Home > Continuous Learning, Discovery & Consulting > ADDIE Abandoned for Performance Consulting Skills

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
LinkedIn Profile
Twitter: Gdogwise


  1. July 5, 2012 at 5:26 am

    Gary, if I could ‘Like’ your post multiple times, I’d be clicking on that button repeatedly in a resounding, “hallelujah” that you have written and expressed the frustrations of my daily life in the corporate world. I should have taken a dollar every time a client has asked for training without really knowing why they need it or if it will solve their issue. But when I try to delve and help them out to analyse what the real problems may be – they don’t want a bar of it! They want training – any training – just give us training and then when it fails (as it does), they’ll blame us. I understand your rant. I am at one with your rant. I’m seeing that training departments with archaic ideas are going by way of chimney sweeps. Here endeth my rant too.



    • July 6, 2012 at 8:22 am

      Thanks so much, Helen! So how are you dealing with your frustrations? I would love to hear any success stories you may have that show evidence of breaking through the traditional paradigm that exposes training to ridicule for a job well done…though only part of the job. How do you get your clients to listen to a different story? Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

  2. July 5, 2012 at 8:04 am

    Amazing how our business partners are experts in learning isn’t it? So true the part about 100% effective for 18% of the problem….. ow, too close to home! Good post Gary!

    • July 6, 2012 at 8:13 am

      Oddly, or not, we [training] have done this to ourselves with effective positioning…and still doing it, that training “IS” the solution. In reality it IS…but often contributes only a fraction to a holistic performance solution. As keeper of the forest, we truly are responsible for more than one tree. Thanks for reading and commenting, Bill!

  3. July 5, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    You dropped the hammer and nailed the issue straight on the head. Perfect.

    I summarize the request to folks simply with the following examples:

    – A person is not maintaining the correct weight. Is it that they don’t have the knowledge or skill to eat properly and engage in some form of exercise? No? They CAN do it, but they aren’t? Then training won’t help. Reconsider request in this light.

    – Did you floss this morning? (You can catch a lot of folks on this one- they won’t admit it, but you can see the clear answer in the body language.) Do you not have the skill to floss or knowledge of how or it’s benefits? Oh… then, exactly what will training do? Let’s look at the request again considering this little exercise.

    – Ever gotten a speeding ticket? Do you not have the ability to drive the speed limit (you certainly seem to when you can see the cop car)? So you have the ability to drive the speed limit, and knowledge of what the speed limit is, awareness of dangers and consequences of speeding… so, is training really needed to improve things?

    Yep- too often, they jump to conclusions. Instead of default setting being “there is a problem- so they must be training”, the default setting should be “how do we know that the performance issue is the result of a lack of skills or knowledge?”. Show me that, and I absolutely know how I can help. Otherwise, training is not a good investment.

  4. July 6, 2012 at 8:19 am

    David, I like your examples.I wonder sometimes if we are beginning to master the art of “admiring the problem”. The absolute most effective tool I have is the process by which a simple six-slice pie graph outlines a holistic “EKG” if you will of the extent of a performance issue. ADDIE does what ADDIE does…and well…in the hands of an architect…not someone armed with a hammer. Doesn’t mean we don’t need a hammer-proficient role, only that the solution is bigger than what a hammer and nail can produce. Thankd for reading and dropping off your insights!

    • July 6, 2012 at 9:03 am

      “Beginning to master the art of ‘admiring the problem'”. Insightful in these lean times, I see quite a few L&D folks grabbing for more projects to drive “importance” or “value” of the group. It’s a bad play.

      And, I think ADDIE does what ADDIE does is true- in the right hands. I know from the LinkedIn discussion, it’s clear that many folks don’t apply the model effectively (the model isn’t inherently bad, just misapplied or under-applied).

  5. Susan Robbins
    July 9, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Well-written post….I would have preferred to see it pitched as a reminder to L&D folks not to take the client’s “we need training” at face value, rather than a dismissal of ADDIE. FEA is, to me, the first part of ADDIE, the analysis into the performance issue and all of the factors that are impacting it.
    This post is a wonderful primer for newer L&D people as well as a reminder for those who may have slipped into order taking mode.

