Skip to main content

PBM 101: How to identify and close performance gaps in your organization

  1. Insights

PBM 101: How to identify and close performance gaps in your organization

In this Principle Based Management 101 series, we’re unpacking mental models, ideas, and tools you can use to level up your work.

This article was previously published by Stand Together Foundation.

Principle Based Management™ provides a holistic approach to making decisions, solving problems, and creating value for individuals in your community, team members in your organization, and society at large. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​It is rooted in proven principles that have fueled the ongoing success of Stand Together and our partners. In this Principle Based Management 101 series, we’re unpacking mental models, ideas, and tools that you can use to reach the next level in your work.


Successful entrepreneurs are never satisfied with the status quo. Entrepreneurs who become satisfied are soon no longer successful. Even if they are the best in the world, the innovations and improvements of others – creative destruction – will inevitably make them obsolete. Entrepreneurs who continue to be successful always drive creative destruction themselves. 

A principled entrepreneur envisions what could be accomplished when proven principles are fully applied. At Stand Together we seek to close the gap between what we are doing, however good, and what we could be doing if we were fully applying our principle-based framework. The application of these principles enables us to continually see additional opportunities for improvement and growth for ourselves and Stand Together. 

Closing gaps is more than benchmarking. Benchmarking is the process of measuring our performance against those known to have superior practices and performance. It is useful to learn from others and identify performance gaps, but we also must compare our actual performance to what we believe is possible. It is relatively easy to spot gaps when we are not performing well. But success can be particularly difficult to overcome because it makes us overconfident and complacent. Instead, we should be humble, open to the fact that no matter how well we are doing we can always do better and learn what is possible and how we can improve. 

Supervisors must foster a culture that encourages experimentation and discovery, building knowledge networks and pursuing hunches about where there may be gaps. This helps us avoid the natural tendency toward stagnation and decline. This can be done by using the five dimensions of Principle Based Management to regularly discover gaps in our methods and results. Effective use of technology and data can also greatly enhance our ability to gain new knowledge and insights that stimulate opportunities for improvement and growth. 

A restless discontent, fueled by a vision of a better state and a belief that such a state can be realized, spurs never-ending cycles of improvement and transformation for employees and the organization.

How to identify performance gaps

Continuously using the five dimensions of Principle Based Management to help us identify and close gaps can occur individually and as groups—both formally and informally. Many organizations use an "After-Action Review" upon the completion of a project as a way to identify gaps. An "After-Action" is a helpful tool that can be used to review the benefits, problems, and missed opportunities of a project through the lens of each dimension in the Principle Based Management framework. 

With your team, consider applying the following after-action suggestions to a recent project. Identify the specific gaps between what you had hoped to accomplish and what you actually accomplished throughout all phases of the project. 

Goal of an after-action review: Compare the intended actions and results of a particular project against the actual actions and results in order to do better in the future. In other words, we want to institutionalize the learning and therefore be able to recreate success and better avoid and/or deal with problems in similar situations. 

Key assumptions of an after-action review: When mapping out a plan of action at the beginning of a project, we tend to overestimate our knowledge and/or capabilities and underestimate risk. When analyzing in hindsight, we tend to rationalize or glamorize our decisions. A well-structured After-Action Review should help mitigate these tendencies.

When and how to use an after-action review

Stay anchored to the goal of an After-Action Review. Be willing to use the pieces that most meaningfully help decisionmakers understand the results of a particular project or program and make informed decisions in the future. 

Before the project starts: You should generally assess and identify the desired outcomes, assumptions, key drivers, risks, and measures in the early stages of the project. If this did not happen prior to the after-action, you can use some of the initial time in the session to map that out. Be aware that this approach is less effective than identifying those components in advance, largely because our assessment is biased by what we observed while the project was underway (see Key Assumptions above). Having a pre-established set of criteria allows for a more intellectually honest assessment of value creation and key drivers. 

Before the after-action review: Create a rough sketch of the timeline of major events and decisions for the project, comprising both the planning and execution phases. Consider the following:

  • Were there gaps in progress? A lot of productivity in a short amount of time?
  • Were there changes in the environment that the group had to deal with? If so, did they overcome the obstacle or choose to be reactionary?
After-action review outline

Identify the initial value proposition

Have participants write out what they believed the value proposition to be. Consider asking "What value did we hope to create with [insert project name here]? How did we hope to create that value in this particular project?" 

The goal is to establish the group's perspective on what they were trying to accomplish. If you have the pre-established outcomes, assumptions, key drivers, etc. (from the above pre-work), consider using those to highlight any differences in the group's thinking. For example, if their answers differ noticeably from the pre-established value proposition, dig into why that is. 

OPTIONAL (IF NEEDED) – After assessing the value proposition, it may be helpful to discuss why this opportunity was selected. Consider the following questions:

  • What was unique or useful about this structure, project, etc.?
  • What other alternatives were considered? Were there key reasons any of these were not chosen?
  • If there were multiple iterations, what drove the change in value proposition(s)?
Consider benefits, problems and missed opportunities

For each of these areas, try to get the group to focus first on getting a full list of ideas before diving into analysis. This will help them consider the full picture and reduce the risk of anchoring to particular benefits, problems, or missed opportunities. 

Benefits: This includes "what worked well" – the team can leverage these strengths into their next project. It also includes any "positive externalities" or unexpected value the project created. Consider using the five dimensions of Principle Based Management to help participants think through what worked well. 

Problems: This includes "what went wrong" – the team can avoid these problems in the next project. Have participants brainstorm what detracted from value creation. After you have a robust list, consider using the five dimensions of Principle Based Management to help participants evaluate those problems.

  • OPTIONAL – Prioritize the problems to identify the biggest learning opportunity.

Missed opportunities: What value did we miss, or leave on the table? Participants often have difficulty distinguishing this from problems.

Performance gap analysis

Consider how the actual results differed from what you initially set out to accomplish, including the methods and resources that were needed. Assess whether the problems and missed opportunities observed are recurring (i.e., we saw them in previous projects). If so, consider including those elements in the next section below.

Identify where additional learning is needed

Consider the following potential next steps, remembering that the overall goal is to institutionalize the learning that emerged through the After-Action Review:

  • Using the five dimensions, do a root cause analysis for highest leveraged opportunities to improve [given time constraints and the nature of the problems identified].
  • Finally, what is the specific strategy for changes to improving the process in the future, and who owns those strategies?

Learn more about Principle Based Management and how it can help you transform your results.

© 2024 Stand Together. All rights reserved. Stand Together and the Stand Together logo are trademarks and service marks of Stand Together. Terms like “we,” “our,” and “us,” as well as “Stand Together,” and “the Stand Together community,” are used here for the sake of convenience. While the individuals and organizations to which those terms may refer share and work toward a common vision—including, but not limited to, Stand Together Foundation, Stand Together, Charles Koch Foundation, Stand Together Trust, Stand Together Fellowships, and Americans for Prosperity—each engages only in those activities that are consistent with its nonprofit status.
Jump back to top