Trend 2: Performance Improvement is Human Improvement



To understand how to improve human performance, we must understand where performance originates. Results are the sum of performance plus behavior, according to the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations. However, there is an equation that influences INPO’s interpretation of results.


Conditions plus expectations influence behavior.


It’s these conditions & expectations creating the context in which people behave. Behavior can be broken into two parts: decisions & actions. It is not enough to identify the improvement of behaviors, assuming we will get better results after improving the individual’s decisions & actions.


Conditions external to the person & internal to the person, normally known as error precursors, place that person’s ability and even their motivation at odds with the expected behavior. This results in deviations from the desired outcome.


In Human Performance terms, context is everything.


For instance, if you took a sports fanatic to an opera, having never experienced the conditions for how to behave at an opera, you should not be surprised if they stand up after the end of act one boisterously cheering on the actors as if they were soccer players. However, they may be surprised or embarrassed that they are alone in this reaction.



Having outlined the behavioral expectations, true human improvement derives from improving the external conditions in a system or process.


As W. Edwards Demming once noted, “every system is perfectly designed to get the results you are getting.”

If you are less than satisfied with the result, examining the system is more fruitful than simply looking at JUST the human behavior in the process. In many cases, improving human performance does not begin with the human. It begins with improving the expectations & conditions humans operate in.


Error pre-cursors, those internal & external conditions, increase the chances of error producing likelihoods potentially leading to undesirable events. Many workforce errors are due to the absence of thought, rather than an intentional misuse of a system design. There are many different explanations for the absence, including fatigue, unfamiliarity, and conflicting goals. Improving human performance starts with identifying when these conditions are likely to be present and providing the operator or worker with the presence of thought to replace the absence.


Human performance improvement offers a variety of complementary error reduction tools such as STAR, Stop When Unsure, Peer-Review and precise communication, among others. By using the appropriate tools, performance will improve to achieve the results.


Simply training staff on the appropriate ways to operate a system will not meet the needs of true performance improvement. Address the pieces of the equation: conditions, expectations and behavior. This simple equation will provide the desired results in your organization.


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