledge of human behavior is limited, and thus HPT must rely on practical experience as well as scientific research.

3. HPT draws from many research bases while generating its own.

4. HPT is the product of a number of knowledge sources: cybernetics, behavioral psychology, communications theory, information theory, systems theory, management science, and, more recently, the cognitive and neuro sciences.

5. HPT is neither committed to any particular delivery system nor confined to any specific population and subject matter area. It can address any human performance, but it is most commonly applied within organizational, work and social improvement settings.

6. HPT is empirical. It requires systematic verification of the results of both its analysis and intervention efforts.

7. HPT is evolving. Based on guiding principles, it nevertheless allows enormous scope for innovation and creativity.

8. Although HPT cannot yet pretend to have generated a firm theoretical foundation of its own, the theory and experience based principles that guide it are molded by empirical data that accumulate as a result of documented, systematic practice. In many ways, HPT shares attributes with other applied fields (management, organizational development, medicine, psychiatry).

A number of authors have attempted to define HPT. Some have emphasized process and methods: "Human performance technology is a set of methods and processes for solving problems or realizing opportunities related to the performance of people. It may be applied to individuals, small groups, or large organizations" (National Society for Performance and Instruction, cited in Rosenberg, 1990, p. 46). For Benefit and Tate (1990)," [Human] Performance Technology is the systematic process of identifying opportunities for performance improvement, setting performance standards, identifying performance improvement strategies, performing cost/benefit analysis, selecting performance improvement strategies, ensuring integration with existing systems, evaluating the effectiveness of performance improvement strategies, [and] monitoring performance improvement strategies."

For Jacobs (1988, pp. 67), "Human performance technology represents the use of the systems approach in a number of different forms, depending upon the problem of interest and professional activity required."

Other authors have focused on the end result: "The purpose of [human] performance [technology] . . . is to increase human capital, which can be defined as the product of time and opportunity . . . technology is an orderly and sensible set of procedures for converting potential into capital" (Gilbert, 1996, pp. 11-12). For Harless (cited in Geis, 1986, p. 1), "Human performance technology is the process of selection, analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation of programs to most cost effectively influence human behavior and accomplishment. "Rosenberg (1990, p. 46) has been more concerned with positioning: "The total performance improvement system is actually a merger of systematic performance analysis with comprehensive human resource interventions. And the science of linking the total system together is known as human performance technology." Foshay and Moller (1992) stress relevance and range in their definition of Human Performance Technology, seeing it as structured primarily by the problem of human performance in the workplace and as drawing from any discipline with prescriptive power for solving human performance problems, as well as from other applied fields. For them, this range constitutes the field''s uniqueness.

Dick and Wager (1995, p. 35) offer a more conceptual view of HPT "as being a fundamental commitment to the identification of organizational performance problems and the development of the most appropriate solutions." This corresponds to Carr´s definition of the field as one whose goal is "diagnosing organizational ills and improving human performance within organizations (1995, p. 59). Perhaps Harless (1995, p. 75) best sums up the various definitions by adapting one proposed by Stolovitch and Keeps (1992): "An engineering approach to attaining desired accomplishment from human performers by determining gaps in performance and designing cost-effective and efficient interventions."

While no single definition is likely to command universal agreement, consensus as to its critical attributes appears to have formed.

HPT is systematic. It is organized, rigorous, and applied in a methodical manner. Procedures exist that permit practitioners to identify performance gaps (problems or opportunities), characterize these in measurable or observable ways, analyze them, select suitable interventions, and apply these in a controlled and monitored manner.

HPT is systemic. It perceives identified human performance gaps as elements of systems, which in turn interface with other systems. It rejects accepting apparent causes and solutions without also examining other facets of the system. Performance is seen as the result of a number of influencing variables (selection, training, feedback, resources, management support, incentives, task interference), all of which must be analyzed before appropriate, cost effective interventions are selected and deployed.

