The Importance of Analysis to Identify Root Cause

Trainers always must ensure that we understand the root cause of a performance issue before leveraging time and other resources shooting at the wrong target.

As organizational trainers or consultants, management often turns to us to fix performance issues. Typically, the request we receive is reactionary, with little to no time spent determining what the true cause of the performance issue is. Those who don’t train rarely give thought to all the inputs to success of human performance technology and the symbiotic relationship between the individual performer and the structure and support provided by the organization. As trainers, we must not fall into that same trap. Trainers always must ensure that we understand the root cause of a performance issue before leveraging time and other resources shooting at the wrong target.

How often is the performance issue only a training matter? All in all, not very often. It’s well worth an investment of time to identify the true root of the issue so the proper fixes can be applied. Recall the ADDIE model, where Analysis is the first step. ADDIE, of course, stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation, and it is still the most prominent instructional design model used today. A properly conducted analysis is perhaps the most important tool a trainer has as it provides us with the foundation for the learning objectives that must be addressed through a training program.

Job Task Analysis

These concepts can be leveraged toward the job task analysis, which will help identify the root cause of the performance issue. Without analyzing/assessing the root cause of the performance issue, we will not know the details of what needs to be fixed.

Performance issues can stem from a variety of factors (depending on the task and the industry), including:

  • Unsuitable processes and procedures
  • Faulty systems
  • Poor equipment and materials
  • Substandard work environments
  • Improper tools
  • Lack of employee understanding and motivation
  • And, yes, a need for training

A job task analysis requires us to examine the task in question to identify three primary things:

  1. The desired end state
  2. Current performance
  3. Identify and define the resultant gap between the two.

The desired end state should be the easiest to determine, but you’ll be surprised how often it is poorly defined. You should reference specifications, written procedures, or accepted job samples to determine the requirements of the desired end state. Don’t just accept this at face value, however. Is this desired end state accurate? Do the procedures reflect the current tools and standards? Is the desired end state and the associated process clearly and consistently communicated to all people involved in the process?

Next, you must examine current performance. This can and should take some time. Ideally, there is more than one person performing this task. The trainer should examine how each of these individuals (or a sampling of them) performs the task. This should be an objective observation, performed without feedback, correction, or bias. That said, you may need to ask questions such as “Why did you do x (particular action)?” (Note: To minimize interruption, you should ask questions at the end of your observation.) Each individual’s performance should be observed and compared to the defined process. It’s important to know that people may get nervous when being observed. Be sure to let them know you are not evaluating them; rather you are evaluating how a process is performed.

Now you identify and define the gap between the standard and the actual performance. Further, as we dig deeper into defining the gap, we can determine the root cause(s) of the gap. Where did a deviation exist between the two? What were these deviations? Why did each deviation occur? Was it because the individual was not familiar with the process or how to use equipment? If so, this is a training gap. Was it because equipment didn’t work or because information or materials (inputs) didn’t meet standards? This is likely not a training gap, but the solution (new or serviced equipment, material, or data quality, etc.) may require training as part of the solution within this process or for others. Certainly consider that the gap may be caused by more than one issue.

An important consideration for any identified training gaps is to recognize what level of knowledge is needed for the learner to perform successfully. Having just conducted the job task analysis, you should be able to determine, referencing Bloom’s Taxonomy, the depth of the learning needed for the performer to be successful.

Aim for True Understanding of the Problem

The trainer is always a consultant, and a thorough analysis provides the trainer with extremely valuable information for management. Provide management with your recommendations and let them know what you feel should be addressed through a training intervention and what should be addressed through other means. Keep in mind that any changes to protocol, procedure, or equipment will require some measure of training for staff to become familiarized and proficient. As such, the trainer should still be involved to identify the best training methodologies to meet these needs and create job aids as needed.

Always take time to analyze and assess the performance issue. It helps ensure that a training intervention is appropriate, informs the training intervention, and ensures the best return on investment for your time and efforts. True understanding of the problem will help you to address the problem effectively and efficiently and will help you, your staff, and your organization be successful.

Timothy Riecker is a partner and principal consultant with Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in emergency and disaster preparedness activities including planning, training, and exercises for private, public, and not-for-profit clients. Riecker has worked 20 federally declared disasters and is a FEMA certified Master Trainer. His professional blog can be found at and his company Website at He also can be reached via Twitter: @triecker and LinkedIn: Timothy Riecker

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