Skill Is Not Performance

A tribute to Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson

Gary A. DePaul, PhD (he/him/his)
4 min readMar 25, 2020


I first learned about the Robinsons’ performance consulting methodology when I worked at Johnson Controls in the Learning & Development Department. Dana Robinson facilitated an all-day workshop that focused on helping talent developers improve how they collaborate with business partners.

I enjoyed the workshop, but I did not appreciate the Robinsons’ contribution to HPT until I became a manager. A couple of years ago, I read their chapter in the Handbook of Human Performance Technology, 3rd Edition, which renewed my interest in their writing. Since then, I have used their books as references to further my professional development.

Their concepts are logical and simple to understand. I discovered, though, that they are difficult to practice (what some might label as “common sense” but “not commonly practiced”).

During the past few years, I have observed clients, performance-consulting managers, and practitioners oversimplify performance needs and mistakenly identify problems to be only gaps in skills. I can understand how professionals can make diagnostic mistakes, and I’ve had my share of them!

What follows are two examples. The first is faulty, and the second is the Robinsons’ approach.

Bob, the performance consultant: What not to do

Here is a fictitious example of how this happens. Sue, a sales VP, is concerned that her sales force has trouble securing acceptable margins when contracting with customers. Bob, an internal performance consultant, believes the problem is obviously with the sales force’s weak negotiation skills. Bob prescribes the following solutions:

  • Negotiating training
  • Negotiation best-practice job aids
  • Revised contract templates that make it more difficult for salesforce to decrease margins
  • Support from Sue to require the sales team to attend training and use the new templates and job aids

Bob identified a perceived capability need rather than a performance need. Too bad he did not conduct basic analysis. If he had, Bob would have discovered that the actual…



Gary A. DePaul, PhD (he/him/his)

Gary is a speaker, author, researcher, and leadership futurist.