A Practical Application of PCT

As usual, I’ve been scrounging around, looking for
practical applications of PCT. I’m working on another paper but
more on that later. It just occurred to me that a very significant and
very practical application of PCT is that it leads to different, better
speculation about the likely causes of performance problems.

Remember the instructors who were speculating about why trainees
do or don’t ask questions? More often than not, this speculation
would center on trainee attitudes (good or bad) or instructor failure (or
success) or subject matter relevance (or irrelevance) to their jobs.
Further speculation might go down the path of suggesting the trainees aren’t
rewarded for asking questions (or punished if they do); that there are no
incentives for asking questions; that the instructor hasn’t made it clear
that the trainees are to ask questions (as in clarifying expectations).

There might be some minor merit in those notions BUT if you’re
wearing your PCT lenses, you immediately start speculating about what the
trainees are controlling for by asking (or not asking) questions. Is it
the pace of the instruction? Is it a wish to grasp an elusive
point? Is it a wish to appear involved or smart or or one of not wanting
to appear stupid or in the dark. On and on the speculation goes BUT, from
a PCT perspective, it is a very different kind of speculation.

The same is true in the workplace with problems of
performance. There, the speculation typically centers on the following
elements (classic factors in the analysis of human performance problems):

Goal clarity. No one has made it clear to
the performer as to what is expected so consequently he or she doesn’t do

Lack of skill. The performer is unable to
perform the task in question.

Task interference. This usually takes two
forms: (1) there are other tasks of higher priority or (2) the necessary
resources (tools, materials, etc) aren’t available.

Lack of feedback. No one is providing the
performer with information about how he or she is doing.

Lack of motivation. There is no incentive
to perform as required.

There are some stark contrasts from a PCT perspective.
For one thing, although goal clarity is obviously important, goal commitment is
far more important. In other words, it isn’t enough for the
performer to know what the boss expects; it is also critical that the performer
adopt that goal as his/her own.

Task interference is a common enough phenomenon and often
substantiated in performance analyses but what about goal conflict? What
if working toward an assigned goal disturbs the performer’s control over
some other, more important variable?

Lack of skill, which could be remediated through training,
has proven over the years to be the least likely culprit in a performance
problem. Indeed, it is a standing joke amongst performance technologists
that managers reach for training the same way people with headaches reach for
aspirin. The big different is that the aspirin works and, more often than
not, the training doesn’t.

The human performance technologists have feedback all wrong
and I’ve been beating that horse for years. They posit as
information from someone else about your performance. They completely
overlook the feedback loop that is a factor in self-regulation and so they
never examine the notion of making it possible for the performers to access information
directly instead of having it fed to them. Nor, do they take into account
that all performers must be capable of judging their own performance or they
are fundamentally unable to perform properly. (Remember my story about
training programmed instruction writers to evaluate their own work products?)

So, I’m backing through what I know of human
performance technology, looking for what I’m pretty sure are (a) subtle
differences and (b) extremely important differences.

Looks like fun…


Fred Nickols

Managing Partner

Distance Consulting, LLC

nickols@att.net | www.nickols.us


"Assistance at a Distance"SM