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Book Review

Serious Performance Consulting - According to Rummler

Geary A. Rummler, CPT.  International Society for Performance Improvement & ASTD, 180 pages, $44.95

©  Fred Nickols 2005


Geary Rummler’s new book, Serious Performance Consulting (according to Rummler, of course) is a valuable addition to any serious consultant’s library.  It is packed with useful schematics, templates, checklists and, most important, the “mental models” that guide Rummler’s own consulting practice.  Indeed, the book is worth reading just for the insights it provides into the way Rummler thinks about performance and performance consulting.  It is worth owning because of the tremendous treasure trove of concepts, models and detail it sets forth about consulting to improve job, process or organizational performance.

Organized into two parts, Part 1 (Chapters 1 through 4) is wrapped around a case study that illustrates serious performance consulting (SPC) in action in a parts plant in the automotive industry.  Two appendices contain detailed descriptions of the findings and recommendations from this case study.  In Part 2 (Chapters 5 and 6), Rummler acknowledges and explores the restraints and constraints confronting internal consultants regarding the practice of serious performance consulting and then lays out his thoughts about the path one must follow to become an SPC practitioner.  Each chapter conveniently contains a summary of key points at its end.

Right up front, Rummler wastes no time in coming to the heart of “serious performance consulting.”  According to Rummler, it’s “performance analysis.”  He goes on to identify three characteristics that distinguish between serious performance consulting (SPC) and what he calls performance consulting “lite”:

  • an objective of closing a measurable gap between “is” and “should”
  • a systematic results improvement process
  • a sound, rigorous performance analysis

Several models are central to the practice of SPC.  These are clearly laid out and explained in the book.  Three of the more important models are:

  • AOP (Anatomy of Performance).  This is the big picture view of performance according to Rummler.  It is also scalable; it accommodates three levels of performance: job or individual, process and organization.  It reflects Rummler’s views about organizations as systems, especially as adaptive, processing systems.  Rummler takes pains to point out the importance of keeping the organization-as-system aligned, both vertically and horizontally.
  • RIP (Results Improvement Process).  A simple, straightforward, feedback linked model with four stages or phases:

 I.      Desired results determined and project defined

 II.      Barriers determined and changes specified

III.      Changes designed, developed and implemented

IV.      Results evaluated and maintained or improved

The RIP model also serves as the basis for four basic models of a consulting engagement.  In two of these models, the consultant is involved throughout all four stages.  In the other two, the consultant’s involvement is limited to the first two stages.  The major differences are tied to the extent the consultant leads and directs the effort and the degree of internal staff involvement.  The case study has the consultant involved in only the first two stages with the client implementing the recommendations.

  • HPS (Human Performance System).  This model contains five basic elements: input, performer, output, consequences and feedback.  Diagnostically, they lead to five basic areas affecting performance: task support; individual capacity, knowledge and skill; performance specifications; consequences and feedback.

This reviewer is a long-time fan of Rummler’s work and a long-time student of performance technology and so it was especially rewarding to see some of the hallmarks of performance technology according to Rummler: for example, the HPS model above as well as the use of and reliance on an “exemplary performer” to establish benchmarks for best practice.  In this instance, the exemplary performer was another parts plant not plagued by the problems besetting the plant serving as the focal point in the book’s case study. 

Internal and external consultants will both find value in Appendix A, which presents the detailed recommendations from the project serving as the case study.  Particularly fascinating is the list of client personnel reactions the report was trying to pre-empt through the careful use of graphics, evidence and the case for change: 

  • “What do you mean by that?  I’m not sure I understand.”
  • “How do you know that?  How did you reach that conclusion?”
  • “Says who?  Who told you that?  What evidence do you have?
  • “So what?  Why do you think that’s a big deal?  It happens all the time?

Sound familiar?  They should.  And if you’d like some insight into how to head off these commonplace sniping attacks at report presentation time, Appendix A is for you.

Interestingly, Rummler doesn’t view SPC as a profession.  Instead, he views it as a craft.  Craft or profession, successful practice hinges on the consultant having the “right stuff.”  According to Rummler, this includes: 

  • being committed to improving measurable results
  • remaining solution-neutral
  • being capable of using a validated, robust results improvement methodology (RIP)
  • having a broad repertoire of results improvement strategies and tactics

Scattered throughout the book are little boxes with “according to Rummler” comments about the subject matter at that point.  Many of these are little gems and stand as lessons on their own.  For example, in ATR 3-41 (the 41st According to Rummler comment in Chapter 3), he explains why, in an age when consultants are hard-pressed to continue on past the point of recommendations and get involved in implementing their recommendations, his experience suggests that the follow-on implementation and change management phases pose less of an issue if certain factors have been satisfied (e.g., a solid business case and a deep, credible analysis).

Indeed, in the last analysis, Serious Performance Consulting is, as Rummler makes clear at the outset, a matter of serious performance analysis.  Rummler’s book, then, is also a sobering view of SPC in that you get an up-close look and, thanks to the appendices, an in-depth view of what it takes to do SPC – and it’s not for lightweights.  Although Rummler didn’t explicitly spell it out, it seems unlikely that SPC can be carried out without the involvement of a seasoned pro who has “the right stuff” – according to Rummler. 

Cover of Serious Performance Consulting


Link to Amazon.com


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This page last updated on June 27, 2015