Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Building a Performance Support Community

We just completed our third Performance Support workshop at the Masie Center. As you can see we have added to our community 29 more remarkable people who have already proven themselves as committed Performance Support professionals.

As you all know, Bob and I are convinced that the future holds great things instore for this discipline. Performance Support is the key to delivering strategic value to the organizations we serve. It opens wide the door to informal learning -- an area we cannot and must not ignore. It extends greater life to our formal learning efforts -- ensuring longetivity to the impact of ILT and all its elearning alternatives. There isn't a movement past, present, or future within the discipline of learning that Performance Support doesn't have a vital role to play.

We are at a crossroads for our profession. And as Yogi Berra once said, "When you come to the fork in the road, take it." We need to take this journey. We need to gather our collective wisdom, experience, and capabilities and lift Performance Support into the full light of day; into the place of prominence it merits in every organization.

Bob and I stand ready to do all we can to help this happen. But it won't happen until we learn how to grow this community and then act collectively.

So here is the invitation to you via this article. Use the comments section of this article to add your suggestions regarding how you believe we can work together to accomplish this. You know what we have been doing. What else can we do? What shouldn't we be doing? How can we improve our efforts. Please think about this and then weigh in! We look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

An Invitation to Our Performance Support Community

Increasing Organizational Value Via Performance Support

Bob and I have had the privilege of meeting and working with thousands of remarkable people genuinely devoted to our training profession. They work long and hard helping people in their organizations develop and maintain the skills they need to do their work. Unfortunately we've seen this deep devotion continually challenged by leaders in organizations who have a limited view of the strategic value their training investment could provide. Too often upper-management sees training and its other support siblings as merely overhead expenses that are acceptable as long as profit margins remain healthy enough to bear the burden of those costs. And then, whenever the economic waters become the least bit rocky, the first folks they throw overboard are those viewed as overhead. This has included their casting into those cold waters too many wonderful people from our profession.

Although we know it is absolutely stupid for organizations to do this. It seems the only response we have been able to provide management is the notion that when organizations are forced to downsize, the need for training increases. As Bob discussed in an earlier blog article, we have constantly struggled to demonstrate a real return on the investment in training.

This is why Bob and I continue to pursue helping organizations support performance during all five moments of need:

  1. when learning for the first time
  2. when learning more
  3. when remembering and/or applying what's been learned
  4. when things go wrong, and
  5. when things change.

We have observed that when organizations begin addressing the informal learning needs of performers (see 3-5 above) as well as the formal needs (see 1 and 2 above) the strategic value of what we do becomes absolutely apparent.

You belong to a burgeoning community of performance support specialists. You are pioneers in this field. We invite you to add to this blog article your insights and experiences regarding the organizational value of effective performance support practices.

To begin this vital collaborative effort, we thought we would prime the pump by nesting some questions in four areas where we see performance support providing strategic value. Please add other areas and questions along with your real-world responses to the questions that follow.

Bob and I will work to consolidate your comments into a white paper that every member of this community can use to help forge a seismic shift in our industry; to help legitimize the training and support function as a core contributor to "the bottom line."

Increased Profitability
I remember, as a 9th grader, sitting on the bench during the first basketball game of the season. At one point, Coach Fullmer sent me in to play. I had pre-determined that when I got on the ball floor, I would work harder than anyone else. And I did just that. I ran hard chasing the ball where ever it was. Understandably, I didn't remain on the ball floor very long, I was quickly pulled back to the bench. I said to my coach, after sitting down, "Why did you pull me out? I was working harder than everyone else out there." Coach Fullmer's response was, "You were, but you weren't working very smart."

Obviously, up to that point, I hadn't learned what I needed to learn during the formal instruction (pre-game practices) given by Coach Fullmer. As a result, I failed to contribute much in that game. My contribution was merely a burst of wasted effort.

The same holds true in the formal training taking place in most organizations. Learners too often fail to grasp all they need and often forget quickly what they have learned during their formal training events. As a result, their performance in the workplace is often replete with wasted effort, misdirected performance, and mistakes (sometimes costly ones.) Any organization that embraces an effective performance support strategy will most certainly diminish these threats to their profitability.

Here are a couple of questions that merit your comments regarding this area
of value:

  1. How can performance support reduce wasted effort, misdirected performance, and mistakes made during the five moments of need?
  2. In what other ways can performance support increase the profitability of an organization?
  3. How is this being done in my organization? How are we measuring this?

