Our company, Lucid Business Strategies, specializes in working with
small businesses with less than 100 employees. In many cases,
owners and/or managers of these businesses contact us because their
business is in financial trouble, and may be in danger of closing.
We are contracted to solve a myriad of performance problems that
are causing the business to struggle. We use a Human Performance
Improvement (HPI) approach to do so.
Since these businesses are small, the decision to undertake an HPI
project is critical from several viewpoints:
- Deciding to invest in an outside resource is a major decision,
an investment that most small business owners do not do.
- This decision is about more than ROI; it is about survival.
- The business could close if the Performance Consultant is not
able to improve their situation.
- Time is critical; results must be both immediate and
- Their business may be in trouble; they do not have money to
invest in high-cost interventions, even if the ROI is projected to
On the surface, this seems like an impossible situation. In
reality, it is the perfect arena to apply the HPI process. We have
adapted the VanTiem, Moseley, Dessinger (2001) HPI model in a
manner that fits the situation perfectly, and ensures that we get
results very quickly. The process is summarized below:
- Change Management: We are very candid
with the business owner and stakeholders about the kinds of changes
they may expect as a part of working together. We establish a very
close partnership with these stakeholders, and ask that they become
a part of the analysis and implementation teams. This ensures their
buy-in, and helps them feel in control of their destiny.
Interestingly, it also helps speed the entire process, because they
can visualize their problem getting better.
- Analysis: We conduct a performance/cause
analysis in every situation. During this phase, we work hard to get
to the heart of the situation in a hurry. We uncover the major
causes of the problems using typical analysis processes, but we do
not get caught up in the details, at least not initially. In
businesses of this size, this analysis can be accomplished in a few
days to two weeks. As soon as we have enough evidence to identify
even a single major cause of the problem, we identify an
intervention and begin designing, developing, and implementing it.
We recognize that we have not identified all of the causes at this
point, and that there may be side effects from our interventions.
Our immediate goal is to prolong the life of the business so that
there is enough time to manage any side effects, and move on to the
- Intervention Design/Implementation: Our
initial interventions are linked directly to eliminating causes
that are shortening the life of the business. This could be
anything from developing financial systems and controls, working
with financial institutions, to complete redesign and focus of the
sales and marketing team. These interventions are designed to have
a very fast implementation cycle and an immediate impact on the
business. Literally every person in the organization is called upon
to help develop and implement these changes, so that we can begin
implementing at least some intervention within a couple of
Making money available for interventions is always a concern in
these projects. For this reason, these first interventions must
have an impact! Immediate Level IV results are all that
counts! We expect that anything spent on these interventions can be
recovered within 90 days. The financial improvement from these
first interventions is used to fund future interventions.
- Evaluation: Since the impact of our
interventions must be felt immediately, our evaluation is rather
simple: Is the financial condition of the company improved
immediately as we implement our interventions (measured by Sales,
Cash Flow, and Profit and Loss Statements)? If so, we continue
working to make these changes part of the organizational culture.
If not, we immediately (within 30-60 days) adjust our interventions
based upon what we learn as we implement and evaluate.
- Analysis: The process to this point buys
us enough time to go back and address other issues that have caused
the performance problem, and to address the side effects of our
initial interventions. It allows us to quickly learn the culture of
the organization, be actively involved in observations, data
analysis (from our evaluation), and establish a collaborative, open
relationship with the client. Owners, managers, and staff are
already involved in changing, and have seen evidence that the
changes can yield quick results. It is an ideal setting to go back
and do a more in-depth analysis to discover the other root causes
of the business problems, and make broader, longer-term changes.
We continue this cycle of analysis and rapid
development/implementation of high impact interventions "on-
the-fly" until the business is out of immediate danger. Then we go
down a more typical HPI path, deciding how interventions will work
together, and considering the side effects and longer-term
ramifications of our changes. In other words, we continue working
on change, but we become more focused on stability and improving
the operation of the business. This process can take several months
or more, depending on how comprehensive the final interventions
Figure 1 presents a simplified model of the process we follow.
Working with small businesses presents several challenges, not the
least of which is extremely short timeframes for results and very
limited financial resources. Following a Human Performance
Improvement approach helps keep the Performance Consultant focused
on immediate results, and ensures that we address only the
performance problems that are impacting the survival of the
business. This makes HPI an ideal process for small businesses!
2004 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.