HPT is grounded in scientifically derived theories and the best empirical evidence available. It seeks to achieve desired human performance through means that have been derived from scientific research, when possible, or from documented evidence, when not. It rejects enthusiastic, unsubstantiated interventions that cannot demonstrate firm theoretical foundations or valid performance results. HPT is open to new ideas and potentially valuable methods or interventions. It requires, however, that these offer systematically organized evidence to support their potential value.

HPT is open to all means, methods, and media. It is not limited by a set of resources or technologies that it must apply. On the contrary, human performance technology is constantly searching for the most effective and efficient ways to obtain results at the least cost.

HPT is focused on achievements that human performers and the system value. It seeks bottom line results or, as Gilbert (1996, p. 17) characterizes these valuable accomplishments, "worthy performance." The focus is not on behavior or on one sided winning. HPT has worthy performance as its aim, as perceived by both the performer and the organization in which she or he performs.

HPT, therefore, is an engineering approach to attaining desired accomplishments from human performers. HP technologists are those who adopt a systems view of performance gaps, systematically analyze both gap and system, and design cost effective and efficient interventions that are based on analysis data, scientific knowledge, and documented precedents, in order to close the gap in the most desirable manner.

HPT is also a field that has attracted global attention. Thirty-seven nations are represented in ISPI´s 1998 membership directory. In Italy, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, the number of HPT practitioners have more than doubled in the past five years (1994-99) as evidenced by increased memberships in ISPI. Application of HPT is on the rise in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia as well. Recently, two studies conducted in the African countries of Benin (Sohoudji-Agbossou, 1997) and Cameroun (Ngoa Nguele, 1998), one to facilitate adoption of innovation in the workplace, the other focused on structuring existing human resources to improve performance, attest to the relevance of HPT in developing countries. (See Chapter Forty-four by Rojas.)

Why Is Human Performance Technology Relevant to Organizations?

Because HPT adopts a systems view of organizations, rather than operating piecemeal, it seeks to link the actions and interventions of all the organizational elements that affect overall performance (Rummler and Brache, 1996). In this way, selection, training, feedback systems, incentives and organizational design may all be woven into the performance fabric. Departments such as training, which are frequently viewed as creating costly interventions that eat into profits and remove personnel from their posts (where they are, to some degree, productive), now show up as playing critical roles in improving organizational productivity.

Several authors have been influential in encouraging this systemic approach (e.g. Fuller, 1997; Robinson and Robinson, 1995, 1998). As a result many organizations have renamed their training departments to include the words performance, performance support or performance consulting. While still in its early stages, the movement has accelerated over the past five years.

The systematic approach to performance improvement also offers benefits to organizations. The orderliness of the technology, the objectivity and care with which analysis, design, and evaluation procedures are conducted, and the linking of training, environmental redesign, feedback systems, or incentive systems to measurable performance build credibility and buy-in for the interventions that are applied.

Since HPT is founded on solid scientific, theoretical, and empirical bases, it provides a coherent approach to the solution of performance problems, as opposed to the more eclectic stances and procedures adopted by most departments of training and human resource development. The foundations of the field permit all interventions undertaken by those subscribing to HPT to gather a uniformity of purpose, without sacrificing flexibility (see Chapter Two by Coscarelli and Rosenberg). HPT seeks optimal solutions, regardless of their appearance.

Given a performance problem, the HP technologist''s usual first step is to conduct a performance analysis, in which performance discrepancies are brought to light before any attempt at solution is made. Consequently, HP technologists are more cause-conscious than solution-oriented. In their proposed alternative interventions, they will primarily seek to eliminate causes of performance discrepancy, rather than overcome them (elimination is generally a less costly and less time consuming activity than construction of interventions).