  6. July 9, 2012 at 10:32 am

    Susan, valid feedback, and I really did not intend to dismiss ADDIE. A partial dismissal is required however because the linear nature of the design model can “block the view” of considerations for the learning assets required at the point of work. Totally agree that the FEA could …SHOULD…be part of the “A” in ADDIE. All too often it is not, and it is treated as a training assessment focused on necessary knowledge to be acquired. In addition, there are components of learning that very well NOT be training in any shape of form. This is where ADDIE falls short from my point of view. To your point, however, ADDIE is not the problem and certainly not worth dismissing as it does play an important role in the design of training content. My intentions are to drive a broader view that extends beyond the traditional scope of training and focus on the inclusion of efforts the will enable sustainable performance outcomes long after the training transaction is complete.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read and share your kind comments!


  7. August 7, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Hi, Gary:
    Here’s my ‘beef’ not with your article, but with the concept that this is considered in any way, new. Why isn’t the ‘A’ in ADDIE considered adaptable for FEA, for gap analysis, for evaluation of what the issue really is. As you know, there are consultant adherents that strongly advocate for a ‘Discovery/Evaluation’ step before the ‘A.’ However, being truly analytical, I don’t know why the analysis phase can’t be used for performance analysis, gap analysis, audience analysis….you know, the whole 9 yards.

    I don’t think we need to add another letter acronym. I think we need to do what we’re paid for a bit more openly, creatively, and in a more evaluative way. No, not every problem is a training problem. And no, not every organization is going to let a ‘learning professional’ push that back on them, or demonstrate that the real problem is a process, incentive, or culture problem. Some organizations, due to the fact that they aren’t actually ‘learning’ organizations, simply want the ‘auto-response’ to be a Powerpoint, in 20 minutes or less. So sometimes, no matter how performance consulting oriented the learning professional is, the results are going to be the same.

    One last thing to add on this: performance consulting often lifts rocks and exposes the critters underneath. It takes courage, data and credibility to survive what’s under those rocks. Not everyone is cut out for it.

    • August 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm

      I totally agree with you, Sherry! The only reason I attempted to “call out” the FEA separate from the “A” in ADDIE was to make the point that it is too often NOT a part of the “A” and it should be. Even the “E” should be defined up front…but then I’d be preaching to the choir on that one. In some ways I feel sorry for poor ADDIE because “she” is so maligned when in fact it is the narrow-focused literal linear application that just does not do justice to how learning assets should be/could be designed these days. The other key point is the very fact that many in the training organization are truly not cut out for performance consulting…and my position is they should be…maybe not pure play PC but at least from a learning & performance perspective to better set expectations that “Training Ain’t Always the Solution”. In my convert example, that was essential to convey to the client because I would have been whacked by training results that fixed nothing [or little] in the eyes of the client no matter how god it really was. Thanks for taking the time to read me…and share your spot-on thoughts! Hope you guys are doing well!

      • August 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm

        Always good to hear/read you, Gary. We’re well, and looking forward to a chat any time. Going to DevLearn 2012?

      • August 8, 2012 at 7:56 am

        Not this year, Sherry! I have a speaking role at Learning 3.0 in Chicago on Oct. 25th on the subject of Learning @ the Point of Work. DevLearn should be an awesome show though..away is!

  8. December 3, 2012 at 4:55 am

    I really enjoyed reading through this article, Well written and perfectly described. I felt your diagram was spot on and what stuck with me is the fact if we do not evolve, we cannot survive! It’s a basic principle that we really need to follow and strive for in my own opinion!

    • December 3, 2012 at 9:20 am

      Steve, thanks for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts. Hope what you’ve read serves a positive purpose in your world. Let me know how goes the war! Best of luck to you!

  9. Becky Craig
    December 20, 2013 at 6:13 am

    Your ‘rant’ is just what I was looking for this morning Gary! I work for a large retailer in the UK and we are currently in the thick of our planning process for the next 2 years with many requests for, yes you guessed it, training…workshops, courses etc. As a learning and development team we are just embarking on performance needs analysis as opposed to the training needs analysis our business partners have asked for. Right now they appear bemused by this and I think expect training still to be the outcome post analysis! We relish the challenge of shifting perceptions, changing how our budget is spent and actually seeing a tangible business result in the next couple of years. Thanks for your inspiration as I work on this today!

  10. Sheila Bilyeu
    April 15, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Gary – great article. Just what the doctor ordered! Thanks.

    • April 15, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      Thanks, Shelia! Performance consulting skills are going to soon be a standard skill set to have if you are in the L&D world. I really appreciate you taking the time to read this post and share your thoughts!
      Take good care!

  1. July 9, 2012 at 2:58 pm
  2. August 1, 2012 at 6:40 am
  3. February 15, 2013 at 9:46 am

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