Friday, December 7, 2007

Performance Support to the Rescue

Delivering Greater Organizational Agility

Yogi Bera spoke prophetically when he declared, "The Future ain't what it used to be." No statement could be more descriptive of our situation today. We live in a global age where the "playing field has been ripped wide open and the recurrent need to reconfigure people and capabilities to serve an ever-changing market [requires]... individuals to embrace constant change and renewal in their careers." (Wikinomics, Don Tapscott, Anthony D. Williams. pp 15-16, emphasis added)

Our future, as learning professionals, has been permanently altered by this global "ever-changing" marketplace. And, it is rapidly being compounded by the nature of the rising workforce where N-Geners not only prefer but require full-out support of their disposition to learn informally --- at their moment of need.

Right now, we are experiencing the calm before the storm. But, the full impact of these and the other forces at play are rushing toward us at tsunami-speed. Ultimately this perfect storm will compel every organization to fully embrace learning practices that can provide the agility they need to rapidly "reconfigure people and capabilities." Without this capacity, survival in the global marketplace is absolutely threatened.

Our response must include turning our efforts to the informal learning going on in our organizations; broadening our work to include supporting learners at all their moments of need. (See our blog article "What is Performance Support" for elaboration on the Five Moments of Need.) If we ignore this clarion call, we do so at great peril to the organizations we serve. We must begin now building viable performance support practices as part of our overall contribution to learning. We can do this by:

  • Broadening the organizational view and valuation of Performance Support
  • Establishing a realistic informal learning strategy
  • Devoting resources to systematic implementation of that strategy
  • Altering our formal learning practices to facilitate integration of performance support into the work-lives of the people we serve

Broadening the Organizational View and Valuation of PS
One of the great challenges we seem to always have before us is directly linking what we do, as learning professionals, to the market success of the organization. Training and other support groups (technical documentation, support services, etc) have historically been viewed as overhead costs. For many in our profession, whenever the economic waters have become turbulent, the first folks thrown overboard are those not viewed as core to the financial survival of the enterprise. And, at such times, training generally takes a direct hit.

This increasing turbulent nature of global markets provides us a singular opportunity to step forward and provide organizations the capacity to be agile enough to meet this ever-changing market landscape. That's strategic value! To accomplish this we must do three things:

  1. Grow in our understanding of the factors driving this need for organizational agility.
  2. Develop the skills needed to lead change in this global age.
  3. Operationalize these skills as we communicate the value of supporting learners at their moment of need to management, learning and other support teams, and the rest of the enterprise.

Timothy R. Clark, has published, this month, a book titled Epic Change - How to Lead Change in the Global Economy. (See I recommend his book as a "must read" in helping you lead out in this crucial journey of change. In addition, Wikinomics (referenced earlier) can be most helpful in understanding the factors driving the present need for organizational agility.

Establishing a Realistic Informal Learning Strategy
Informal learning is every effort performers make to learn just what they need at their moment of need so they can perform effectively. This occurs primarily outside the formal learning environments of classrooms and the online curriculum housed within Learning Management Systems.

Behind this recommendation to improve the effectiveness of informal learning is the entire Performance Support practice. In response, Bob and I have developed a PERFORM model to guide organizations as they develop and implement a realistic (that is implementable) strategy.

Prepare the organization

Establish integrated process, task, and concept maps

Respond to the Five Moments of Need

Find the right PS tools

Operationalize your plan

Release the PS program

Measure and maintain

Clearly each of these areas calls for ongoing elaboration and collaboration. But to help you get started here, we recommend you consider the workshop Bob and I lead at the Masie Center coupled with spending time reviewing the resources listed at our Performance Support Wiki. (Pay special attention to Allison Rossett's book and set of slides:

Devoting Resources to Systematic Implementation of a PS Strategy
You won't make it very far down the path of Performance Support without devoting resources to implement, overtime, a workable strategy. This presents a great challenge. How can a learning group, with already limited resources, meet the current workload and at the same time design, build, and implement a PS strategy?

Of all the issues that merit our PS community investing effort commenting and collaborating, this one is prime. We invite you to join in and share your experiences. Meanwhile, we recommend a most helpful book written by Clayton Christensen : "The Innovators Dilemma" in which he provides relevant insight that can prove helpful. (See: .)

