Imagine if you could analyze your top performers through a microscope, identify the traits that make them successful, and then train everyone else in the organization to act in the same way. Though to some this might sound a bit too Orwellian, to Mark E. Furman, a research scientist who developed the theory called "human performance modeling and engineering," it's a perfectly reasonable, even humanistic, approach to maximizing performance.

Furman, the director of The Keys to Success, Inc., Coral Springs, Fla., has devoted much of the past decade to writing articles and lecturing about his theory. His book, The Neurophysics of Human Behavior: Explorations at the Interface of Brain, Mind and Behavior, will be published early next year by CRC Press.

It's All About Behavior Though human beings are constantly learning, says Furman, they're not consciously aware of what they do to put that learning to use. "The most important relationship we're looking for is how human beings process the information they're given and how it impacts their behavioral performance system."

In other words, it's all about connecting that information with increased ability. Most people, says Furman, block out certain types of information they are given, adopting for use only that which their neurological systems are most comfortable with. He has analyzed exactly what people block out--"what ranges of audio or visual information are available to them and what aren't." The information they do accept "literally activates certain circuits in the brain and forms functional pathways"--which leads to learning and eventually, performance.

The Case of the Star Diver He cites as an example an experiment he conducted a few years back, while his theory was still in development. He worked with a local college diving team to determine if he could bring the performance of three of the divers up to par with that of the best diver on the team. He began by simply observing and asking questions of all the divers who were paying attention to the star diver to determine how they went about their sport: what senses they used, what they concentrated on during their dives.

"What I found was that the excellent diver used his hearing in mid-dive. He would focus on the sound of the water that is sprayed over the surface of a diving pool, and based on that sound, he would orient his body and adjust it as he performed his dive. This was the extra edge he had developed. He didn't know he had developed it over the years, and he hadn't been trained to use his hearing the way he did. He had subconsciously applied it to his diving." Furman also found that when he turned off the sprinkler, the diver's performance plummeted.

During his conversations with the star diver, Furman found that at an early age the diver had been introduced to classical music. He soon developed his acute auditory skills by picking out the sounds of cellos, violins, and other instruments as he listened. Without knowing it, he had transferred this skill to diving when he took it up years later. Using the star diver as a performance model, Furman had the other divers adopt the same technique of aural orientation during their dives. Their performance improved dramatically in a short period of time.

What's In It For Me? One of the biggest challenges of performance modeling, Furman says, is that those who excel at what they do might not want their secrets used to train other employees. "Why would they want to put themselves in a position where they might be considered expendable? They're going to say, 'What's in it for me?'"

His other concern about the advancement of his theory is that consultants practice it the way it was intended. "More and more, I see companies out there who purport to doing human performance modeling and engineering, but who really don't have the process down."

Also, these companies charge huge fees--as much as $15,000 to $20,000--when, Furman says, they should be charging ten percent of that. He adds, "Once the model is developed and prepared for transferal to other employees, it should be turned over to the corporate training staff to do, not left to a consultant to do over a long period of time."

A product name like Salesgod promises an awful lot. But Proscape Technologies believes its Salesgod software delivers, by using some of the principles of human performance modeling and engineering to help salespeople excel at selling.

With Salesgod, it is not so much the salespeople that are being modeled as the client information available to them. "Our product provides information salespeople need to understand about a client company and whether to even approach that company to attempt to sell a product," explains Janinne Brunyee, product manager for Proscape Technologies, Fort Washington, Pa. "The software provides salespeople with information about what the company needs and when they might need it. We model the sales process, we model clients of salespeople, we prioritize sales opportunities. We also rate these opportunities so that the salesperson knows just which opportunities to prioritize."

Data regarding client companies is gathered on Salesgod software on the salespeople's laptops. These interface with the software installed on the company's main server, which is updated regularly.

The software also features a module to help salespeople customize their presentations to particular client companies. Clients can also use the information gathered by Salesgod to create training programs individualized for each salesperson.

The cost of the system varies depending on the number of users within a company, but according to Brunyee averages between $1,500 and $4,000 per person.