20 Performance Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for Behavior Change

Source: https://flic.kr/p/A5dyA

Joshua Lipschultz, M.A., BCBA, guest author
Manny Rodriguez, M.S., bsci21 contributing writer

Stop me if you’ve heard this before…

“Why are my employees not doing what they are supposed to do? I’m paying them to work, so why don’t they just do it?”

Joshua Lipschultz Bio Picture

Joshua Lipschultz, M.A., BCBA

This thought process of a frustrated leader (which is also reminiscent of a frustrated parent) is commonly heard in organizations across the world. The million-dollar question is, “why aren’t they doing what they’re supposed to be doing?” Businesses pay thousands of dollars to figure out why employees aren’t doing their jobs. Consultants are hired in some cases to figure out the problem, make changes, and claim victory.  The result is improvements, which often do not last, leaving a frustrated manager with the same issues as before.

Thousands of techniques, tools, concepts, philosophies, and models are thrown at leaders to use to improve performance. In most cases, performance problems persist and businesses are left with investment dollars yielding no improvements.   Yet, there are some methods that when used, make performance improvement happen. 

Is it a secret?  The answer of course is no.  It is not a secret; it’s science!

It all boils down to asking the right questions. Organizational Behavior Management, the science of human behavior in the work place, has demonstrated there is a science to human behavior.

The science behind asking the right questions:

In 1996, research was conducted by Dr. John Austin to examine how experts in performance improvement solve problems. Experts representing prestigious management consulting firms and experienced managers in organizations were given performance problems to solve.  These experts were asked to “think out loud” how they were going to solve these problems. The results of this research led to 20 questions to ask when working through a performance challenge. 

These 20 questions became the very content for a tool named the Performance Diagnostic Checklist (PDC).  The PDC is used by professionals in the field of Organizational Behavior Management, Management Consulting Firms around the globe, and leaders in organizations that have learned this science. 

This checklist provides the everyday leader with a sophisticated “Cheat Sheet” of sorts for Behavior Change.

The 20 questions are grouped into 4 Focus Areas:  Antecedents and Information, Equipment and Processes, Knowledge and Skills, and Consequences

A focus on these four areas yields solutions to behavioral challenges. 

What are the questions to ask?

Manny Rodriguez, M.S.

Manny Rodriguez, M.S.

Antecedents and Information

  1. Is there a written job description telling exactly what is expected of the employees?
  2. Have the employees received adequate instruction about what to do?
  3. Are employees aware of the mission of the department/organization?
  4. Are there job or task aids visible (for) while completing the task in question?
  5. Is the supervisor present during task completion?
  6. Are there frequently updated, challenging and attainable goals that employees are comfortable with?

Equipment and Processes

  1. If equipment is required, is it reliable, in good working order, and ergonomically correct?
  2. Is the equipment and environment optimally arranged in a physical sense?
  3. Are larger processes performing well despite any incomplete tasks along the way (meaning process disconnects)?
  4. Are these processes arranged in a logical manner, without unnecessary repetition and maximally efficient?
  5. Are employees able to complete tasks without facing obstacles out of their control?

Knowledge and Skills

  1. Can the employees tell you what he/she is supposed to be doing and how to do it?
  2. Can the employees physically/verbally demonstrate completion of the task?
  3. Do the employees have the capacity to learn how to complete the task?


  1. Are there consequences delivered contingent on the task?
  2. Do employees see the effects of performance?
  3. Do supervisors deliver feedback?
  4. Is there performance monitoring?
  5. Is there a response effort associated with the performance?
  6. Are other behaviors competing with the desired performance?

When asking these questions, practitioners first identify the performance issue needing to be addressed, and then work through the checklist.  The idea is to gather input from multiple stakeholders that have insight into the performance issue.  When asking the questions, simply use a “yes” or “no” response.  A “no” indicates a need to improve in that area. 

The PDC has been used to help come up with solutions to improve productivity, sales, safety, customer service, and employee satisfaction. Recently, other versions of the PDC are being researched for other performance areas in organizations such as Work Place Safety, and various performance issues in Human Services.  The PDC is designed to help solve problems to make a positive difference in organizations across a variety of performance challenges. 

The next time you encounter a challenge, don’t guess about what the problem is, take a first pass using the PDC.  You may just find it saves you time, money, while resulting in a positive outcome.

Do you have experience with the PDC?  Do you think it can be helpful in your organization?  Let us know in the comments below!  Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

A Few References for your Reading Pleasure:

Austin, J. (2000). Performance analysis and performance diagnostics. In J. Austin & J. E. Carr (Eds.), Handbook of applied behavior analysis (pp. 321–349). Reno, NV: Context Press.

Carr, J. E., Wilder, D., Majdalany, L., Mathisen, D., & Strain, L. (2013). An assessment-based solution to a human-service employee performance problem: An evaluation of the Performance Diagnostic Checklist–Human Services. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 6,16–32.

Gravina, N., VanWagner, M., & Austin, J. (2008). Increasing physical therapy equipment preparation using task clarification, feedback and environmental manipulations. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 28, 110–122. doi:10.1080/01608060802100931

Rodriguez, M., Wilder, D. A., Therrien, K., Wine, B., Miranti, R., Daratany, K., Rodriguez, M. (2005). Use of the performance diagnostic checklist to select an intervention designed to increase the offering of promotional stamps at two sites of a restaurant franchise. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 25, 17-35. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J075v25n03_02

About the Authors:

Joshua Lipschultz, M.A., BCBA graduated from Caldwell University with a Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis.  He is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, with experience in basic and applied research, working with individuals with autism ranging in age from 3 to 21, and implementing Behavioral Skills Training Solutions.  Joshua has led organizational systems solutions in medical health facilities resulting in improved patient scheduling, and nurse rounding behavior to increase patient satisfaction.   The results of some of his work can be read in upcoming publications in the Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, and J. Luiselli’s book Behavioral Health Promotion and Intervention for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.  Joshua is currently a Doctoral Student in the Behavior Analysis program at Florida Institute of Technology.

Manny Rodriguez, M.S. has over ten years experience, working with organizations across the globe within the Fortune 1000. He is an accomplished practitioner in the field of Behavior Analysis, highly regarded by his customers and colleagues alike. Manny is especially skilled at facilitating business teams to execute strategic plans and preparing leaders to engage employees to reach their maximum potential. Manny holds the position of Director of Continuing Education and Product Development for ABA Technologies, a pioneer in online professional development of behavior analysts, and is also the President-Elect of the Organizational Behavior Management Network.

Manny Rodriguez and ABA Technologies, Inc provides products and services for Behavior Analysts and the general public. Online Professional Development in ABA, Coaching/Mentoring Behavior Analysts, Speaking engagements such as Workshops/Seminars/Webinars, and Expert Consulting in ABA, OBM, Instructional Design and Teaching Behavior Analysis. For more information, contact [email protected].

3 Comments on "20 Performance Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for Behavior Change"

  1. Roger Addison | April 24, 2015 at 3:55 am | Reply

    You may also want to read the work of Geary Rummler, Dale Brethower and Tom Gilbert. You may also want to consider reviewing the literature from ISPI http://www.ispi.org

  2. I second the suggestion poste above re: Rummler and especially Gilbert. Also see Robert Mager”s little book Analyzing Performance Problems.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.