The bottom line orientation of HPT makes it particularly credible to money conscious decision makers. Performance analysis, fundamental to HPT, includes as basic the assessment of costs for alternative means for overcoming performance gaps, including the costs of not overcoming them. Gilbert (1996), probably the leading thinker and founding father of HPT, devised what he called the "performance audit" as a procedure for conducting a performance analysis. This audit is conducted in seven stages:

1. Identify accomplishments (what the system is currently accomplishing).
2. Identify requirements (what the system needs to have done).
3. Identify exemplary performance (what the realistic potential is).
4. Measure exemplary performance.
5. Measure typical performance.
6. Compute the potential for improving performance (the discrepancy between exemplary and typical performance).
7. Translate this potential into stakes (a measure of economic potential: the savings or improvement that can be expected from improvement to exemplary performance).

What is interesting in Gilbert''s approach is that poor performance is cast in a positive light, as offering great potential for economic gains. What is also noteworthy is that if the stakes are insufficiently high, the performance discrepancy may be left until it becomes economically viable to reduce it. Others (Rummler and Brache, 1988; Swanson and Gradous, 1988) have devised similar procedures that address organizational concerns for cost containment (see Chapter Forty by Swanson and Swanson for more on this topic).

In this vein, Langdon (1995) has introduced a new language of work that addresses human performance improvement in direct, verifiable ways (see Chapter Thirteen by Langdon). Works on reengineering (e.g. Hammer and Champy, 1993) and intellectual capital (e.g. Stewart, 1997; Edvinsson and Malone, 1997; Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 1996) also focus on economic means for maximizing performance through efficient processes and appropriate investment in people.

HPT adopts a rational, logical, and transparent approach to performance improvement. With its systems orientation, it requires that thorough performance analyses be conducted to identify all factors contributing to the current level of performance. It requires a precise statement of the mission(s) of the system in which improved performance is being sought. If there are incompatibilities at the mission level (say, healthy workers and highly productive workers in a poorly ventilated asbestos fiber plant), then the performance technologist will first focus on the problem area. If the mission is accepted by all, alternative solutions are elaborated and objectively analyzed for costs and benefits. The process is reasoned and data driven. In fact, because all relevant factors must be taken into account, it is highly participative: data are collected directly and indirectly from everyone who is involved. It is an honest and transparent approach to improving performance.

HPT has a close kinship with instructional technology. (See, for example, Dean and Ripley, 1998; Performance Improvement Quarterly, 1997.) As Rosenberg (1982) pointed out a number of years ago, in many ways it evolved from instructional technologists'' realization that instructional or training systems were ineffective or inappropriate if other factors were not attended to. What has occurred over time is the movement of HPT to a position in which it generally seeks to avoid training solutions. While this may appear discomfiting at first, closer examination reveals the reasoning behind this stance.

Training is generally expensive, not only from the perspective of development and delivery but, even more important, because time must be taken away from the job by those undergoing training. In addition, recent studies and literature reviews (e.g. Baldwin and Ford, 1988; Broad and Newstrom, 1995; Ford and Weissbein, 1997) suggest that there is only a minimal lasting transfer effect of training to the job (10% - 20%) a year after the training event has occurred unless many other performance interventions are initiated. If performance can be improved by less costly means (for example, elimination of incompatible tasks, introduction of feedback systems, design of job aids), a higher cost-benefit ratio can be derived. Similarly, if more fundamental issues are at stake, such as counterproductive organizational structures or incompatible organizational processes, then these must be attended to through organizational redesign or strategic alignment, before investments in training can achieve desired results. This form of thinking tends to build greater confidence in the HPT approach among decision-makers (see Chapter Three by Rummler). It can also result in the more ready acquisition of adequate training funds for those instances in which training is the optimal solution.

Finally, the language of HP technologists is highly compatible with that of many organizational decision-makers (Langdon, 1995). The approach taken by the professional utilizing HPT is not unlike that of the prudent investor or company director. Systems thinking and concern about measurable benefits are common to many industrial and economic arenas (e.g. Stolovitch and Maurice, 1998). The professional who considers investments for solving human performance problems in terms of payback periods, costs and benefits, and return on investment is likely to find organizational decision makers more open to the interventions that are proposed.

