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!

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