Building a Sustainable Performance Partnering Program

Get your sponsorship, leadership, and vision in place before you spend time and money on performance partnersメ skill development.

By Dick Handshaw, President, Handshaw, Inc.

Introducing performance partnering into organizations is not new. Jim and Dana Robinson of Partners in Change were doing it for years before I met them in 1995. In their experience, the leader of the initiative was paramount to their success. The all-important first step is to develop sponsorship within your organization, and that takes leadership and a vision. Performance Improvement crosses many corporate lines, and your initiative can fail if you don’t have support in several areas. If you are initiating this effort from a training organization, that’s fine, but you need support and cooperation from other areas such as Human Resources and/or Organizational Development. Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Develop sponsorship through leadership and a vision. The first thing many organizations think about is the skills development of the people who will become the performance partners. I strongly recommend that you get your sponsorship, leadership, and vision in place before you spend time and money on skill development. If you are not the leader of your training or learning organization, that’s fine, too. But you will need whoever that person is to be your sponsor and take a leadership position with you. Once you have a vision and committed leadership, you can begin to inspire the rest of your team.

2. Develop the skills of your potential performance partners. Books and workshops are a good start for skill development, but make sure the workshops don’t merely present content. The best way to truly learn performance-partnering skills is through practice and feedback with role-plays. I know this because this is how I learned the skill and it is how I teach it today. As your performance partners begin to apply their skills, I also recommend they work in pairs. It’s sort of a buddy team, like in scuba diving. One person can conduct a meeting while the other observes and takes notes. The observer can act as a coach and give feedback to the meeting leader based on the principles learned in the skill-building workshop.

Whatever skill-building approach you use, make sure it has both proactive and reactive consulting components. Typically, your clients are not out there just waiting for you to walk into their offices and help them solve their business problems. You will have to proactively, over time, build a trusted partner relationship with your clients. Once you have built a trusted partner relationship, you will be able to influence solutions that may be beyond your current control. Learning a reactive approach, which Jim and Dana Robinson call the “reframing” meeting, will help you gain permission to gather more data when you suspect you are either not hearing the whole story or maybe being asked to solve a problem with training when training is not the answer.

3. Begin to develop a trusted partner relationship with your clients. Developing a trusted partner relationship takes time. Many instructional designers may not have pictured themselves being relationship builders when they were in graduate school or when they accepted a position in training. Welcome to the real world; this is a relationship business. In reactive consulting, you will use a series of questions and your client’s own data to either confirm a training request or to discover new and better solutions. It is something you will do when your client approaches you, and it requires a good bit of skill and patience. Proactive consulting is something that happens when there is no pressing deadline or stressful initiative on the table. It is something initiated by you, the performance partner. It is a series of informal meetings in which you attempt to assess the nature of your client’s business and ask strategic questions to be better prepared when a new initiative does arise. It is through these proactive consulting meetings, scheduled by you on a regular basis, that you will achieve a trusted partner relationship with your clients.

4. Successfully introduce the program into your corporate culture. You might think that introducing your new initiative to your organization would be as easy as printing new business cards and making an announcement. You should be met with open arms and clients should be lining up to talk to you, right? I know some experienced people who tried this approach. They attempted to make the transition from training providers to performance consultants by proclaiming themselves to be performance consultants. They explained to their clients that they weren’t here just to develop training programs anymore. They explained that they were here to help them solve business problems. This approach did not go over like they planned.

The person who told me this story also told me that in her next job, where she was the director of training, she tried a different approach. She called her new approach “stealth consulting.” She approached her new clients with her Director of Training business card and didn’t tell them she was here to help them solve their business problems. She asked strategic, open-ended questions about their business issues. She found out what their business goals were. She asked for time and permission to gather additional data and she completed her Gaps Maps. As she and her clients discovered a variety of solutions to improve performance and achieve business goals, she became the trusted partner. Rather than talking about becoming a performance consultant, she simply became one.

5. Manage the common problems of change and adoption. Moving from training to performance consulting is a change in the way your organization does business. Like any other change initiative, change has to be managed. Only you know whether the “stealth” approach or a more formal approach will work in your organization. The best way to approach this situation is to do a gap analysis of your own company. One of my favorite clients used to say, “Every organization has a culture, whether it is intentional or not.” Since you are making an intentional change in culture by introducing performance consulting, you need to identify the gap between how your organization functions today and how you want it to function after the change initiative, especially with regard to human performance. Once you have identified this gap, you can begin to design programs to facilitate the change.

6. Showcase your results to document success and build a sustainable program. Perhaps the biggest challenge in any organizational change is making that change sustainable. Most of us are familiar with organizations that like to introduce the flavor of the quarter. It is important to manage change by not allowing too much change, and when you do bring on a new effort, stick with it. The best way to ensure sustainability is to make sure you share your positive results. You will make some mistakes and you will have some successes. When you do have successes, and you will have early successes, showcase that client and the work you have done together. Most importantly, take time to measure your results so you can showcase your success. No sales presentation in the world can top the value of positive results, or as Mark Twain put it, “Fewer things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.”

Dick Handshaw is president of Handshaw, Inc., a training services, performance consulting, and technology solutions company. Handshaw’s capabilities include analysis, instructional design, development, and consulting with a focus on improved business results. For more information, visit will present a hands-on clinic on “Performance Partnering: Proactive and Reactive Performance Consulting,” Wednesday, February 20, during the Training 2013 Conference & Expo in Orlando, FL. To register for the conference, visit

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