A Human Performance System

As has been stated several times in this chapter, HPT seeks to improve the performance of organizations and the people responsible for achieving desired results. It is useful, therefore, to conceptualize organizations from a human performance system perspective.

In brief, the external environment presents organizations with opportunities, pressures, events and resources. These stimulate the organization to generate goals and objectives - its responses to the environment - and internal requirements - what it must do to meet the opportunities and pressures from the external environment. One set of internal requirements relate specifically to human performance. Once articulated, these trigger a number of human behaviors that result in accomplishments. Behaviors and accomplishments are strongly influenced by both the external environment (what is happening "out there" and how the organization has decided to respond) and the internal organizational environment (composed of many elements). Accomplishments may or may not suffice. They must therefore be verified and either accepted as meeting business requirements (relevant even for non-business systems) or judged as unacceptable and modified accordingly. In the latter case, this generally leads to behavior changes. Analysis of the system, diagnosis of required change and design of suitable interventions drives the HPT practitioner to engineer appropriate performance solutions (least cost; quickest turnaround; greatest payback). This leads to a second -- and more operational -- model.

FIGURE 2: HSA Engineering Effective Performance Model

1. Identify Business Requirements

  • Reactive
  • Proactive
2. Identify Performance Requirements

  • Legal/Regulatory
  • New skills/Knowledge
  • Performance
  • Improvement
3. Specify Current Performance

  • Exemplary
  • Deficient
  • Related
4. Define Performance Gap

  • Magnitude
  • Value
  • Urgency
5.Specify Performance Gap Factors

  • External Environment
  • Internal Environment (organizational/cultural, job specific)
  • Skill/Knowledge
  • Emotional / Political (general, specific)
6. Identify Potential Intervention

  • Environmental
  • Skill / Knowledge
  • Incentives / Motivation
7. Select Performance Intervention

  • Appropriateness
  • Economics
  • Feasibility
  • Acceptability
8. Develop Performance Intervention

  • Design
  • Creation
  • Verification
9. Implement Performance Interventions

  • Plan
  • Execution
  • Support
10. Monitor and Maintain Performance Interventions

  • Performance
  • Business
Where appropriate cycle back to step 1.

(note: diagram format modified from original in conversion to HTML)

Figure 2 presents an operational-procedural model for engineering effective performance based on HPT principles.

The first step toward achievement of desired results is to clearly define the business requirements. The HPT practitioner can accomplish this by continuously and proactively seeking out and probing for opportunities to improve business performance, anticipating requirements created by business initiatives (sometimes even before management has fully articulated these) or surveying business units for changed responses to the external environment. More commonly, however, the requirements come seeking the practitioner who responds reactively, but systematically. Both cases lead to the derivation of the specific desired human performance requirements. These may be either legal/regulatory, new system or performance improvement/change (Rossett, 1987). The next step requires precise definition of current performance (including exemplary, deficient and related behaviors and accomplishments). The requirements and the actual performance form the data base for characterizing the performance gap in terms of magnitude (e.g. size, pervasiveness), value to the system and/or degree of urgency. The fifth step is one that demands considerable investigative capability and experience as well as tools and techniques for identifying the range of factors that affect the performance gap either directly as causes or indirectly as constraints. The initial five steps establish the basis for identifying an array of potential interventions (environment, skill/knowledge, incentive) and the selection of an optimal intervention set based on appropriateness, economics, feasibility (given system resources and constraints) and organizational/human performer acceptability. The three remaining steps result in development, implementation, monitoring and maintenance of selected performance interventions. Taken together, these two models, one conceptual, the other operational, sum up the terrain and the tasks of the HP technologist.

Questions and Concerns About HPT

HPT is still a relatively unknown field to the majority of human resource professionals, organizational developers, and corporate senior managers. When they are introduced to HPT, its nature and approach are bound to raise questions and concerns. What follows is an attempt to respond to each of these.

