History of ProMES
By: Robert D. Pritchard
The original development of ProMES came from three very different forces that came together rather serendipitously. The first was the result of working with Jim Naylor and Dan Ilgen on a book we did (Naylor, Pritchard, Ilgen, 1980) that has come to be known as NPI Theory. This was a six-year effort (1974-1979) to develop an integrated theory of work behavior, primarily individual behavior, which incorporated all the major constructs in the field into one unified theory. Thus, NPI incorporates individual differences, perception, motivation, roles, leadership, judgment, climate, etc. into one integrated conceptualization. It is a highly theoretical book that turned out to be the conceptual foundation of a very practical approach to productivity improvement, ProMES.
The second force was my own desire to find some form of intervention that would be feasible and effective at improving motivation and thereby performance in organizations. This applied interest was the compliment to the highly theoretical work done with the NPI book. I wanted something that was very practical, that would actually be used, and that would have a real effect. I had settled on the area of performance feedback. The idea was if you give people good feedback, it should help them improve their performance. The literature agreed that such feedback was important, but offered little information on how exactly to give such feedback. I started a research program funded by the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory (now called the Armstrong Laboratories) which looked at different ways of giving feedback and their effects on performance. This work was being done at about the same time as the work on the NPI book.
The initial work in this feedback research program was done in simulation settings, where subjects were hired for what they thought was a real job, but which was actually an experiment. In the late '70s I took what had been learned in the lab out into the field. I got the cooperation of a large Houston-based oil company to use some of their units to try different types of feedback and look at the effects on performance.
As one step in this process, we had to pick the jobs to use in the study. I needed jobs where people worked as individuals with no interdependence on others, where they only did one or two things, and where measures of output were readily available. These conditions were necessary so that my individual-based feedback approaches could be implemented. We looked for weeks to find such jobs. Bear in mind that this was a huge organization with hundreds of jobs, yet I couldn't find one that met these criteria!
I finally did find a couple of jobs and we did the project, but I learned a powerful lesson. If I needed a type of job to implement my ideas about feedback that could only rarely be found in an actual organization, maybe I was going about this in the wrong way. How could I find some practical, effective interventions that would actually make a difference if there were no such jobs to use them with? It became clear that what was needed was a way of giving feedback in work settings that were much more complex: settings where each person did many things, different people did different things, and there were complex interdependencies between people within the unit and between units.
These first two streams of force (NPI and the feedback work) started to come together. It seemed to me that I could take the conceptual ideas in NPI theory and use them to develop a way of measuring performance/productivity in real organizations, with all their complexity. Some ideas started to form and this led me to start reading in the area of organizational productivity.
The final force that led to the development ProMES came from the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory . They were interested in the idea of group-based feedback and goal setting. I believed that the approach I was developing, i.e. to use NPI ideas as the basis of a productivity measurement and feedback system in complex settings, would fit into their ideas nicely. They agreed, and in 1983 funded a project to try this new approach in the Air Force. This project was done from 1983-1987, and led to the development and first field evaluation of ProMES (Pritchard, Jones, Roth, Stuebing, and Ekeberg, 1988, 1989).
The project was very successful in that it was possible to develop ProMES, and using the feedback, productivity improved substantially in all five units where it was tried. It became clear that ProMES had significant potential and I followed up the first articles about it with the 1990 book describing ProMES in detail. I also had the good fortune to meet a number of researchers in different countries who were interested in ProMES and wanted to try it. Working with one of these groups lead to a German adaptation of the 1990 book, Pritchard, Kleinbeck, Schmidt (1993).
ProMES attempts have been to answer the following questions:
Can ProMES be developed in different settings?
Does ProMES improve productivity?
What Factors seem to be important for making ProMES successful?
What are some of the other effects of ProMES?
What other applications can ProMES be used for?
What have we learned about why ProMES works?
These questions are answered in a 1995 book on ProMES (Pritchard, 1995) which is an edited volume where the contributors describe their own ProMES projects. In summary, the conclusions are that ProMES can be developed in a wide variety of settings, it has a very large positive effect on productivity, much larger than any intervention for which there is evaluation data. We have learned many of the factors that make a ProMES project successful and that ProMES has positive effects on the people doing the work. ProMES can also be used in many other applications such as performance appraisal, training evaluation, and strategic planning. We have learned much about why we think ProMES works but have a good deal more to learn.
Since the 1995 book, the research program has focused on the following questions:
Why does ProMES works so well? That is, at a conceptual level how can we explain the results? We have a number of ideas about this, but we need to test these ideas empirically. What are the key factors for success in ProMES project? Again, we believe we have some answers, but it will take many more ProMES experiments before we can answer this definitively.
