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Welcome to the Organization Management and Development Page

Featuring Useful OD Resources, Readings & Strategies

Performance Analysis + Action Learning

  • NAME OF INTERVENTION: Performance Analysis + Action Learning
  • ALTERNATIVE NAME: Needs Assessment, Front-End Analysis

Performance Analysis + Action Learning


Performance Analysis + Action Learning (PAAL) is a hybrid process of: (1) prioritizing gaps in alignment with business results; (2) evaluating and recommending performance processes, products, and performance support; and (3) reviewing and refining processes based on reflective questioning and group feedback. (Langdon, p 52., p. 280).


PAAL is an important asset in a Manager’s toolkit to rapidly assess a needs, recommend performance improvements, and facilitate group ownership for desired results. It is strategically aligned to the Client’s Main Thing (Davis, 2000): business, financial and operational objectives. It is initially facilitated by a Manager or Consultant, and then implemented directly and continuously by group members.

PAAL is a hybrid approach to achieve ends and (business) objectives (Langdon, p. 240); consider work and feedback processes that impact performance in line with those business objectives; and, include a critical an individual / group questioning and reflecting approach for transitioning from a Manager/Consultant-led intervention to a Client-owned process.

Performance Analysis is a systematic process of analyzing underlying causes; aligning business results, performance processes and products, and performance support variables. (Langdon, p. 280)

Sometimes called front-end analysis or needs assessment, PA is focused on researching root causes of past, current and possible performance gaps with the goal of closing those gaps aligned to the business outcomes desired by organizational leaders.

It consists of examining interventions to close those gaps; selecting the best interventions for the job taking into account performance support variables (performance standards, feedback, incentives, goals, guidance, instructions, tools, materials and worker knowledge and skills); developing accountabilities and performance agreements; and monitoring and evaluating the intervention(s)’ effectiveness in closing performance gaps. (Langdon, p. 282)

PA can also be integrated into performance improvement projects, and help accelerate the return on human and business performance; and forming the basis for cascading goals and expectations throughout the organization. (ASTD Infoline, p. 1). In today’s complex and rapidly-changing business environment, there is considerable blurring and overlap between phases (i.e., over the business lifecycle), and the PA specialist will likely be more successful in exercising his / her role with sensitivity, tact and diplomacy.

Action Learning is a group problem-solving process built on diversity; reflective questioning; and commitment to individual, group and organization-wide learning. (Langdon, p. 52)

Action Learning (i.e., learning by doing) is considered one of the most powerful problem-solving tools available to groups, and also serves as individual, team and organizational development intervention. (Langdon, p. 52).

Developed by Reg Revans in the 1940s, action learning is an experience-based learning process that brings together a group of people with varying skills and experience, to analyze a complex work problem and co-create an action plan. Participants continuously learn from their experience through double loop learning (i.e., receiving feedback on their actions, and challenging their underlying assumptions and (cultural) frame of reference), as performance interventions are implemented, reviewed and evaluated.

Action Learning is most appropriate for dealing with complex work challenges that are not easily resolved and require solutions address the root causes ~ not simple fixes. It is also useful for engaging the people directly responsible for improving individual, team and organizational performance, and responsible and accountable for implementing strategic directives.


Begin with Performance Analysis, and Implement with Action Learning.

Performance Analysis

Examine the work context and desired end results

  • Identify and analyze task and work processes
  • Identify critical knowledge required
  • Identify accountabilities and line of authority (approvals)

Pinpointing Results and Behaviour

  • Identifying behavior that are measurable, observable, reliable and considered appropriate for the cultural norms and values of the organization.


  • Measure items to enable employees to increase their performance

(i.e., quality, production, better customer service, etc.) while ensuring alignment to strategic goals.

Receiving Feedback

  • Provide respectful, timely and complete feedback directly corresponding to employee’s performance (in private). Note: in some employment situations it may not be appropriate for a male employee to give direct feedback to a female employee behind closed doors (and versa vice). An observer may be necessary, respecting privacy and confidentiality.
  • Provide positive, recognizable examples from the employee’s job context.

