Geary Rummler and my performance improvement

I just learned that Geary Rummler recently passed away.  Geary was a leading thinker, researcher and practitioner in performance improvement and learning design. His approaches helped me and many others improve the impact of learning solutions and transition to the broader world of performance improvement and process redesign.

He is best known for his book Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart,  which was highly influential in the late 80’s and 90’s.  At the time of his death he was the Managing Director at the Performance Design Lab.

Some of the important concepts Geary pioneered and (perhaps more importantly) operationalized into a comprehensive framework include the following:

  • Managing organizations as open systems.  Organizations are processing systems that transform inputs into product and service outputs through a value chain of human, process and technical systems.
  • Three levels of performance. Organization, process and job/performer
  • The nine performance variables. An analysis matrix of three the levels of levels against the performance requirements of goal setting, design and management.
  • Organizational relationship map. A visual method to model, analyze and manage the horizontal or “cross functional” connections within an organization or business unit
  • The “swimlane” process map. A visual process mapping method used to document “is” and “should-be” visions of a cross functional process. Most process re-design up to this point had been functional. The swim lane process map offered a way to document cross functional handoffs.
  • The human performance system. A “systems” view of the variables that can be modified to influence the performance of individuals
  • Performance models. A method of documenting performance standards derived from job and process outputs
  • The systems approach to training and Evaluation

The systems thinking that underlies all of these approaches appealed to me having been exposed to systems theory in graduate school.  Early in my career, I was working at an aerospace company as a junior training specialist when I was asked to do a “needs analysis” for the company.  This was my opportunity to try Geary’s approaches and break out of the training box.  It was very successful and I have used these methods many times since.

I grabbed a dusty file box and found some old documents from that project.  They are over 20 years old and looking at them now they seem like a case study from the stone age but here they are warts and all (and yes, those process maps are hand drawn…almost unthinkable now. 

After the success of this project, I hired Geary (then with the Rummler-Brache group) to do some internal consulting and process re-design projects.  I learned even more through the personal conversations I had with him.  I also ended up working for the Canadian Rummler-Brache associates transcribing long flipcharts of process diagrams into digital documents…a strangely satisfying experience at the time.

Since that time I have taken his Performance Design Workshop, trained as a Rummler-Brache Process Improvement Project facilitator and have used his methods for many process improvement and performance analysis projects. I’ve modified some methods to incorporate tools from organizational development and human centered design but the roots remain.

Thanks Geary, for the pioneering thinking and doing the hard work to turn complex ideas into usable tools that made a difference for many, many learning and performance consultants.

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6 thoughts on “Geary Rummler and my performance improvement

  1. Hi Tom,

    It’s great to come into contact with you again, albeit electronically, and under sad circumstances.

    Just minutes ago, in an out-of-the-blue call from City of Burlington, a past RBG(C) client, to update their records. The lady happened to express sympathy for our loss when I told her the company trade name had changed and went on to say when googling RBG she had seen that Geary had died.

    I wasn’t aware of that and googled as well. Your blog was the first item on the list that seemed to offer info.

    I’m going back to the net to learn more. But let’s get together. I’d love to catch up. And it’s been a lonnnggg time since we fell out of touch! I’m at 416 421 4626 – same ol’ number, same ol’ place. Give me a call and let’s have a coffee.

    Great to see your name again (and be reminded of our map work together). Hope all goes well.

    JOHN

  2. I’m sad to read of Geary’s death as I too studied under him in the 80’s (as part of a corporate management education program). I have used the Human Performance System to design and troubleshoot systems over the intervening years to great effect. Sadly, on this side of the Atlantic (the UK), Geary’s work never seemed to enter the mainstream of management thinking and practice.
    RIP Geary

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