Performance Architecture: Where Geary Rummler’s Work and Business Process Intersect

Life can be short, as we are reminded daily in this time of COVID, and our required homestays invite contemplation of past events. We researched this column in April, month two of the shelter-in-place order here in California, and the month of Dr. Geary Rummler’s birth. We are reminded of Geary’s many contributions to the business community and write this to help younger professionals know the origins of a number of methods and tools used in their work that they may not realize originated with Geary.

Geary died unexpectedly in 2008. We revere his contributions to the field of performance improvement. We revisit his work here through three videos and point you to three models we view as the core of Geary’s contributions.

Who Was Geary Rummler?

Geary Rummler

“I’m sort of a self-funded social scientist,” Geary said (Rummler, HPT Practitioner video). Much of his work was collaborative—the outputs of training programs and client projects, usually developed in concert with colleagues. “There were always colleagues,” says son Rick Rummler (Personal Communication, May 2020).

Geary was influenced by such notables as Tom Gilbert, Dale Brethower, George Odiorne, and B.F. Skinner. Some of his work produced tools to identify exemplary performance which he followed with process models to replicate it with other performers and their managers.

To us, Geary was a colleague at our professional home, the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), where he generously shared his work, thinking, and resources. He was the creator of models and tools we use as Performance Architects, and he was the catalyst and mentor for our book, Performance Architecture – The Art & Science of Improving Organizations. Geary opened his files to us, guided us in the design of the book, and graciously wrote the Foreword. We miss him.

Watch Geary introduce himself on video HERE. Learn more about Geary HERE.

The Performance Architect’s Architect

Geary was a performance engineer, a Performance Architect. To engineer or to architect means to design, and designs become drawings/blueprints for structures. Organizations are structures and Geary explained about organizations by drawing as he gave presentations or participated in meetings.

“Geary often said that modeling was his way of understanding the world, and until he could draw a picture of something, he didn’t fully comprehend it.” (Ramias & Wilkins, p.1) His drawings evolved into detailed models that describe organizations and how they operate. The basis was the well-known System Model.

System Model

Bert

Geary included stick figures in his drawings and models to represent the performers in organizations. Eventually, this everyperformer evolved to become Bert, often named in Geary’s presentations. In Geary’s book, Serious Performance Consulting, Bert is the manager protagonist in the NuPlant case study.

Watch Geary’s Performance Engineering video HERE.

Geary on Needs Analysis

Every Performance Architect has a process for approaching a work problem or opportunity. The goal is to improve business results by determining what is getting in the way of optimum employee performance, whether for an individual or a team. The performer (worker) exists to make a fundamental process produce outputs key to a particular function. Geary saw each organization as a system consisting of performers, functions, and sub-systems, all wired together to produce results.

To discover the cause(s) of a performance problem or opportunity, Geary saw the needs analysis process as the link between work input and performance output, with every output also being an input. His analysis process followed these steps:

  • Start with a need or request, usually a request for training or a description of a problem; ask what is broken/what is the opportunity
  • Look at the process links between the organization and the individual performer(s) and ask: What are the performers doing and not doing
  • Raise the level of inquiry to identify broken connections between the performer and the process
  • Raise the level of inquiry again to explore the connections between the process and the organization (Three Levels of Organization – Performance Framework)

The Human Performance System (HPS) Model

Frequently, organizations define a performance problem as a solution, as in, “These folks aren’t completing the patient intake forms properly and we need to train them.” It is likely that the performers know quite well how to complete the forms, have been trained to do so, and “fixing” them is not going to change how well the forms are completed. When the problem is not the performer, it signals a breakdown somewhere else in the system.

Geary developed the HPS to trouble-shoot performance problems like this one, identify deficiencies, and design solutions. Some basics:

  • Most human performance problems have multiple causes
  • Start by assuming that the worker is not broken
  • Use the HPS to identify what is broken or missing from the process
  • Then look at both the process/work level and the organizational level to install the solution

And remember that any action taken to address a performance problem must result in more positive consequences than negative ones.

The Human Performance System

Watch Geary’s video on Needs Analysis and the HPS model.

The Anatomy of Performance

So what happens when you take Geary’s HPS model and expand it to cover a complete organization and all its relationships? It is the Anatomy of Performance (AOP) that looks at what Geary calls the Super System:

  • Internal functions
  • Resources
  • The greater external business environment
  • The competition
  • Markets

The AOP lets you “…see all the elements of a dynamic system that has a powerful influence over everything that happens within the organization, and assess how the elements impact the business issues you are trying to address.”(Performance Architecture p. 62)

(Performance Architecture, p. 63)

Geary and Six Sigma

The development of Six Sigma in the quality movement has been attributed to lots of people over the years including Geary. Six Sigma originated at Motorola where many people of note worked. Like numerous models, processes, and tools of value, Six Sigma grew out of a number of collaborative relationships within Motorola.

