ADDIE Abandoned for Performance Consulting Skills

For the last few days I have been contributing to a thread on the eLearning Guild’s network group on LinkedIn. The topic that has been hotly debated, trashed, twisted, modified, and/or exalted is none other than ADDIE. I was okay participating in that lively dialogue until I stumbled upon another post by an ISD asking a question about a “loan processing training issue”. The issue it seems, is a large number of loan requestors are bailing out of the transaction before the loan process is complete. Company leadership wants loan processing training – NOW, and the ISD was asking, “What would you do?”

I would start with…retrain the leadership. Yeah, I know, what a hoot, right? I have been in this very position before, and you have no choice but to do something…and soon. We often find ourselves in this kind of position because we have convinced leadership that training drives improved performance. Sometimes it does, but more often than not, it falls short, and Leadership sees Training as the hammer and every broken thing as a nail.

Ultimately, what is needed in this situation is an effort to drill down into the loan processing workflow and find out where it breaks down. The formal effort is a performance consulting methodology called a front-end assessment (FEA). In this instance, the target process already exists, so the FEA is a Diagnostic-FEA. Had it been a new process, as yet untried and tested, the approach would be a New Performance-FEA…which would ultimately be followed up with a Diagnostic-FEA to determine what fine-tuning needs reveal what we missed in our new performance assumptions.

The FEA differs from the “A” in ADDIE in a significant way because the FEA focus is on performance gaps and the source(s) [root cause(s)] for the gaps identified. The “A” in ADDIE could do this if the focus of the typical “Training Needs Analysis” was big enough in scope to encompass the issues present in the WORK CONTEXT, but it rarely does. (See Figure #1)

Performance Consulting Snapshot

Figure 1

I do not plan to dive into a rave on performance consulting in this post, but have thrown together this model to point out a few key elements I think are worth considering when we get the “We need training…NOW!” request. Using this approach may very well turn out to be a form of self-defense when the “training solution” yields little or no sustainable performance impact. When you get bullied into throwing training at a performance problem, you need some way to protect yourself. This approach worked for me on more than one occasion. Read “Covert Consulting” for details on how to do what I will barely share here at a very high level.

Referring to Figure #1, check out the listing in the box labeled ROOT CAUSE(S). These are not root causes in and of themselves; rather, they are categories under which root causes can be grouped. The category I have highlighted – Capabilities – is where lack of knowledge is found – and Training is a likely part of the intervention to be prescribed as a solution. Make note that there are five other categories containing things that can also contribute to performance gaps. My point is this…rarely is lack of knowledge the sole reason for a performance gap surfacing…and yet we have conditioned and convinced our business stakeholders that Training Drives Performance.

In that “Covert Consulting” post I mentioned, I tell a story of my own challenge to quickly throw a training solution at a problem. The internal client did not want me to do a Diagnostic-FEA because he did not have the time to wait. I mean, why wait? I worked for Training didn’t I? So train my people already! So I did…right after I went under the radar and completed a covert FEA-lite. It turned out that 42% of his root cause pains were PROCESS related. Actually, all six categories had issues identified through quick hit interviews with key stakeholders in their work context. CAPABILITIES, where lack of knowledge is found, yielded evidence amounting to only 18% of his problems.

So…I could bust my hump on designing, developing, and delivering training…and it would be 100% effective on 18% of his problems. And what would happen then? “Hey, Gary!  Your training sucks, dude!”

Sorry, been there done that too many times. So I became a performance consultant in self-defense, and this model has saved my bacon more than once. Another outcome that I find even more amazing is the transition in my client’s view of my value contribution to the business. Their view expands regarding what potential options may be required to close their performance gaps. They see you as a business partner.

Go back to Figure #1. This whole deal goes down when there is a Business Goal that is unmet. That serves as EVIDENCE that something…maybe more than one something…is broken. To our stakeholders, that is their trigger to unleash the training hounds. Letting the training dogs out renders a lot of barking and a very slim possibility that any of them can take a bite out of the performance gap(s) contributing to their deficient Business Goal. Remember my puny 18% possibility of training making a contribution?

Every major Business Goal or Outcome has several Major Accomplishments that must be met in order for their composite contribution to deliver on the Goal/Outcome. The FEA process starts with the top-level outcome and works backwards. The Major Accomplishment(s) that is/are deficient represents a flag around the rabbit hole you are to dive into and identify Task – Steps – Sub-steps that may be broken or compromised by a dependent process or person or group…or one or more of those other root cause categories The point is, you are digging down into the WORK CONTEXT and mapping how work gets done…or does not get done…given that something is hosed up somewhere.

What you may find is that there is very little “Training” can do to fix the problem. In my example 42% of the performance gaps fell under workflow issues. It took our Six Sigma team to figure that one out. Was there training in the solution? Surely, but we positioned one important point before we stroked the first storyboard. The leadership that originally demanded we let the training dogs out saw…clearly…and understood that there was an expectation that Training…being as super-duper as we would design, develop, and deliver it…would not…by itself…fix his problems.


My recommendation for anyone who is in the business of training, be they a vendor or an internal training puke…get yourself some performance consulting skills. Recognize that there is a bigger world outside that 5% or so our workforce spends in formal learning. As a business function, we prove annually that we do not see the downstream, post-training work context as OPPORTUNITY, because we continue to drop up to 80% of our training resources on that measly 5%. And…we rely on ADDIE or some other design methodology to make us successful. We are fire-proofing a single tree while the larger forest is burning.

We have our greatest opportunity in that other 95% of the learning environment called the WORK CONTEXT. I am convinced that this is a huge paradigm shift. And I have witnessed the potential of that paradigm shift scaring the crap out of training professionals that do not have the performance consulting skill set in their tool box. True, Training is NOT going away…but the freaking budget is. Want to spend the rest of your training career doing check-the-box compliance training? That’s going to be all that is left in the budget.


Sorry about the rant, but I wrote it in jest…sort of. This paradigm shift is upon us whether we are seeing it or not. There is a very real convergence of learning moments of need…with actual work, and that convergence is happening outside of the scope and charter of most training organizations. Our new classroom is the work context. Having recently been on the sharp edge of a reduction in force, this whole thing is too fresh for me to ignore. We cannot survive in this profession if we refuse to evolve our methods with the evolving learning needs of our workforce. Last I checked they were the ones earning the cash to fund our cost centers.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise