Human Performance Improvement (HPI) Basics: The Rummler & Brache “Nine Variables” Model

HPI Basics Image

Vector Solutions (remember, Convergence Training is part of Vector Solutions) is dedicated to helping our customers improve their workplace performance.

Sometimes, that means we’ll help by providing training materials or products to our customers. Because sometimes, like when a new employee is hired, or is moved into a new job position, or when a process changes or a company introduces a new product, or when there’s a training requirement for compliance, training can really help.

But as helpful as training can be, sometimes it’s not the whole solution and still other times it’s not part of the solution at all. And that’s OK, because we can’t all be all things in all occasions. That’s true of people and it’s true for training as well.

And that’s where something like Human Performance Improvement, or HPI, comes in. HPI, as defined by one HPI practitioner, is “a systematic process of discovering and analyzing important human performance gaps, planning for future improvements in human performance, designing and developing cost-effective and ethically justifiable interventions to close performance gaps, implementing the interventions, and evaluating the financial and non-financial results” (Rothwell, 2000).

Although there are many different definitions of HPI, they generally have explicitly or implicitly include some of the key elements from Rothwell’s definition above. HPI is both systematic and systemic; it’s evidence-based; and it includes a consideration of many different performance interventions (not just training).

In this article, we’re going to continue our series of articles explaining key aspects and issues in HPI by talking about Geary Rummler, the Rummler-Brache Three Levels of Performance Model for HPI, the Three Needs for HPI, and the Rummler-Brache “Nine Variables” model for HPI.

Who Are Rummler and Brache?

Let’s quickly situate Rummler & Brache within the HPI pantheon (hint: they’re big names).

Geary Rummler

Geary Rummler is often considered one of the early originator of HPI (which is sometimes called HPT, as it is in this Wikipedia article on HPT that includes Rummler in a short list of HPI/HPI orignators, including Thomas Gilbert, Karen Brethower, Roger Kaufman, Bob Mager, Donald Tosti, Lloyd Homme, and Joe Harless.

Here’s a good collection of Rummler-related resources pulled together by our buddy, the HPI practitioner Guy Wallace.

BTW, Rummler passed away this year. RIP.

Alan Brache

Alan Brache is another important HPI thinker. You can learn more about Brache here at ResearchGate.

Rummler, Brache, and the Rummler-Branche Group

Rummler and Branche joined forces to write together and create a business called the Rummler-Brache Group.

Perhaps their most famous book together is Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space in the Organizational Chart.

You can learn more about the Rummler-Brache Group at their website, you can learn more about Rummler here at that same website, and you can learn more about Brache here at that same website again.

What Are The Rummler-Brache Three Levels of Performance?

In a white paper titled The Three Levels of Performance, Rummler & Brache identify the following three performance levels:

  • Organization
  • Process
  • Individual

By studying performance at each of the three levels, and by making sure the three levels are correctly aligned, we can improve performance in organizations. Let’s take a closer look at what Rummler & Brache say about each of these three levels in the white paper we just mentioned:

Organization

The first level is the biggest, most inclusive: the organization.  This level ultimately includes the next two.

Here’s how Rummler & Brache explain the organization level in that white paper:

When we take our first, macro “systems” look at the organization, we see the fundamental view and variables. This level—the Organization Level—emphasizes the organization’s relationship with its market and the basic “skeleton” of the major functions that comprise the organization. Variables at Level I that affect performance include strategies, organization wide goals and measures, organization structure, and deployment of resources.

The organization level deals with the organization’s relationship with things like the market, the company’s customers, stakeholders such as owners and stockholders, the community the organization is in, and so on.

Process

The organization makes its products through a number of processes. As a result, process is the second level.

Here’s how Rummler & Brache explain the process level in that same white paper:

The next set of critical variables affecting an organization’s performance is at what we call the Process Level….

When we look beyond the functional boundaries that make up the organization chart, we can see the work flow—how the work gets done. We contend that organizations produce their outputs through myriad cross- functional work processes, such as the new-product design process, the merchandising process, the production process, the sales process, the distribution process, and the billing process (to name a very few).

An organization is only as good as its processes. To manage the Performance Variables at the Process Level, one must ensure that processes are installed to meet customer needs, that those processes work effectively and efficiently, and that the process goals and measures are driven by the customers’ and the organization’s requirements.

So if an organization exists to do “organization” level things like succeed in the market, please owners and stockholders, and of course satisfy customers, the organization sets up processes to get those things done.

Individual

But processes don’t run themselves (well, we admit, with the coming of robotics and sensors and artificial intelligence, this is changing a bit). People are involved in making those processes work.

Here’s what Rummler and Brache have to say about the individual level in that same white paper:

Processes, in turn, are performed and managed by individuals doing various jobs…The Performance Variables that must be managed at the Job/Performer Level include hiring and promotion, job responsibilities and standards, feedback, rewards, and training

Ultimately, it’s people who perform in an organization. Yes, sometimes they perform as part of a process, and yes, sometiimes they perform within the context of their organization, but we never want to lose sight of this essential level of organizational performance and this essential opportunity for organizational performance improvement.