Receiving Positive Reinforcement

  • Ensure reinforcement pertains to how the employee can increase his/her performance given the (cultural) context, resources and his / her behavior.
  • Provide relevant suggestions and examples to help the employee recognize his / her behavior and how it could improve performance (i.e., critical thinking; different frame of reference; access to information; internal motivation / career development; or extra effort (or any combination of the above)

Monitoring & Evaluation

  • Differentiate different levels of performance for different employees throughout the organization (This may depend on culture, function, geography, resources, status, role.)
  • Reward higher performers and make sure to incent lower performers (consistent with positive reinforcement)
  • Monitor employee performance over time, as per predefined policies and procedures
  • Evaluate employee performance, as per predefined policies and procedures.

Action Learning

Form Action Learning Groups

(to accompany implementation)

  • Have members of different functions move into cross-functional groups of 4-8 people

Review, Evaluate and Learn from the PA and Intervention(s)

  • Revisit, review and learn from the PA process to evaluate how appropriate the performance analysis and interventions are
  • Gather and analyze data
  • Question and reflect on the data and desired impacts
  • Reframe the problem, determine goals and action strategies
  • Take / modify action ~ Repeat until problem is resolved, and or new directions are determined
  • Capture and record learning – discuss progress and next steps
  • Document learning and lessons learned ~ encourage continuing individual reflection and team debrief.


Performance Analysis

Setting the stage
  • Explaining why PAAL is important
  • Agreement on business, financial and operational objectives
  • How it ties into strategic goals, desired ROI
  • Why it is important to do ~ now, 60 days, etc.
Explain the process
  • Who will be conducting it; who will be interviewed / analyzed
  • What process they will be using
  • How will the Action Learning teams be formed
  • What will happen to the results; who will be using them; how; and to what effect
  • How will the Performance Intervention (PI) be impacted by Culture? How can Action Learning mitigate / enhance cultural differences? (i.e., organization, other culture(s))

(The following section in part by Michelle Lohrengel, Fielding OMD 622)

  • Ensure that corporate vision, mission and purpose are well-known and visible
  • Identify and articulate the corporate vision (Vision, Mission, Purpose)
  • Identify and describe key business goals (Strategy)
  • Identify and define key operating values (Desired Behaviours)
  • Identify and articulate operating culture
  • Establish working agreements on tactics required to implement strategy, keeping in mind that….
  • “….strategies must be allowed to evolve in response to changes in the environment, and plans need to be modified accordingly. Sometimes the most useful thing about plans is that they remind you what you’re deviating from.” (Wall & Wall, p.11)
Pinpointing results and Behavior
  • Developing / agreeing upon baseline metrics
  • Develop a measurement system upon which recorded feedback is measured and analyzed
Receiving Feedback
  • Develop skills in person providing feedback
  • Ensure system exists for recording feedback.
Monitoring & Evaluation
  • Ensure that monitoring and evaluation practices and metrics are developed, visible and well-known
Orient and Educate Employees
  • Ensure system in place to monitor & record evaluation (i.e., track progress  behavior modification, employee motivation and focus and results (i.e., you don’t want to lose the person who is trying hard to improve)
Action Learning
  • Form Action Learning Groups (to accompany implementation)
  • Cross-functional group members may self-select or be appointed. Self-selection is likely better, as each individual takes greater responsibility for process ownership, contribution to results, etc.
Review, Evaluate and Learn from the PA and Intervention(s)
  • Revisit, review and learn from the PA process to evaluate how appropriate the performance analysis and interventions are
  • Individuals within the group ARE the stakeholders who are impacted by performance interventions
  • they reflect on the timeliness and appropriateness, and whether the PIs are achieving the desired results, or something must be modified.
  • Ongoing reflections and questioning also strengthens team safety, trust and accountability
  • Important to communicate vertically and horizontally within the organization; and externally


If the following is in place (part of organizational readiness):

Orientation and Education
  • Corporate vision, mission, and purpose, and strategic alignment;
  • Performance Analysis and why now (i.e., what’s at stake)
  • People involved and roles
  • Baseline (performance) metrics
  • Additional systems, policies and procedures
Training & Systems
  • A measurement system
  • Training in giving feedback
  • Training in facilitation and recording (particularly for Action Learning phase)
  • A Monitoring & Evaluation system, practices and policies
  • A communications-sharing system and lessons-learned repository (a wiki might be useful here, particularly for disseminating information and allowing iterative changes)

Depending on the budget commitment (i.e., resource allocation, availability), urgency; and number of employees involved and the frequency of the Performance Analysis & Action Learning, the intervention might take anywhere from 3-18 months. If the above-mentioned were not in place, an additional 6-12 months of organizational readiness / preparation could reasonably be expected. The Action Learning groups can operate in parallel with the abovementioned activities.