Why does HPT appear to employ a specialized and somewhat mysterious jargon? It is true that some human performance technologists have created specialized terms to refer to specific concepts or procedures that they have invented. However, the general vocabulary of HPT has mostly been drawn from other fields, such as economics, behavioral and cognitive psychology, management science, education, engineering, and ergonomics. With HPT''s close relationship to instructional technology, many of the terms and tools utilized by professionals in these other fields have also become part of HP technologists'' verbal repertoire. In recent years, certainly, systems analysis, computer technology, and human factors engineering have had strong effects on the HPT field and consequently on its vocabulary. Growing interest in the tools and techniques of measurement and evaluation, quantitative business analysis, artificial intelligence, telecommunications and information systems technology has also left its imprint. HPT is not so much jargon generating as it is perpetually going through a process of assimilating others'' technical vocabularies while it seeks richer resources to help improve human and hence system performance.

As a "technology",is HPT mechanistic and dehumanizing? No. HPT is essentially concerned with human performance that is valued by individual performers and organizations. It is not a field of social engineering. Its practice is rational and not ideological. HP technologists are very aware of the individual nature of human motivation, goal orientation, and value systems. Where these are defined as essential to the mission or missions of a system, they are treated with great care. Where they are not so defined, they nevertheless remain of critical importance in prescribing changes for the system. Efforts to improve a system that relies on human performance must maintain the strongest respect for the human being if they are to be effective. Organizations in which productivity is high and quality is maintained are those where morale, employees'' self-esteem, and workers'' satisfaction are also at a high level. It is not axiomatic that what is good for the company is necessarily evil for employees. Excellent performance often translates into greater job security, improved salaries, and an overall high level of interest and satisfaction in one''s employment. Pride of performance in the workplace is still an important value for most workers although a lessened one as a result of poorly conceived downsizing initiatives by many companies during the 1990´s. HPT, far from being mechanistic and dehumanizing, attempts to affect systems in ways that foster both worthy performance and individual self worth.

Is HPT intolerant of other approaches to achieving desired human performance? HPT requires a clear definition of a system''s mission, its strategic plan, measurable indices of actual and desired outcomes, and consideration of the cost of each intervention, relative to projected benefits (e.g. Stolovitch and Keeps, 1997). As a result, HPT practitioners manifest intolerance only toward those who disregard the results that the system must produce, or who make arbitrary decisions that cannot be supported by a clear data base. Similarly, HP technologists become uncomfortable when faced with interventions that appear to spring more from the ideologies and interests of their proponents than from documented needs of performers that the workplace has also designated as relevant to the organization''s overall mission. HPT, however, is far from being closed or intolerant or considering itself complete. It has consistently remained open to new technologies and theory bases. Many HP technologists are following, with interest, developments in such areas as brain research, electronic performance support systems (EPSS), and knowledge management, to name only a few (see Chapter Twenty-three by Stone and Villachica and Chapter Forty-one by Brandenburg and Binder). Nevertheless, HPT remains cautious about accepting approaches or innovations that still lack well documented empirical evidence of their effectiveness.

Is HPT either too enamored of new information and communications technologies or too ignorant of their capabilities? As the twenty-first century opens, virtually every facet of organizations is affected by the ever-burgeoning array of increasingly sophisticated technologies. The HP technologist cannot ignore the proliferation of electronic communications devices, performance support tools and work enhancing systems. There is perpetual enthusiasm to exploit technology -- which requires deep knowledge of electronic hardware and software advances. How can HP technologists keep up? How can they separate valid performance improvement potential from expensive, but unproductive ventures? The response is simple, yet difficult to apply. HPT is committed to systemic thinking, data-based analyses and rational decision-making. Its goal is worthy performance in which value is compared to cost before interventions are selected. The HP technologist´s role is to hone analytic and evaluative capabilities while keeping informed of technology advances. Avoidance of becoming enamored with any solution and constant awareness of all potential performance enhancement prospects are essential characteristics of the experienced HP technologist. Commitment to this form of equilibrium is a major value-add of HPT.

