What is Performance Consultancy?

In the world of L&D there has been a move to talk more about this concept of performance consultancy, and it’s an interesting concept. The LPI even run a masterclass where you can learn the skills needed for being a performance consultant.

Essentially, if all L&D is about improving performance, so says the concept, therefore all L&Ders should be performance consultants not L&D consultants. In other worlds, this is sometimes called business partnering.

I get it.

Except, it’s quite a challenging assertion.

Most L&D practitioners are expert in what they do and what they know. That’s why they’re doing the work they do. What they tend not to be experts in is how to provide consultancy to the organisation they’re part of or working with.

It requires a very different approach to the work we do, and arguably is completely alien to most L&Ders. Sure we know how to help a business function take various forms of knowledge and transform it into a learning solution of some description. Some of us are even learning how to use digital technologies to deliver learning in ways which are different and unique. Some of us are taking life even further and designing learning solutions which are supportive of self-directed and autonomous learning.

Being a performance consultant asks for a different approach to what L&D is used to. It requires us to revisit how we approach the design of solutions by changing the way we understand the problem we’re presented with. Instead of approaching it and thinking ‘how do I create a learning solution to help fix this’ the approach needs to be ‘how can I support you to create a solution which you develop yourself’.

It means saying – a learning solution might be what’s needed to help with your problem, but actually you might need to consider a mix of solutions such as internal comms, performance management, transparency of information and changing the way you run your meetings. A learning solution might help support how some of that happens, but those other options mean that we need to be savvy about how to have conversations that are focused on performance improvement. By proxy you’re also probably taking care of L&D / engagement / management / leadership needs, but it tends to be correlational as opposed to causation.

This approach kind of causes issues for practitioners who have specialisms. For example, if you’re an Instructional Designer, and that’s the work you do, why do you need to have conversations about performance? (Answer: You don’t, that’s not your role). It also causes angst for practitioners who provide quite niche content. For example if you’re a Customer Services Trainer, does what you provide support performance? (Answer: It does, and suddenly you need to learn a whole new language about performance support once your training has been completed). And if you’re an internal practitioner, it means that your world of operating from learning needs analysis is fundamentally changing to being one where you have to learn how to consult with business leaders on what their operational world looks like, because that’s where the performance support is needed – not in the learning environment.

As we are starting to understand more and more, the world of L&D is being turned flip upside its head. Many practitioners are feeling lost in this new world, others are carrying on with their heads firmly the sand, more are arguing the toss about why they need to bother, and others are trying to learn about this new world so that they can support learners in ways that make sense for them.

I’ll be honest with you fellow L&Ders, it’s a seriously challenging time for the modern L&D / OD practitioner. I don’t lay claim that I can do all of the things written about in these spaces. I do take the time to understand the various positions and where I need that personal support is when I rely on those in my #PLN (Personal Learning Network). They help me to understand concepts better, and help me to know how I can use that thinking to inform solutions I think can be developed and delivered as well as those which I can’t and shouldn’t do anything with. Where possible, I apply the thinking and challenge needed which supports design and development of learning solutions which are focused on performance support, and focused on delivery of learning solutions that meet a clear learning and business need.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

3 thoughts on “What is Performance Consultancy?”

  1. While I agree with some of this article, I was an HR prifessional before I entered L&D which gives me a pretty strong base for developing performance management training that ties back to organizational goals. You are correct in that the individual developing and facilitating the course needs to have that fundamental knowledge in order to be credible and to affect change. When both are combined the results are powerful.

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