Author: Nigel Harrison

Top ten tips for performance consulting 4 – Interview like a police officer

Gap analysis is so important that I have another tip…

  1. Interview like a police officer

Imagine you have just been mugged

If the police interview asked you “Can you describe your assailant?”

Under stress you would probably answer “No”

But if they gave you options; “Was it one person or more?” even under pressure you could probably answer “one”.  Then “was it a man or a woman?  “Answer “a man”, “big man or small man?” etc.  In this way the police would help you construct a picture by alternatives rather than a direct closed question.

I a similar way, if you ask your client “can you quantify how much this is worth” they will probably answer “no”.  They are under stress and probably do not want to admit how much this performance gap, which they are accountable for is costing.  So act like a policeman.  Help you client build up a picture of the current state and metrics; “so we are 10% behind target” and the desired performance; “and the target is £100k per person” and help them with the gap “so is that a gap of 10k per person?”

“How much is the cost of the gap in total?  Is it “£1 million or 2 million?”  What would you say the ballpark fire was for doing nothing?”

Don’t worry if you cannot get accurate figures but try and get a ballpark figure or statement of the cost of the gap.  Sometimes we cannot get a single figure in this case just write down the statement that the client used to best describe their perception of the gap e.g. “It would be a disaster”.

Top tips for effective Performance Consulting 3 – Quantify the gap

Continuing my top tips…

  1. Quantifying the performance gap is not easy

Don’t beat yourself up if you find it hard.  Your client will be trying the discomfort of exposing their weakness.

So, don’t ask the direct question too early: “What would be the cost if we did nothing about this?”

You need to make sure that you have built enough trust by your active listening and seeing the world through their eyes by drawing a system diagram together.

Then look for a generalization such as “many” or “less than” or “some”

Ask:  “How many?”, “less than what?” “What is some?”

Keep asking open question until you get a metric: “so the current error rate is 15%”

Flip it to the other side:  What would you expect it to be?” (Answer 10%)

Bingo!  Now you have metrics on both sides of the performance gap equation you can quantify the gap “so we have a gap of 5% what is that worth?”

(If you have missed the previous tips on Contracting and The system diagram I have put them on my blog on the web site or contact me and I will send them to you)



Top tips for effective Performance Consulting 2

It is a while since you attended your skills workshop.  Some parts of the process are deceptively important…

  1. The system diagram is not an org chart

The biggest thing I remind consultants about is to draw a system diagram for every project.  It is to easy to assume that we know the people involved or just to draw a simplistic organisation chart.  All our client’s problems are complex, however hard they try a present them as a simplistic solution “They need training”.  We need to unravel who they is: people always work with others and work for someone and their outputs go somewhere.  Your diagram should:

  • Follow outputs through to real customers
  • Include your client and yourself on the diagram
  • Identify the business sponsor and buying chain that has to authority or sign off any solution
  • Graphically represent where the problems are
  • Engage the customer so they cannot “sit-back”
  • Be your opportunity to build trust and rapport by demonstrating your active listening

So it’s more than just a “who’s involved diagram” or “org chart”.  Have a look at yours, if you are not doing them you are missing out on a powerful part of the performance consulting process.

Top tips for effective Performance Consulting

It is a while since you attended your skills workshop.  The forgetting curve is pretty steep for most of us.  So here are some tips to remind you:

  1. Contracting is not just for fun

It’ the way we start to control the conversation and position ourselves so we can behave as a joint problem-solving partner, not an ”order taker”.  The client wants easy street: keeping the problem simple, hoping that you will take responsibility for it and avoid the cognitive effort of having to face up to their accountability.  Watch out for “could you just”.    Defuse their solutioneering by repeating the presenting problem.   Use the chit-chat to “read” the client, use their words get into rapport, ask how long they have, check their expectations, ask permission to ask questions then start with a neutral open question to get them to open up; “who are we talking about?”.  The first two minutes of the conversation are vital to setting the conditions for a successful meeting.

An Ode to the True Business Partner

It’s not an easy job

Powerful clients who solutioneer

Use their fast thinking and positional power

To get something done

We are expected to deliver

HR and L&D solutions

To cope with the line managers abdication of their responsibilities

For coaching, supporting, leading training and managing their staff through performance issues

The key attribute of a successful HR Business Partner is the ability to stand up to such innocent manipulation and solutioneering

To keep a clear head

To build trust and rapport

To stay in an Adult frame of mind whilst we ask:

“Who is involved in this problem?”

“What are they doing now?”

“What do we want them to do?”

To repeat the client’s words

Probe when they give us generalisations

“Many”  How many?, “A lot” how much?

To do keep the trust and rapport whilst we ask challenging questions

To identify the real issues and key people involved

To construct sensible, creative, elegant solutions to close the performance gap

And leave with the client as your friend

Perceiving you as a trusted advisor

When you can do all this, my friend, you will be a true Business Partner

Nigel Harrison is the author of “How to be a True Business Partner by Performance Consulting available from the bookshop at