Is HPT too management biased because of its results driven orientation? HP technologists are usually brought into contact with a performance gap via management. Therefore, the HP technologist must report back to management. But data on performance or the lack thereof are collected from actual performers, for whom interventions are designed. Job aids, feedback systems, training courses, or incentive systems cannot possibly be effective if the characteristics and value systems of performers are not taken fully into account (Tosti and O''Brien, 1979; Stolovitch and Lane, 1989). In the workplace, the performance valued by the employer must be the prime consideration, but this does not exclude careful analysis of employees'' goals and motivations. The ideal intervention, which often results in increased freedom and initiative for the performer as well as greater sensitivity to personal style, is one that favors management and the individual employee or performer equally.

Recently, HP technologists have turned their attention to the community at large. As cited earlier, Roy (1998) has applied an HPT model to improve quality of life for the elderly. Others have used HPT to improve the performance of volunteers in charitable mission related work or the nature of human interactions in a mental health facility. HPT is driven by results, but this does not imply management bias. Rather the overall goal of HPT is to achieve accomplishments valued by everyone within the targeted system.

Is HPT essentially an American and Western European technology? While many of HPT´s foundations spring from western scientific roots, it is not narrowly focused on any one particular culture or ideology. True, HPT seeks to improve performance, implying continuous progress. This, however, is not a concept restricted to the U.S. and Europe. Globalization has opened almost all cultures and countries to international scrutiny. The internet creates a world of instantaneous communication. HPT is open to all means for helping to achieve ends individual systems value. HPT imposes no restrictions on what constitutes valued ends within the dictates of ethical practice (see Chapter Thirty-four by Dean). In this respect, HPT accepts influences from any quarter, so long as they can substantiate to the global community whatever legitimate claims they make.

Can only those who have had extensive formal training in HPT employ its principles? Like any field, HPT requires careful study, practice, and feedback, which are characteristics of most formal training programs. However, the purpose of this chapter is not to form professional HP technologists. Rather, its intent is to encourage a wide range of professionals to explore the viewpoints and tools of HPT. This should help improve their own performance and ultimately have a positive effect on organizational performance through application of relevant portions of this growing field.

Articles abound, particularly in such journals as Performance Improvement and Performance Improvement Quarterly, the official publications of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI). The remaining chapters of this handbook will certainly aid the reader in gaining greater knowledge of and insights into the field.

Seminars and workshops by many of the authors featured in this volume are generally well structured and informative and provide ready to use skills for participants. Conferences on HPT, such as those held annually by ISPI or HPT Institutes run by ISPI worldwide, are also useful events for learning about the field and its applications, and, more important, for sharing experiences in informal, after session conversations. Via reading, formal workshops, conferences, institutes and information and experience sharing, HPT can become readily accessible to the interested person. With respect to specific skill sets for the HP technologist, Chapter Thirty-three by Stolovitch, Keeps and Rodrigue provides considerable information.


There is little doubt that HPT adopts a hard nosed and highly objective approach to improving human performance. HPT takes into consideration the cost of any intervention to improve human performance. It views these costs as investments that must yield returns valued by the investing system. HP technologists do not define what these returns should be; the system does this. However, once the purpose of the system is defined and returns are overtly specified, HPT demands systematic and objective study of the performance problems and opportunities. Its point of reference is worthy performance as determined by the system. If HP technologists, human resource specialists, organizational developers and other professionals and managers cannot demonstrate effectiveness in terms that the system in which they operate values, then they must not be surprised when their departments experience heavy budget cuts, are maligned, or become dumping grounds for persons whose contributions to the system are no longer judged useful.

HPT is a powerful, emerging field that has the potential to offer organizations astonishing benefits. As Blount (1980, p. 16) wrote almost twenty years ago, "I believe that the untapped and unapplied proven potential for improvement in our business, in our people, in our products, in our service, in our customer relations, through human performance technology is absolutely awesome." This affirmation still rings true today as we embark on a new millennium. Improved human performance can result in dramatic increases in productivity, workers'' satisfaction and an enhanced world community -- and that is what HPT is all about.


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