1st Friday Favorite Guru: Thomas F. Gilbert

This month we start on the First Friday of October 2012 with another of my favorite gurus…

Thomas F. Gilbert

I did not have a personal relationship with the late Thomas F. Gilbert. I have shaken his hand at several NSPI Conferences, and perhaps at one ISPI Conference. But he might not have been able to pick me out of a lineup to win $64,000.

Today his work is known under the “branding” of others – particularly “Six Boxes.”

Gilbert is known in NSPI/ISPI circles – by some – and not without some controversy – as The Father of Human Performance Technology. If the focus on Performance Improvement is on the Individual – that might be truer – but not totally true – IMO. If the focus/foci of Performance Improvement is on the Process level or the Organization level – then that is not true at all – IMO.

But his contributions are well worth understanding none-the-less.

From Wikipedia

Thomas F. Gilbert (1927 – 1995) was a psychologist who is often known as the founder of the field of performance technology, also known as Human Performance Technology (HPT). Gilbert himself coined and used the term Performance Engineering. Gilbert applied his understanding of behavioral psychology to improve human performance at work and at school. He is best known for his book Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance.

The original book cover.

Gilbert devised HPT when he realized that formal learning programs often only brought about a change in knowledge, not a change in behavior. Other techniques were needed to bring about a lasting change in behavior.

Dr. Gilbert spent a year on a post-doctoral sabbatical working with the behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner at Harvard University and with Ogden R. Lindsley in Lindsley’s laboratory at Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, MA. Dr. Gilbert received his BA and MA degrees at the University of South Carolina and his PhD in psychology from the University of Tennessee. His specialties were statistics, testing and measurement. (See Ogden Lindsley’s memoriam in the references section.)

The latest version of the book cover.

Gilbert applied this model to the world of work and school by observing that Performance is a function of an interaction between a person’s Behavior and his/her Environment (P = B x E) and then defining the elements of the ABC model within each of these two domains. He called the resulting model the Performance Engineering Model, and used it to identify opportunities to systematically develop the managerially controllable systems and other factors in the work and school environments which support employee/student performance. These improvements sometimes resulted in dramatic increases in performance.

Recent (unfinished) autobiography.

One of the Many Things I Learned From Tom

Is his views on the various leverages or fulcrum for the Results or Accomplishments of Human Performance – often didn’t involve the Human aspects/assets/capabilities at all. They were Environmental factors – beyond the control of the Individual and their repertoire. But not beyond the control (often) of management – just as Deming was preaching. Many of my approaches to Instructional Analysis I personally adopted/adapted from what he shared in his book – and in conference sessions I attended at NSPI back in the day (nowadays known as ISPI).

Here is the BEM – Behavior Engineering Model

But I always showed Clients THIS model before I showed them the BEM – it was on the prior page in Human Competence.

I always thought it was presented in the book prior to the BEM for a reason.

And that reason was that as silly/stupid as it was – it would resonate with the reader better. It was a “set up” as they say.

BTW – It took me three attempts to get through his classic: Human Competence – back in 1979.

I think I started telling others in the early 1980s – as my firm used to hand this book out to all of our clients as a primer on “where we were coming from” – to start with chapters 10 and 11 – and then go back to the beginning.

It only took me one long evening to read his last work, his unfinished autobiography, published just last year posthumously; of course it was an easier read.

What I Also Learned From Tom

I learned to think of the business metric of ROI as PIP – Performance Improvement Potential (or the Potential to Improve Performance) and approached it from that angle/perspective.
BTW- PIP was Level 4 (Evaluation) in my view – and I was confused by the introduction of Level 5 years after I came into the field. Confused, not myself about ROI or Results, but of others who didn’t see ROI as the measure of Results. Later I learned to think of PIP in terms of RONA and ROE – not the newer version of ROE to those w/o much business metrics knowledge, not Return on Expectations, but Return on Equity – which could be the same thing but most often (I am afraid) is not.

Some Great Resources for You

Tom has several books – only two of which I could find available today.

At Amazon – go here – for Human Competence. And go here for Thinking Metric co-authored with his wife Marilyn (who should be given credit for Human Competence as well, from what I have heard).

His autobiography “Human Incompetence” was published by Aubrey Daniels – here.

SlideShare About Engineering Worthy Performance


My Favorite Memories of Tom

Are mostly from the stories told to me and others by Geary A. Rummler, Bill Wiggenhorn, Joe Harless, Judy Hale, and Carl Binder.
You can view some of these stories in some of the videos I have been capturing at ISPI Conferences over the past 5 years – see the Harless, Hale and Binder videos (here is an index) – and see this video here and the part where Bill Wiggenhorn is talking about Tom Gilbert when he was a partner of Geary A. Rummler at Praxis – back in the 1970s.
Great stuff.

Share Your Stories

If Tom Gilbert has been a valuable influence and/or resource for you – please share your stories and links to references about that in the comments section below.

And if you have or know of anyone else who have any audio cassettes or films/video from back in day, of Tom speaking at some conference or company somewhere – please try to share digitized versions of that too – with all of us! Please put a link in the Comments Section below.

And thank you for sharing!

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18 comments on “1st Friday Favorite Guru: Thomas F. Gilbert

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