HPI Series: Cause Analysis

I initially started this series and unfortunately it stalled – I’m sorry. Life happened and it just didn’t work out to get completed.

However, I am starting it back up and picking up where I left off. If you missed the replays of the initial posts in this series, check them out here:  Performance Management vs. Human Performance Improvement, Organizational/Business Analysis, and Performance & Gap Analyses.

The last post discussed the gap analysis. Once the gap analysis has been completed, the next step in the HPI process is the cause analysis. The cause analysis is based on Thomas Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model and works to solve the fundamental question:  why does the performance gap exist?

Now the one thing to consider with this question is that there are a number of systematic methods you can use for idenitfying causes to the performance gap. It is crucial to utilize these methods to identify the causes for the gap versus making assumptions to what is causing the gap. Assumptions can ultimately lead to false diagnosis and inappropriate selection of interventions. For instance, it is very easy for a fairly new performance consultant to quickly make the decision that training can resolve the performance gap. Yet training may not be the appropriate intervention to resolve the performance gap, which then wasted time and resources and the performance gap still not closed.

Performance gaps can be the cause of a number of things to include:

  • Lack of training
  • Lack of knowledge or skills with employees
  • Processes not defined – macro and micro levels
  • Missing information
  • Motivation of employees
  • No incentives to perform
  • Lack of resources
  • Inadequate feedback
  • Lack of capacity with the employee
To work towards the diagnosis of just some of the potential causes listed above, the performance consultant can utilize a number of methods, such as:
  • Brainstorming
  • Allows you to utilize a group of people to establish a number of ideas and then narrow down those ideas that seem the most promising
  • Keeping a small group allows the group to function without becoming to much to handle. If you have a group with more than four or five people, you may have to create subgroups
  • Ensure your participants have the knowledge to be able to discuss the issue at hand
  • The Five Whys
    • This method can be thought of as when a child asks “why” again and again
    • You start with stating the problem
    • Ask the question “why does this problem occur?”
    • With each answer, continue to ask “why”
    • Repeat this process five times
    • Keep up with the cause relationships through each iteration – this could lead to additional questions needing to be asked separately
  • Fishbone Diagrams
    • Requires more understanding and knowledge to effectively use
    • Can be confusing if never used before
    • Sometimes may diagnose symptoms versus causes
  • Observations of employees
  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Performance data
  • Focus groups
  • When conducting a cause analysis, you should know it isn’t easy for first timers. Over time, your skills will develop and you will gain more comfortability utilizing the tools to identify the reasons for the performance gap.

    As such, I definitely recommend the performance improvement consultant to research the cause analysis and the available tools ahead of time and start small when beginning.

    If you would like to start the learning more about the HPI process, a great resource is George Piskurich’s (2002) HPI Essentials.

    Our next post in our HPI series will explore intervention selection….stay tuned and happy learning!


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