How To Improve our Performance Consultancy Skills: Key Takeaways from the CLC Seminar

by | Mar 21, 2016 | 0 comments

Nigel Harrison is a performance consultant with over 30 years’ experience in helping organisations to set up internal consulting groups using workshops, coaching and problem solving. At the CLC Members’ Seminar on 17 March 2016, we were inspired by his thoughts on how to improve performance consulting skills. Aimee Young writes about how learning leaders can challenge the ‘quick fix’ syndrome when being asked to come up with business solutions.

Challenging the ‘quick-fix’ syndrome: Why is it happening?

As learning professionals, we have all been guilty of jumping to the ‘quick fix’ in order to solve pressing problems – business partners are no different. Clients come to us to discuss the course and not the problem, with a conspiracy of convenience resulting in a reluctance to challenge the ‘quick fix’ approach. Nigel identifies this as ‘solutioneering’ – the process by which clients will jump to solutions without identifying the problem. L&D often find themselves in the difficult position of being ‘stuck in the middle’ between wanting to fix problems and needing to provide quick solutions.

If everyone is happy in their learning bubbles, with L&D rolling out courses, learners completing courses and boxes being ticked, then why challenge and change the way we do things? Everyone might seem happy with the way things are, but where is the business value?

How does this impact on Learning and Development?

Solutioneering doesn’t actually solve the issue at hand. If we jump to the solution without understanding the problem, then the process will eventually have to start again because the problem was never solved. We need to start taking a performance consulting approach, identifying the defined business benefits of learning innovation and establishing the measureable value to the organisation. L&D need to be seen as a true business partner; being attached to the business problem, without being accountable for it.

Our research shows that on average, only 55% of L&D teams are currently analysing business problems before recommending solutions. However, 84% of Top Deck organisations* are having those conversations with business; finding out what the real issues are, thus demonstrating value as well as achieving KPI’s. We as L&D have to show the value of learning by establishing how we can link this back to business objectives and working closely with leaders, to ensure a link between the learning and why we’re doing it.

What are the challenges?

People don’t always want to face up to the actual problem at hand, and it is often easier to pass the blame on to someone else. Nigel explains that, “Performance problems always involve people. Solutions are attached to the issues, and clients won’t often reveal that without some subtle questioning.” So how do we build trust with a client in order to help them open up and enable us to work together on finding the real business problem, before coming up with real business solutions?

Nigel advises that when the client requests a solution, we should ask permission to ask questions. The simple act of saying to a client, “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” can open up a wealth of valuable information for L&D leaders. Once trust has been established with the client, we can then begin to ask more direct questions that help us identify the real problem and come up with solutions that demonstrate value. In Nigel’s book, ‘How To Be a True Business Partner’, he provides us with 3 simple steps needed to solve the problem:

1. Get the client to admit to you the problems they are facing, identify what their challenges are and help them see what the solutions look like

Map out who is involved with the problem without solving it. Clients find it difficult to illustrate complex problems in a linear way, so support your approach by drawing a picture of the people involved, and where they fit within the problem. Drawing a system diagram with the client helps you share their view of the world.

  • Who is involved?
  • What is their role?
  • Where are they based?
  • How many are there?

2. Gap analysis: it’s time to face up to the problem

One we have established trust and rapport, we can then challenge the client and get them to start thinking about the real problem. The client will start with vague ideas, so your next step is to quantify. Find out what the real problem is and ask the killer question: “What is the impact of doing nothing?”

  • What are these people doing now?
  • What do you want these people to do?
  • How much is this gap costing the organisation?

Nigel also encourages you to turn the killer question around, and ask, “What is the impact if we do something?” You have to show an understanding by considering this quantifiable gap yourself – get the client talking about their KPI’s and revealing their actual needs, not what they think they need.

3. What solutions will help us close the gap?

The secret is to have the client also identify where they are part of the solution. At this stage of the process, you should be able to build a powerful solution together. Nigel points out that often, it’s about finding high performers within the organisation and passing their practices to others. Consider this in the following four areas:

  • Knowledge: who has the knowledge to close the gap?
  • Skills: is there a lack of skills? Do we know what these are?
  • Motivation: is there something we need to do to incentivise?
  • Environment: are there any other obstacles stopping people from performing?

Being a true business partner is about working like a performance consultant in order to help the client see that they can be a part of finding the solution to the problem. Nigel states, “if you can stay true, asking open questions with integrity and following a gap analysis process, you can do enormous good in the organisation.”

Our takeaway points:

  • Ask permission to ask questions and include the client in the solving process.
  • Map out the problem visually in order to help you identify who is involved.
  • Don’t challenge the client too early: quieten your inner voice about training planning and speak their business language. Prove that you are really listening, by tuning in: listen, repeat what they say, capture acronyms, numbers and locations. See the world as they see it.
  • Ask clients the question, “What will happen if we do nothing about this issue?”
  • Find high performers within the organisation and transfer their practices to others.

 Click the image to view Nigel’s diagram on performance consulting:


Focus on building powerful solutions together and working as a true business partner by following these tips and by finding further information on Nigel Harrison and his performance consulting skills workshops at and by reading, “How to be a True Business Partner” by Performance Consulting.


*The Top Deck are defined as those scoring in the top 10% for the Towards Maturity Index. For more info, see:

Benchmark Your L&D Strategy

At Towards Maturity, we have identified six workstreams that characterise successful, high performing organisations. From these workstreams, we have developed a common framework of effective practice.

Benchmarking against that framework helps L&D pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of their own organisation, work out what needs to change and map out actions. In short, the Towards Maturity Benchmark is a structured framework that helps learning leaders under pressure identify the actions that will bring tangible results in the workplace. It helps you to work out how to get from A to B!

Related Articles

The Towards Maturity Journey: FirstPort

Having clear evidence is a vital starting point in identifying where improvement is needed and backing up your business case for change. We spoke with Emma Smith, Head of Talent at FirstPort Limited, a residential property management company. She had used the Towards Maturity Learning Health Check in a previous role and has now brought this tool to her new organisation in order to help transform their workplace learning culture.

The Towards Maturity Journey: Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company

Towards Maturity Learning Health Check provides an ideal starting point for organisations wanting to improve their development, by giving clear evidence and comparisons with high-performing learning cultures. To get a real idea of how the Health Check has a proven business impact, we spoke with Robin Lilly, Capabilities and Leadership Development Director of Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company, to hear his experiences.

L&D – Evidence matters but there is an art to gaining buy-in!

The L&D profession is under pressure to transform and become future-fit in order to stay ahead of the demands of work and workers. The profession is finding it hard to influence and allow their expertise to gain traction, with 78% of L&D professionals saying that their leaders have traditional expectations of L&D that are difficult to challenge.

Get access to high quality research case studies and resources

Join our research community and create your free account – you’ll get access to case studies, sponsored research and resources.


Digital – Does evidence-based L&D matter?

Today, over 98% of organisations are on a mission to transform the impact of their learning strategy and the majority of L&D leaders are focusing on accelerating digital because they believe it holds the key to help more people increase their performance.

Case Study: Best Learning Technologies Project 2018 (UK commercial Sector)

In 2018, 93% of learning practitioners wanted to increase employee engagement with learning, but only 27% were successful. With less than a third meeting this goal, it is important to explore how an exemplar organisation turned their learning strategy on its head to achieve just that. Read more about how Mitchells & Butlers teamed up with Kineo to become Gold award winners at Learning Technologies Awards 2018.

Our Ambassadors

Our Supporters also influence Towards Maturity's Benchmark and research, providing insights on future trends and practices that should be investigated.

Pin It on Pinterest