Human Performance Problems in Environmental Management

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Courtesy of EEM Inc.

Finding the Right Solution to Human Performance Problems in Environmental Management

Part I: Deciding on Appropriate Interventions


A familiar facet of environmental management in large and small companies today is 'training'. Whether a firm is sizing up the impending ISO 14000 environmental management systems standards and its ability or desire to subscribe, or whether it is merely trying to achieve legislative compliance, the need to keep staff considerate of the environment in their duties is always present. This need is often satisfied through various forms of staff training. But too often training is only a partial solution to organizational problems which need more careful examination before an appropriate, and effective, remedy can be prescribed. It might be surprising to find that training, as it is usually practised, may not be the right remedy at all.


This is the first of two articles in which the notion of helping people within organizations to perform their environmental management duties is examined. It is based on observations of different types of organizations with environmental protection obligations and it attempts to incorporate elements of the new approaches in the field of Human Performance Technology (HPT)1. This emerging field focuses on improving human performance as a means of achieving strategic organizational goals.


Both articles present choices. In this first instalment, the choices to be made among various types of interventions, including training, are presented as possible solutions to getting staff on the right track toward meeting the organization's environmental goals. The second article will look at strategies for training.


Identifying the Nature of the Problem

Numerous methods can be used to raise environmental awareness or to improve productivity in achieving environmental objectives, both in individuals and in organizations. New approaches in the field of Human Performance Technology offer comprehensive, systemic ways of looking at organizational components and variables that support organizational goals. These involve examining the range of factors that influence human performance in organizations including: knowledge and skills, incentives, the design of the working environment, motivation and the tools used for communication. All of these factors should, where possible and where affordable, be considered before reaching a decision on what form of interventions may be appropriate. Interventions may include a combination of training solutions as well as non-training interventions such as feedback systems, management strategies and job organization. The following two general principles, taken from HPT, may assist in deciding how to proceed:


1. Relate the environmental goals of the organization to the job requirements needed to support the goals, and to performance gaps.


The environmental goals of the organization need to be expressed in operational terms in order to provide indicators for measuring their progress. These goals need to be related to the job requirements of the people who are performing specific tasks, i.e., what do managers, technicians, and others need to be able to do in order to support the environmental goals of their unit, their department, their organization?


Table 1. Relating Goals to Job Requirements

Organizational Goal

Job Requirement

   to keep shareholders informed of organization's environmental performance

   communications staff must be kept informed of performance and include in annual report

   to comply with all applicable environmental legislation

   managers and certain plant supervisors must be aware of the regulations

   to achieve sustainable development

   purchasing staff must screen suppliers for 'friendliness' of products

   to reduce solid waste from manufacturing by 50%

   department foremen have to implement a waste tracking procedure

The performance specification of the job serves in turn to identify discrepancies or gaps between actual and optimal employee performance, i.e, it defines performance needs. In order to prescribe appropriate solutions to close these gaps, the factors that affect performance need to be considered.


2. Identify factors that affect performance gaps and plan interventions accordingly.


It is worth noting that most performance gaps are caused by several factors and therefore require the implementation of a combination of solutions. Rossett2 discusses four factors that affect performance gaps and the interventions that relate to them. Table 2 defines each of these factors, provides examples in environmental management and typical interventions.



It should be apparent from the few examples presented that training, in the form of environmental awareness seminars or courses, or even computerized, interactive methods for specific procedures (e.g., the transportation of dangerous goods), may not necessarily be the appropriate solution to a given performance gap. Moreover, training in isolation from other forms of worker support, is a commonly-practiced stop-gap which can rarely achieve the desired objective.


Table 2. Factors Affecting Performance Gaps and Possible Solutions



Examples of Interventions

   Knowledge and Skills required to perform optimally.

   individuals not familiar with regulatory requirements

   individuals not adequately skilled in inspections or auditing


   Job Aids


   Incentives: the consequences of job performance

   no feedback provided on performance

   those responsible for spills not penalized

   efforts of diligent staff not rewarded

   aligning incentive to goals

   bonus plan

   revised policies

   Design of the Work Environment: the tools and facilities available to perform the job.

   no established avenues for reporting environmental issues (upward or downward) within the organization

   inadequate or unsafe chemical storage equipment


   implementing reporting mechanisms or protocols

   scheduling meetings

   introducing internal newsletters and communiqués

   improved partitioning of responsibilities

   better tools/equipment

   work redesign

   use of role models

   Motivation is affected by the value that individuals attach to the goals expected and also by how confident they feel in attaining these goals

   workers not aware of the value of the contribution of their specific unit to the overall organizational goals

   conflicts of interest between production and environmental protection in certain jobs

   use of role models

   communicating successes

   emphazing value of behaviour

   producing clear directives on environmental responsibilities

Before implementing a training programme, environmental managers may be well advised to ask themselves the following simple questions:


1. What is the performance gap which needs to be addressed?

2. What human performance factor is being affected by this gap?

3. What environmental goal will improved performance achieve?

4. Is training the right way to solve this problem?

5. If training is appropriate, should it be complemented by some other form of support, i.e., work environment, incentives, motivation)?


Despite its limitations, training remains a useful, basic way of addressing workers' lack of knowledge and skills. The next article will examine the design of effective environmental training programs by looking at the needs of the audience, the selection of materials and various forms of training.


1.                 Stolovitch, H.D. & Keeps, E.J. (eds.),1992. Handbook of Human Performance Technology. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Gaines Robinson, D. and Robinson, J.C., 1995. Performance Consulting. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Rummler, G.A., and Brache, A.P., 1995. Improving performance: How to manage the white space on the organization chart. (2nd ed.). SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass.


2.                 Rossett, A., 1992. Analysis of human performance problems. In: Stolovitch, H.D. & Keeps, E.J. (eds.),1992. Handbook of Human Performance Technology. San Francisco: Jossey Bass. Rossett, A., and Arwady, J.W., 1990. Training needs assessment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.


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