In addition, here are a couple of guiding principles:

  1. Don't run faster than you are able. Move forward a step at a time. Find high-yield opportunities to add value. Over time build a winning season. Ultimately the support for your Performance Support Solutions will reach a tipping point and become a core part of your organization's learning practice.
  2. Drive the development of curriculum for your formal learning solutions by first creating performance support resources. This effort can often supplant the development of course materials that have little to no use following training. Bob and I have found that doing this increases the instructional power of traditional ILT and at the same time helps solve the
    traditional depreciation of learning retention that occurs once a course ends.

Altering Formal Learning Practices to Facilitate Integration of PS
I grew up on a dairy farm. One of my duties in my childhood was teaching new born calves to drink milk from a bucket. This was a great training challenge because a calf, by nature, seeks milk upward not downward. So my job required me to straddle the neck of the calf, place the bucket in front of the calf, fill my cupped hand with some warm milk, and then while the calf is looking upward for milk, put a couple of fingers in the mouth of the calf and allow the milk in the cupped part to follow my fingers into the mouth of the calf. As I did this, I would use my left hand to gently nudge the head of the calf downward toward the bucket. If I pushed too hard, the calf would fight my effort to change its pursuit upward for its mother's milk. But as I repeated this practice, patiently over-time I could train a calf to drink milk in a manner different from its natural instincts.

Now, you may be asking yourself, "What does this have to do with Performance Support?" Here's my point: The N-Geners who are beginning to enter the workplace are bringing with them the disposition to drink from the Performance Support bucket. They have little interest in the formal learning methodologies that have become near and dear to their older work peers. But the existing workforce, for the most part has a different disposition. We can't just place the PS bucket in front of them and expect them to willingly and knowingly drink from it. We need to teach them how to take advantage of the Performance Support Solutions we develop. We need to help them be more efficient in their personal informal learning efforts. We need to help many of them learn how to be more independent in how they go about learning. We must do all of this to help them effectively embrace the constant change and renewal that is rapidly becoming part of their careers. We can accomplish much of this by altering our formal learning practices to include training learners how to independently use performance support solutions in the work-flow of their jobs.

We now live in a global age that confronts organizations with adaptive challenges that in scope and magnitude are unprecedented. The future really isn't what it used to be. And this future presents us, right now, the opportunity to profoundly help develop greater organizational agility. We can deliver strategic value beyond anything we have previously been able to do if we will but step forward and embrace the journey of Performance Support..

My Grandfather Henrie used to say, "A thing done, when thought of, needs no more attention." His performing at the "moment of need" approach to life served him well. It will serve us all as well. There has never been a better time to bring Performance Support out of the shadows of the past into today's formal and informal learning practices. Let's step-up and do it!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Learning from others

10 Myths of Performance Support

Con and I often encounter misunderstandings and myths about performance support. This isn’t surprising considering how confused our industry can readily become. We don’t need to drive down memory lane very far without finding compelling evidence of this fact – just think back on the early days of e-learning with its initial promise to replace ILT. So, I thought I’d use this entry to dispel a few of the current myths surrounding Performance Support. Please feel free to add, your comments to these myths or add others I’ve missed based on your experience. As always, we’d love to hear from you!

  1. “I’ve already purchased my PS” – Performance support, like many other misunderstood learning disciplines, is an approach and methodology not a technology or product. During my early years in eLearning I watched many organizations try to purchase their way into it. That didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. While there are tools to be purchased, no organization should journey into these performance support tools without first understanding the strategic, design, and implementation implications associated with this journey. Treating PS as a product is no more effective than assuming that purchasing courseware can guarantee us an effective ILT solution.

  2. “PS can replace Training” – This is such a frustrating myth. Why does our learning industry continually position new methodologies as a replacement to ILT? Performance Support cannot and should not replace formal training. In Conrad’s first blog entry on the definition of performance support he speaks to the journey through the five moments of need. Performance support without training is about as effective as training without performance support. The two combine and complement each other to form a complete solution that covers all five areas of need. Now with this said, an effective performance support strategy can clearly change the way we look at training, in many instances shorten it, and in some rare cases, replace it. But these changes are only warranted after an exhaustive look at the current training audience and intended outcomes.

