Book Review

Analysis for Improving Performance: Tools for Diagnosing Organizations and Documenting Workplace Expertise

By Richard A. Swanson, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, Calif., 2007, 319 pp. with index, $34.95 softcover

Most organizations spend significant amounts of time and money on employee training programs and other projects to improve performance. Yet there’s usually little connection between such efforts and the organization’s needs and goals. Employees may rate a professional development speaker or program highly, yet expected organizational changes may fail to yield noticeable results.

In Analysis for Improving Performance: Tools for Diagnosing Organizations and Documenting Workplace Expertise, Richard A. Swanson, a performance improvement expert, describes the problem this way: “The activity-oriented view of many, if not most, performance improvement interventions is driven by ‘feel-good’ or ‘compliance’ concerns rather than a concern about improving performance. ... It relegates analysis to superficial opinion surveys, resulting in choosing interventions based on popularity ratings and reliance on crude job descriptions and task analysis.” Performance improvement in education traditionally fits this description.

Improving productivity and performance enhancement begins with asking the right questions and performing upfront analysis; specifying important performance goals sets the stage for diagnosing how to proceed within a systems approach. These are the issues that need to be raised at the outset: “Will the individual perform better after the intervention? Will the process perform better after the intervention? Will the work team perform better after the intervention? Will the organization perform better after the intervention?”

This book is loaded with lists of questions, systems, diagrams, forms, checklists, models and points to consider. The examples are from generic business organizations, although for an insightful educator the translation to education is straightforward.

While education is becoming more results oriented, Analysis for Improving Performance can help school districts move to the next level.

Reviewed by Arthur W. Stellar, superintendent, Taunton, Mass.