“If you pit a good performer against a bad system, the system will win almost every time” – Rummler and Brache

The Six Factors of Gilbert's Behavior Engineering Model (ISPI, 2012)

The Six Factors of Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model (ISPI, 2012)

I just returned last week from a conference about performance improvement. In several of the workshops I attended, we talked about a model of behavioral influence that I find very useful in my day-to-day work and I thought I’d provide a pointer to it for you.

I build training programs and tools that support training (e.g., eLearning modules, videos, job-aids, etc.). But, as we all know, training is expensive, sometimes HUGELY expensive. And behind every request for a training program is typically a larger human performance issue. I often find myself using this model to help our clients troubleshoot performance issues. It helps us talk about ways to influence behavior and work outputs that are often more effective than training, and about things managers must do in addition to training to bring about the performance (behavior changes, desired work outputs) that they want.

The model comes originally from the work of Thomas Gilbert (he dubbed it the Behavioral Engineering Model, or BEM), and it has been updated by several people, including somewhat recently Carl Binder (the Six Boxes/Performance Thinking model) and Roger Chevalier (the Updated BEM (pdf)).

The model has six components. The first three are factors from the work environment (i.e., the organization has a great deal of control over these) and the second three are individual factors (i.e., they are dependent on and related to the person).

The environmental factors include information, resources, and incentives. The individual factors are knowledge and skills, capacity, and motives. You’ll find a table of these on pg. 9 of the article I’ve linked to below.

What do these mean?

In order for your organization to get the performance it needs from its workers it must provide the following to/for the performers:


(1) Information – Clear expectations and feedback around the performer’s roles and responsibilities.

(2) Resources – The materials, tools, and time needed to do the job. This also includes clearly defined processes and procedures.

(3) Incentives – Both financial and non-financial incentives; enough compensation to take the money-issue off the table, and a positive work environment.


(4) Knowledge/Skills – You must have performers with the necessary knowledge, skills and experience to perform the job. And you must have them placed in the right positions. (This is the domain of training.)

(5) Capacity – You must have (hired) employees who have the capacity to learn and do what is required.

(6) Motives – You must have (hired) employees whose motives are aligned with the work you want them to do and with the work environment.

Updated Behavior Engineering Model (Adapted from Gilbert, 1978, p. 88)

Updated Behavior Engineering Model (Adapted from Gilbert, 1978, p. 88)

The attached article from Roger Chevalier goes into more detail on these.

Also, I’d like to point you to a useful, organizing diagram, Leveraging the Solution (see below). This is based on one Roger included in his article (on pg. 10). It highlights two important concepts: (1) the two most important factors for leveraging results are information and resources, (2) of the six behavioral influences, the development of knowledge and skills, while still important, provides the least leverage.

Leveraging the Solution (Adapted from ISPI, 2001, p 6.3.)

What does this mean for you? When you start thinking that you’ve got a training issue, consider these questions first: Have I (or have my managers) been clear regarding our expectations for our workers? Are my/our processes clearly delineated? Do I/we have reasonably good job-aids in place? How well does the environment my employees work in support what I’d like to teach them? And, if necessary, what can I do to change that?

We can always build training programs for you, but you will get much more bang for your buck if you are considering and making improvements around these other factors as well.

As our colleagues Geary Rummler and Alan Brache put it, “Over the long haul, even strong people can’t compensate for a weak process. Sure, some occasional success may come from team or individual heroics. But if you pit a good performer against a bad system, the system will win almost every time.”

See also The Six Boxes model and Roger Chavalier’s original article, “Updating the Behavior Engineering Model”. Roger’s article (a PDF) contains a nice summary of and update to Thomas Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model as well as a useful cause analysis tool.  Rummler and Brache’s book Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart provides a useful framework for process design.

-Russ Powell (@RussPowell), 3 May 2012


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Posted in: Analysis, Consulting, Performance, Tools, Training

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