  3. “I have a knowledge management tool so I already have PS” – There are two things that trouble me about this statement. The first is the use of the word tool. As was discussed in the first myth, a tool does not give you performance support. Performance support begins with an overarching methodology and strategy. Tools can then effectively follow. Secondly, knowledge management is a vital component of any mature performance support infrastructure, but it is just that – a component part. These knowledge management practices must include not only collecting and storing information, but publishing the information into the many forms needed to support performers in all five moments of need. Knowledge management must also facilitate ready maintenance of the content. This kind of a knowledge management system can play a powerful part to an overarching performance support strategy and framework. Your performance support initiatives should use knowledge management assets, as well as many other learning assets within your organization.

  4. “Informal Learning doesn't need structure. That's way we call if informal learning!” – One of the most dangerous aspects of informal learning is that much of it is inefficient and too often ineffective. Our goal should be to create an efficient, independent, and maintainable informal learning environment. We still want to allow the power and immediacy of informal learning to occur, but there is much we can do to enhance the informal experience and make it more effective. A performance support framework can do just that. It can help guide a learner through the informal domain. It can also help with the maintenance side of informal learning so the information encountered and shared is up to date and correct.

  5. “E-Learning is PS” – A large portion of eLearning, as it has been defined over the past 10 years, actually falls in the formal instruction category. Many of these learning initiatives live behind LMS’s forcing learners to first login, search a library, and then typically sit through a tutorial. This is formal instruction, not performance support. The just in time promise of the early 90s resulted in e-learning made available 24X7.. But, although e-learning was available, it was a long way from being as immediate as needed in a performance support environment. In addition, e-learning generally fails to focus only upon what a performer needs, tailored to his or her specific situation, and integrated into specific work processes – all crucial attributes of any performance support solution. I’m not suggesting that an effective Performance Support framework ignores e-learning. It needs to provide performers the option to dive as deep as they need into e-learning when the moment of need warrants it. But this is a far cry from assuming that e-learning behind the wall of an LMS is the answer to an organization’s performance support needs.

  6. “PS needs to live behind my LMS so we can track it” – Part of this myth was addressed in the preceding one, specifically the issue of content living behind an LMS and the steps needed to access it. PS stops being PS whenever a learner is required to dig for it. The issue of tracking is important but we can’t lock performance support behind an LMS to do it. Such a practice will absolutely kill any performance support effort. Besides, much of the tracking done in an LMS is around the completion and assessment of learning experiences. Performance support is not about completion or assessment. It’s about access and consumption. Some form of tracking is appropriate in the performance support domain, but it needs to focus on who used what and how often. These results can help a training organization learn what aspects of their training program are most effective and which might need help, which learners need additional support and in which area, and which learners are not engaged once they are back at their job.

  7. “PS doesn't need to be taught since it lives in the informal domain” – Any learning methodology needs to be taught. One problem many schools students struggle with is that they have not been taught how to effectively approach their learning. The same goes for adults in the workplace. We learned back in the 90s that simply releasing a learning program such as eLearning and making it available did not guarantee consumption, in fact many initiatives failed miserably. Performance support needs to be taught in the classroom and supported by a well crafted implementation strategy. This strategy should include a communication, measurement, and maintenance plan.

  8. “Traditional instructional design approaches for developing training will also work for PS solutions” – designing for performance support is very different than designing for training. I’m not saying that instructional designers cannot create effective performance support. They just need to understand that it is a different discipline and approach. The most important issue to be considered is that the learner already has been trained, or has some prior knowledge. This often causes the design of the framework to be reversed from the way IDs typically look at instruction.

  9. “Good training will negate the need for PS” – Nothing negates the need for performance support. Good training will definitely assist in the amount of performance support someone may use, or the degree to which they understand and access performance support, but it will not negate it. Actually, good training should help increase the effective use of performance support. Performance support strategies, tools, and techniques need be taught during training. Our experience has been that the most effective performance support strategies are first introduced and reinforced during formal training. Programs where performance support is separate from training often fail due to the disconnect created by this fragmented approach.

  10. “It's only Performance Support if it's immediate and embedded” – Although immediate and embedded performance support is a vital aspect of the performance support experience, learners also need to be allowed to take a step back in order to review or practice critical skills before attempting them. Performance support has a natural hierarchy and approach. Embedded and immediate are only two aspects of that hierarchy. There are also layers of support beyond that. Sometimes learners need more information or deeper references beyond the immediate steps. There are even times when a learner may want some degree of formal training to support their performance. Viewing performance support as only immediate and embedded will not lead you to a fully-functional performance support framework for your learners.