Author: Nigel Harrison

Six ways our brains fool us into making stupid decisions

  1. LOLO – Lock on lock-off – Once we think we have a solution to a problem we tend to stop looking for other options and supporting solutions. There is always a single, simple, cheap solution that will fix everything and it is always wrong. (Silver bullets are for werewolves).
  2. Root cause analysis – In mechanistic systems (like car engines and factory production lines) when you find the faulty component this can be replaced and the system resumes at optimum performance. Human systems are not like that. People are part of organic systems (like flowers in a garden), they have complex causes to problems and they need multiple solutions such as knowledge, skill, motivation and environmental (light, space, warmth, food, and water).
  3. Human beings prefer fast, intuitive thinking- Daniel Kahneman: “When faced with a complex problem we often fix a simpler one instead and do not notice the difference”. We will do almost anything to avoid the hard work of rational thinking.  In many ways, we are wired to react with an intuitive fast-thinking response to problems.
  4. Groupthink – Meetings are very poor vehicles for analysing complex problems, there is a strong tendency for the group to search for a solution and someone to take the blame. Strong leaders drive the agenda to simplistic solutions and the deceptive reassurance of decisive action. “Don’t bring me problems bring me solutions”.
  5. E-mail and phone – Analysing problems by words cannot describe the interconnected nature of most human problems which always involve multiple people interacting in a system that can only adequately be described in a diagram.
  6. We don’t like to admit to our problems – We defend our fragile self-image and sense of self. It is easier to reach for defense mechanisms; denials, avoidance, blame others, and wait for a hero on a white horse to solve it for us. (With silver bullets).

All of these things make it easier for “strong” leaders to manipulate us and make it difficult for the rational problem-solver who must: listen, suspend judgement, open up the problem by drawing a system diagram, expose the real problems, investigate the causes of the problem and design integrated solutions.


Pod cast overload?

Recording David Jame’s a podcast a month ago for broadcast this week I didn’t realise the next one was coming out so close.  Anyway, someone likes it

Just wanted to say that was my favourite episode of David James’ podcast. Love the way you explain the approach to reframing problems. I’ve never heard performance consulting laid out so clearly- thanks! I hope this goes some way to helping teams dig deeper into root cause. Will take a good look at your website. Matt

Performance Consulting as an Influencing tool

Performance Consulting as an Influencing tool

Someone on my last workshop said: “Well, we have covered consulting skills but what about influencing?” The answer is that Performance Consulting is an influencing process.

Let’s think about how we influence:

“To be understood, first seek to understand”

In the contracting phase, we deliberately do not challenge the client and concentrate on building rapport.  The more information we can find out about how the client sees the world and how they like to work the better we can influence them. When we check the time available and the expectations we are starting to control the conversation.  If their expectations and unrealistic this is your opportunity to be assertive; “I cannot do that for you but If I can ask you some questions to better understand your requirements…”

In the contracting phase we are also reading the client and flexing our behavior to match their style.  We tend to do this naturally but if you want more reading try Myers Briggs for self-awareness and psychological profiling and NLP for rapport building especially how we match and mirror.

Open up the problem – not accepting their view of the solution

A key tool in opening up the problem is drawing the system diagram with the client.  We use this to overcome the first assumption that “they” have a problem which will be solved by one easy solution.  By drawing the diagram alongside the client we start to see their view of the world whilst at the same time proving how well we can actively listen by repeating what they say and writing it on the diagram.  In this way, we gain valuable information and trust to allow us to influence the client.

Gap analysis as an influencing formula

The contrast technique of comparing where we are now with where we want to be is the classic influencing, change and sales formula:

For change to happen we need:

  • Dissatisfaction with the present + a vision of the future
  • And some easy first steps

This is exactly what gap analysis gives us.  The way to increase your influence is to build the picture of the desired state in your clients’ mind whilst also creating a vision that they cannot afford to stay where they are.  The more you visualise and build metrics around these two states the more likely it is that your client will move.

Powerful solutions

Finally you last influencing tactic is to let the client come up with their idea of solutions and build on them so they thought it was all their idea.  Thinking about Motivation and obstacles in the Environment will usually identify things that the client’s needs to do in partnership with you.

The action plan

The final, final bit of influencing is to agree an action plan with dates and names.  I suggest that you control this.  I usually send the action plan back immediately after the meeting as an e-mail.  It is your contract for the next phase.  If all the actions are yours then you have probably not been very influential.  Also, use the evaluation meeting to attach yourself to the client’s success measures so that you are perceived as a long-term partner not just a supplier of one-off solutions.

That’s all folks

The Performance Consulting Process is an influencing process but it is your skill that determines how influential you are.


Nigel Harrison

Lovely feedback from the April 2019 Open workshop

“Wasn’t ready for it to end! Can see me regularly using these methods

Two days just flew! Real useful framework, looking forward to implementing Thank You!

Really practical and easy to follow.  Can evaluate it (ROI/£££) Enjoyed it.  Looking forward to using it now.  Really enjoyable two days.  Insightful, powerful active learning with lovely group and excellent facilitation Thank You!!


Great reviews process Greta pace

Easy to use repeatable process . Constructive feedback and guidance

Great pace and facilitation from Nigel.  Right amount of learning through practice!  Really useful process – hugely relevant to my work – time to bring it to life!

Excellent course, so much value in areas  I hadn’t even thought about.  I can think of so many opportunities where this will come in use.  Really enjoyable and looking forward to having a real life go!

Synergies with psychotherapy

Interesting use of the approach by Psychotherapist IreraGrgona

I see synergies between your methods appealing to business practices and psychotherapy. The simplicity of your method and the synthesiseable way in which we sum up the key points have made it very easy for clients to see at a glance where they are, what the blocks are, where they’re going and take actions.

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