What other effects does ProMES have on people? We need more data on variables such as job satisfaction, morale, stress, utilization of potentials, etc. How do you expand ProMES throughtout the entire organization? A series of issues are involved here that are much more complex than might be expected. These need to be identified and approaches developed to overcome them.
Do the effects of ProMES show up in broader organizational outcome measures? The issue is whether the improvements at lower levels of the organization will be reflected in changes in broader outcome measures. Examples of broader outcome measures could be profits and growth in a profit making organization, crime frequencies in a criminal justice organization, and getting people back to work in a government rehabilitation organization. We know that ProMES produces important changes for the unit where the project is done, but we know less about what happens when the ProMES project is expanded throughout the organization.
What other applications of ProMES are possible? There have been a number of applications of ProMES quite different from measurement and feedback for productivity improvement. For example, Borg and Staufenbiel combined ProMES concepts with their approach to identify strategic objectives (Borg, Staufenbiel & Pritchard, 1995); it has been used with performance appraisal (Hedley, Sawyer & Pritchard, 1995); and in training evaluation (Jones & Ourth, 1995). There are many other potential applications that could and are being tried. Some of these are described in a chapter in the 2002 book (Pritchard, 2002)
Related to the idea of new applications is the combination of ProMES with other applications. There are many approaches to improving organizational productivity/performance where this could easily be done. Traditional interventions such as goal setting, pay for performance, and other incentives can easily be used with ProMES. This is also true of more recent interventions such as Total Quality Management, Re-engineering, Self-Managed Teams, Learning Organizations,Balanced Scorecard, and Six Sigma.
How can the growing amount of information about ProMES best be accumulated and integrated? Although this is not really a research question, it is a strategy issue for optimally using the results of the research. We have done this through the meta-analysis of ProMES (insert link to Meta-Analysis page) and continue to analyze that database.
Another important development was the computer program written by Kenneth Malm and Fredrik Hendeberg, called ProMES Navigator ( ProMES Navigator). This is a very sophisticated program that makes entering indicator data and producing feedback reporsts very easy.
More recently, the 2002 book was completed which includes new cases and a series of other issues around ProMES are addressed such as how to get maximally valid indicators and contingencies. The most recent work involves doing the major meta-analysis on the ProMES database (Pritchard, Harrell, DiazGranados, & Sargent, 2007). This was submitted for publication in January, 2007.
Borg, I., Staufenbiel, T. Pritchard, R.D. (1995). Identifying strategic objectives in productivity management: combining features of HISYS and ProMES. In Pritchard, R.D. (Ed.), Productivity measurement and improvement: Organizational case studies. New York: Praeger, pp. 312-324.
Hedley, A., Sawyer, J.E. Pritchard, R.D. (1995). Development of a new performance appraisal instrument: an application of the ProMES methodology. In Pritchard, R.D. (Ed.), Productivity measurement and improvement: Organizational case studies. New York: Praeger, pp. 274-298.
Jones, S.D. Ourth L. (1995). Linking training evaluation to productivity. In Pritchard, R.D. (Ed.), Productivity measurement and improvement: Organizational case studies. New York: Praeger, pp. 299-311.
Naylor, J. C., Pritchard, R. D., Ilgen, D. R. (1980). A theory of behavior in organizations. New York: Academic Press.
Pritchard, R. D. (1990). Measuring and improving organizational productivity: A practical guide. New York: Praeger, pp. 248.
Pritchard, R. D. Editor. (1995). Productivity measurement and improvement: Organizational case studies. New York: Praeger, pp. 380.
Pritchard, R. D. (2002). Other applications of ProMES. In R. D. Pritchard, H. Holling, F. Lammers, & B. D. Clark, (Eds.) Improving organizational performance with the Productivity Measurement and Enhancement System: An international collaboration. Huntington, New York: Nova Science, pp. 285-297.
Pritchard, R. D., Jones, S. D., Roth, P. L., Stuebing, K. K., Ekeberg, S. E. (1988). The effects of feedback, goal setting, and incentives on organizational productivity. Journal of Applied Psychology Monograph Series, 73(2), 337-358.
Pritchard, R. D., Jones, S. D., Roth, P. L., Stuebing, K. K., Ekeberg, S. E. (1989). The evaluation of an integrated approach to measuring organizational productivity. Personnel Psychology, 42(1), 69-115.
Pritchard, R. D., Kleinbeck, U.E., and Schmidt, K. H. (1993). Das Management-system PPM: Durch Mitarbeiterbeteiligung zu höherer Produktivität. (The PPM Management System: Employee participation for improved productivity.) Munich, Germany: Verlag C.H. Beck, pp. 255.
Pritchard, R. D., Harrell, M., DiazGranados, D. & Sargent, M.J. (2007). The Productivity Measurement and Enhancement System: A Meta-Analysis. Manuscript submitted for publication in January, 2007.