Case Study: What does a (PI) look like?

A growing high tech company in a new strategic alliance with a vertically-integrated manufacturing company developed a new product (hardware + software) for its strategic partner. The CEO of the high tech firm was concerned about successful completion and high quality of an automated passport reader for airports. “Success” at the time meant revenues from a healthy percentage of a $30M market.

The Performance Analysis consisted of in-depth interviews with all members of a cross-functional product development team (including the project sponsors from both the high tech company and its strategic partner), to develop a chronology of the project, stakeholder behaviors, key decisions and performance gaps.

The analysis uncovered a lack of ‘an organizational mindset that encouraged people in various functions [in the cross-functional team] to balance the conflicting demands, priorities, and resource requirements that they [were] inevitably faced with.’ (Wall & Wall, p. 94).

In terms of behaviour, it emerged that the CEO, in his eagerness to achieve project success (and not rock the boat with a new strategic partner) went against his own gut feelings. He pushed aside his and his team’s concerns about rapidly obtaining sample passports from different countries in the world, to train the passport reader’s neural / artificial intelligence software to recognize any and all passports.

Consequently, when the hardware development was completed, there was a six-month lag in time-to-market, because the high tech firm wasn’t able to immediately gather all of the required passports. In a $30M market with an 18-month lifecycle, a 6-month delay is expensive.

This PA served as a basis for the CEO and members in the cross-functional team to share information; elevate it to the appropriate manager and trust their gut instincts, particularly in terms of the potential for late market delivery of its solutions. Today, the CEO relies on his gut instincts more than ever. Moreover, this PA served as a means for identifying implement able solutions for increasing performance within current development projects, and for lessons-learned for future development projects.

Incorporating Action Learning

The addition of Action Learning Group(s) during implementation could have

  • Served as a critical resource for guiding the PA implementation and subsequent stakeholder responses / modifications;
  • Acted as a mechanism for open and continuing dialogue and accountability

(i.e., this is where WE (not just the CEO) question, reflect and learn from our mistakes and modify our actions accordingly).

  • Developed and mobilized support for questioning assumptions and reflections;
  • Distributed ownership of the process and (business) goal achievement
  • Signaled Executive Buy-In to the Strategic Relevance of Continuous Learning: capturing important leanings and disseminating lessons-learned throughout the team and the organization.

Understandably, performance hiccups do occur in organization with regularity, but with group involvement in generating creative ideas, heads-up and work-a-rounds, they are less likely to be showstoppers with disastrous consequences to the bottom line.

Performance Analysis

Where not applicable
  • Lack of understanding what PA is about, and what its outcomes can be  and going to the next steps about
  • Fuzziness about implications
  • Fuzziness about implementation, or how to go about it
  • Lack of organizational readiness
  • Lack of resources – budget, organizational sponsor, time, other resources
  • Lack of supportive policies and procedures

Action Learning

Where not applicable
  • When one individual or a single functional discipline dominates the dialogue
  • Lack of facilitator training / facilitative roles
  • Lack of executive and / or stakeholder buy-in and commitment to resources (i.e., time)
  • Lack of follow-up on performance interventions and / or recommendations.

Resources and References

Callahan, Madelyn R. The Role of the Performance Intervention Specialist, American Society for Training and Development (InfoLine Issue #9714), 1987.

Davis, Larry. Pioneering Organizations: The Convergence of Individualism, Teamwork and Leadership, Executive Excellence Publishing, 2000.

Labovitz, George and Rosansky, Victor. The Power of Alignment. New York: John Wiley and Sons,1997.

Langdon, Danny G., Whiteside, Kathleen S. And McKenna, Monica M., (2000). Intervention Resource Guide: 50 Performance Improvement Tools. NY: Jossey-Bass.

Orr, Debra and Hona Matthews. Employee Engagemenet and OD Strategies, in OD Practiontioner Vol. 40 No. 2, 2008 (pp. 18-23)

Revans, Reg. ABC of Action Learning, 1983

Revans, Reg. The Origins and Growth of Action Learning, 1982.

Revans, Reg. Wikipedia entry -

Smith, Preston G. and Donald G. Reinertsen. Developing Products in Half the Time, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1001.

Wall, Stephen J. and Shannon Rye Wall. The New Strategists: Creating Leaders at All Levels, Simon & Schuster Inc., 1995,

Intervention Author

Vancouver, BC CANADA