Performance management (PM) is a scientifically based methodology that utilizes performance indicators to measure performance improvement based on behavioral reinforcement. PM has been used to solve thousands of business problems in the past five decades.

Techniques and practices are based on the underpinnings of applied behavioral analysis and were defined by Baer, Wolf and Risley in 1968. Basic research has been conducted for more than a century, and applied research since the 1950s. The use of PM methods has revealed performance improvement in as little as 90 days. Phil Duncan reports average improvement is 69 percent.

The value of PM to organizations

In her book "Safe By Accident? Take the Luck out of Safety," Judy Agnew explains that discipline is overused in most organizations because of a lack of understanding of human behavior. The troubling side effects of discipline is the message it usually sends, which is really "just don't get caught."

PM, however, is focused on deploying an individual's strengths and reinforcing desired behaviors based on the organization's needs, resulting in developing fully functioning people who act with discretionary effort. PM is practical and it works — return on investment (ROI) ranges from 4:1 to 60:1 in one year and produces short-term as well as long-term results.

PM requires no formal psychological training. It's a methodology for improving all kinds of performance (e.g., safety) while engaging performers in their work as well as creating an enjoyable place in which to work. PM can be used to enhance relationships at work, at home and in the community and is an open system.

Behavior is the key element to performance

Behavior in the workplace is determined by the conditions that surround it: a person's history of familial, social and environmental experience(s) as well as one's behavioral consequences, especially in the workplace.

Consequences drive behaviors, and there are four types of consequences (i.e., positive/negative reinforcement and penalty/punishment). Reinforcement is defined as any consequence that follows a behavior that increases the probability it will occur again in the future, and positive reinforcement increases behavior predictability (e.g., Iverson, 2002). The more a behavior is reinforced, the more predictable it becomes.

Behavior in the workplace is challenging because it's only when you look beyond the obvious that one can decode the mechanisms that really produce the responses that make for good management and for strong organizational performance. There are four common ways of knowing:

  • authority
  • agreement
  • personal experience
  • science

Science provides a rigorous and valid method to predict behavior. However, the science of behavior requires refinement, involving precise specification of the root issue investigated, experimentation, analysis and then replication of the results.

Although scientific knowing is superior to common-sense knowing, most leaders still use common sense as the basis for most of our knowledge. Scientific understanding requires systematic effort. Science is about asking the right questions.

While discovering real cause and effect may appear to be difficult when dealing with behavior, it is easier than you might think: reversal and multiple-baseline research designs have provided helpful insights in measuring behavior.

PM offers businesses a systematic, data-based approach to create cost-effective ways to improve the performance of an individual performer, team, department and ultimately the organization. According to Aubrey Daniels, all organizational results are the product of human behavior.

When you know how to appropriately reinforce behavior, the results will indicate success.