Summing Up The Three Levels of Performance

So to truly understand and hope to improve organizational performance, Rummler & Brache show us that we need to look at organizational performance, the performance of the various processes the organization uses to make products, and of course the performance of the individual.

Notice that the performances at the various levels will be connected or inter-related, returning us to the systemic nature of HPI. 


Rummler & Brache’s Three Performance Needs

In that same The Three Levels of Performance white paper, Rummler & Brache identify not only three levels of performance but also three performance needs. Those three performance needs are:

  • Goals
  • Design
  • Management

As we did with the three performance levels earlier, let’s now take a closer look at each of these three performance needs:

Goals

At each of the three levels we explained above–organization, process, and individual–an organization needs goals around product, quality, and more. And of course, those goals have to be aligned at all three levels so they support one another.

Here’s what Rummler and Brache have to say about goals in that same white paper:

…the Organization, Process, and Job/Performer Levels each need specific standards that reflect customers’ expectations for product and service quality, quantity, timeliness, and cost.

While the goals at each level will be different, the goals will support the other levels–so the goals for individuals will feed into and support and create success for processes, and the goals for processes will feed into and support and create success for the organization.

Design

An organization can have goals, but it’s also got to design things to make it more likely that the organization will meet those goals.

Here’s what Rummler and Brache have to say about design in that same white paper:

…the structure of the Organization, Process, and Job/Performer Levels needs to include the necessary components, configured in a way that enables the goals to be efficiently met.

So there’s a bit of a “blueprinting” element to this. What’s the best way to organization, staff, and provide resources to the organization, processes, and individuals? For example, value stream mapping might help us better improve our processes, and providing management training to managers can help improve individual performance.

Management

And no, you can’t just set up some goals, design some things at the organization, process, and individual level, and leave things be. There’s always going to be an element of dynamic management involved.

Here’s what Rummler and Brache have to say about management in that same white paper:

…each of the Three Levels requires management practices that ensure that goals are current and are being achieved.

Of course, remember there’s a lot more to management than just setting expectations and deadlines and cracking a whip (actually, cracking a whip is almost never part of the recommended actions).

And What About the Rummler-Branche Nine Variables HPI Model?

So if you take the three levels of performance and the three performance needs, and if you combine them all into a table, you get the Nine Variables HPI model, as shown in the table below. As Rummler & Branche introduce it:

Combining the Three Levels with the Performance Needs results in Rummler-Brache’s Nine Performance Variables. These variables, which appear in Table 3.1, represent a comprehensive set of improvement levers that can be used by managers at any level.

Rummler-Brache Nine Variables Image

Here’s what Rummler & Brache have to say about the Nine Variables HPI model in their own The Three Levels of Performance white paper:

…we have found that everything in an organization’s internal and external “ecosystem” (customers, products and services, reward systems, technology, organization structure, and so on) is connected. To improve organization and individual performance, we need to understand these connections. The current mosaic may not present a very pretty picture, but it is a picture. The picture can be changed or enhanced only through a holistic approach that recognizes the interdependence of the Nine Performance Variables. We have found that the way to understand these variables is through the application of the systems view to the Three Levels of Performance.

 

Here’s how the Rummler-Brache “Nine Boxes” HPI model is described in Human Performance Improvement: Building Practitioner Performance (Rothwell et al. 2017):

In their classic book Organizing Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart (2012), Rummler and Brache present a framework for viewing organizational performance systems. One axis of the model consists of three levels of performance–the organizational, process, and individual levels…the other axis is comprised of three performance needs–goals, design, and management. These three performance needs and three performance levels intersect to form a grid pattern with nine variables. This matrix provides the [HPI] analyst with a structured way to examine human performance in dynamic organizational setting.

Conclusion: The Rummler-Brache Nine Variable HPI Model Can Be an Effective Way to Analyze Performance Issues at Work and Design Performance Intervenntions for Measurable, Worthy Performance Improvement

We hope you enjoyed this brief introduction to the Rummler-Brache Nine Variables model. Keep reading the Convergence Training blog for more about HPI and workplace performance improvement.

And don’t forget to download our free Mager & Pipe Solving Workplace Problems Flowchart infographic, below, before you go!

References

Rothwell, W.J. (2000). ASTD Models for Human Performance Improvement: Roles, Competencies, and Outputs, 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: The american Society for Training and Development.

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Analyzing & Solving Workplace Performance Problems Flowchart

Download this free infographic, based on the famous Mager/Pipe flowchart from their book Analyzing Performance Problems, to determine the cause of workplace performance problems and then select the appropriate solution/intervention.

Download Free Infographic

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. He's worked in training/learning & development for 25 years, in safety and safety training for more than 10, is an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry OSHA 10 and 30, has completed a General Industry Safety and Health Specialist Certificate from the University of Washington/Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center and an Instructional Design certification from the Association of Talent Development (ATD), and is a member of the committee creating the upcoming ANSI/ASSP Z490.2 national standard on online environmental, health, and safety training. Jeff frequently writes for magazines related to safety, safety training, and training and frequently speaks at conferences on the same issues, including the Washington Governor's Safety and Health Conference, the Oregon Governor's Occupational Safety and Health Conference, the Wisconsin Safety Conference, the MSHA Training Resources Applied to Mining (TRAM) Conference, and others.

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