Market Agility
In the Friday, December 7th blog, we posted an article on "Delivering Greater Organizational Agility." It makes the case for the value Performance Support brings to this strategic area. Here are three questions to help guide your comments:

  1. How is performance support bringing greater agility to my organization?
  2. In what other ways might performance support increase the agility of an organization?
  3. How can performance support ensure greater alignment with the vision and mission of an organization?

Market Advantage
Any organization that markets any product that requires performance of any kind, has customers who face all five moments of need. And if that organization provides those customers intuitive, tailored aid at those moments of need and if that aid ensures the most effective performance, then that organization will most certainly achieve market advantage over any
competitor who fails to do the same.

Consider these questions to facilitate your comments regarding market

  1. How is performance support bringing greater market advantage to my organization?
  2. In what other ways might performance support increase the market advantage of an organization?
  3. How is or can a comprehensive performance support strategy sustain customer loyalty?

Added Revenue
Many organizations, in an effort to manage escalated training and support costs, resort to turning those support resources into a profit center. Such actions eventually threaten customer satisfaction by devastating the natural incentives of real customer service. Here again, the principles and practices of performance support provide solution.

Performance support allows a multi-tiered approach to servicing customers. As part of that offering, there is plenty of opportunity to legitimately charge for added value services and at the same time preserve necessary customer service incentives. Here, then, is an area that merits your comments. These questions can help start this dialogue:

  1. How is performance support helping my organization generate added revenue?
  2. In what other ways might performance support increase revenue for an organization?
  3. How is or can a comprehensive performance support strategy preserve proper customer service incentives?

Well, this is a start. Hopefully it primes the pump sufficiently so that this community can begin working together, sharing our experiences and insights. Together, we can make a real difference in establishing the crucial value our profession provides the organizations we serve. Bob and I
genuinely look forward to your comments.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The importance of Process

Context is KING in Performance Support

Do you remember the "Content is KING" expression from the '90's? That was back when all the talk was around instructor-led training and the emergence of e-Learning. Back then, the statement couldn't have been more true. And as we discussed in earlier blog entries, when a learner is experiencing the first two moments of need (When learning for the first time, When Learning More) content remains king. During these moments, learning needs to be instructionally sound and comprehensive. When developing and delivering this kind of instruction, there is an established scope and sequence associated with the content, with learning experiences appropriately interspersed. Events are planned based upon learning objectives When a learner is in the knowledge acquisition stage pursuing mastery, content continues to reign as king.

But, when a learner moves beyond training into the realm of informal support a new monarch needs to ascend to the learning throne. During these remaining moments of need (Applying, Fixing, Relearning), performers need CONTEXT. When Conrad and I work with organizations on their PS strategy, it's always surprising how many fail to consider this most vital principle. Learners must understand where they are, why they're doing what they're doing, what others are doing and how it all relates to the task at hand. Performers need this to rapidly access the specific content they need and to act upon that content in the most appropriate way. Content without context is a formula for failure when it comes to performance support. Without context if learners, by chance, find the content they need, it is possible they may end up doing the right thing at the wrong time; many learners do this every day.

When it comes to Performance Support, CONTEXT most certainly is king. Providing context isn’t difficult. Process maps and workflows based on job role and/or project are a key component of an effective PS context architecture. It's equivalent to a well articulated analogy or metaphor as the setup to a lesson. It's the "You are here" map in the shopping mall. The shopper knows the store they wish to shop in, or at least they know what they want to purchase, they just need directions to the right store in the most efficient and direct manner. PS is the same thing. Its job is to get information in front of a learner as quickly and effectively as possible. Context is key for this to happen.

As you move forward incorporating context into your PS Solutions, it is most helpful to recognize that performers seldom work in a vacuum all by themselves. And, when technology is part of the workflow, they rarely perform on only one system in a given workday. For instance, we recently worked with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) rollout that actually involved 3 different systems throughout the process. It also involved many steps and interactions which had nothing to do with these 3 systems, BUT each was critical in the overall CRM process. If these non-systems steps were skipped or misunderstood, any work done within the CRM could be incorrect.

Another common problem for performers is that they often don't know where to start. Simply providing embedded help systems doesn't allow sufficient context. Traditional help most often fails to include non-system steps and, more seriously, almost always lacks any tie to higher level business processes. Help which exists only at the detail or system level assumes the learner knows how to get there in the first place. There are times when a learner will need to enter a PS system from the process level and dig in deeper from there.

Please don’t ignore this vital principle. Any PS strategy you develop needs to lead with processes and make them readily available to guide performers into the content they need and to also allow them to step back and get the big picture. Content without this kind of context is ineffective, frustrating, and an absolute threat to an effective PS strategy.