“…efforts to improve quality through use of statistics went back to the early 1980s, and the creation of Six Sigma as a program was essentially a repackaging of tools and methods going all the way back to Deming.” (Ramais, p. 1) It evolved over the years, benefitting from inputs and improvements from many fine thinkers. It became a training program at Motorola University that included techniques from other quality programs as well as Geary’s process improvement and management methodology.

Time Stamps for Geary’s Work

We asked Rick Rummler what he would like today’s business professionals to know about his dad’s work. Rick responded with three points in time for assessing Geary’s contributions to business process.

1968 – Companies were making investments in training to improve performance. Geary and his colleagues were among the first to consider the larger performance system in which human performance took place. This laid the groundwork for the “next level of systems thinking applied to organizations: process thinking.” (Personal Communication, May 2020)

1988 – Enterprise IT solutions like SAP were used to leverage organizational and process improvement projects. TQM, quality circles, and business process re-engineering were at the forefront of performance improvement efforts. Geary and his colleagues were initiating models and tools to analyze and improve processes that are standard today such as swim lanes/cross functional maps.

2008 – At this time performance improvement efforts to improve organization and process utilized Business Process Technology solutions such as workflow automation, Six Sigma and Lean. Geary and his colleagues continued to innovate models and tools to better understand organizations, process, and human performance. They expanded the definition of process and the description of what a Performance Architect does.

Your Turn to Reflect

Some questions for you:

  • How have you used Geary Rummler’s ideas and models in your organization?
  • How have his ideas and models influenced your work?
  • What new ideas and models are you going to add to your area of expertise?

We sign off here as Geary did: “It ain’t magic, its science.”

Summary

Dr. Geary Rummler made major contributions to the work of Performance Architects, business process specialists, instructional designers and others who seek to help organizations and their workers meet and exceed performance goals. We can thank Geary for his model building talents that enabled us to see organizations as systems with all their interlocking components.

Three videos highlight Geary’s work:

  • A brief autobiography from 2008
  • A needs analysis presentation from 1986
  • A performance engineering presentation from 1986

Geary’s approach to needs analysis provides a clear path for identifying obstacles to performance. His Human Performance System Model (HPS) takes the basic System Model and expands it to enable trouble-shooting of performance problems. The Anatomy of Performance Model expands the HPS to encompass the entire Super System, both internal and external to the organization.

While sometimes credited with developing Six Sigma, Geary, along with many others, was a contributor who helped refine this process.

Resources

Addison, R., Haig, C., Kearny, L. (2009). Performance architecture: The art and science of improving organizations. San Francisco, CA. Pfeiffer.

BPTrends. Three levels of organization – performance framework. Retrieved from: https://bptrends.info/resources/glossary/three-levels-of-organization-performance-framework/

Haig, C. and Addison, R. TrendSpotters: Geary Rummler. Retrieved from: https://hpttreasures.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/trends-geary.pdf

Ramias, A. and Wilkins, C. Remembering Geary Rummler. Retrieved from: https://bptrends.info/performance-improvement-remembering-geary-rummler/

Ramias, A. The mists of six sigma. Retrieved from: https://bptrends.info/publicationfiles/10-05%20WP%20The%20Mists%20of%20Six%20Sigma%20-%20Ramas.pdf

Rummler, G. http://gearyrummler.com

Rummler, G. HPT Practitioner 2008. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LQ35idKk9g

Rummler, G. Needs Analysis. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DZ2hqAkMng

Rummler, G. Performance Engineering. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuRz6o3HzIY

Wallace, G. https://eppic.biz/2011/04/16/celebrating-the-life-of-dr-geary-a-rummler-on-his-birthday-april-16th/

https://www.google.com/search?q=Geary+Rummler+videos&client=safari&rls=en&ei=VBCmXtjgDpqw0PEP3rOJuA8&start=10&sa=N&ved=2ahUKEwjY2qX1lofpAhUaGDQIHd5ZAvcQ8tMDegQIChAx&biw=1427&bih=767

Geary Rummler’s Books

Rummler G. (1995). Improving performance: How to manage the white space on the organizational chart. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rummler, G. Ramias, A. and Wilkins C. (2011). Rediscovering value: Leading the 3-D enterprise to sustainable success. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rummler, G. (2004). Serious performance consulting, according to rummler. Silver Spring. International Society for Performance Improvement.

Rummler, G. Ramias, A. and Rummler, R. (2010.) White space revisited: creating value through process. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Roger Addison & Carol Haig

Roger Addison & Carol Haig

Roger Addison has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Baylor and is Certified in Performance Improvement Technologies (CPT). He is the co-author of Performance Architecture and an internationally respected performance improvement consultant. He is the founder and Chief Performance Officer of Addison Consulting. Previously he was the Senior Director of Human Performance Improvement for the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) where he was responsible for educational programs and implementing performance improvement systems. Carol Haig is a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT) and has more than 30 years of multi-industry experience partnering with organizations to improve their employees’ performance. Carol is known for her superior skills in project management, analysis and problem/opportunity identification, and instructional design and facilitation. She has consulted with executives and line managers, established and managed training departments, trained trainers, written for professional publications and mentored performance consultants. She is co-author of Performance Architecture.
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