Monday, November 24, 2008

Performance Support is No Longer a “Nice to Have”

PS is KEY to the succes of any Learning Organization:

Clearly we live in challenging times. Throughout the coming months budgets in every area of an organization are going to be tight and tested like never before. Learning organizations will be asked to do their part to both watch its spending and increase its impact. We can no longer afford, if we ever could, to spend money on learning assets that do not give an organization the highest return on its investment and maximize performance. This is the perfect time to reevaluate PS as a key player in that strategy.

As Conrad and I have talked with organizations about PS over the past several years it has always amazed us how PS has taken a backseat to traditional training programs. It is often viewed as an add-on or “nice to have”. At the same time, training classes and e-Learning dominated the learning landscape. In today’s economic climate I would challenge that view and suggest that it’s time to reverse these priorities.

Traditional training offerings are heavily burdened and costly, often having limited impact on true performance within an organization. In many ways the old training model is broken in today’s learning climate. Training is designed to help a learner internalize information, but with the rate at which that information changes and the sheer amount of information, it is no longer realistic to expect these programs to keep up or to be nearly enough to meet the demands of today’s workforce. Employees need to have access to the latest information in the context of doing their job, not attempting to memorize it in class or searching for it behind a Learning Management Systems (LMS). Performance support should take the lead as the major driver of performance and productivity.

The biggest stumbling blocks to PS taking a more prominent role in most learning strategies are twofold:

  1. A fear that PS is something “new and untried” while training is something we already know and are accustomed to.

  2. A belief that PS is expensive to begin designing for and using.

Let’s address both of these:

PS has been around since the early 90’s when Glory Gery ( first coined the acronym EPSS (Electronic Performance Support Systems). It’s actually been around a lot longer than that! The irony is that PS has actually been around longer then e-Learning which many believe distracted its early efforts, and has been incorrectly labeled PS in many organizations. In reality there are a number of PS tools, design models, and consultants, LearningGuide being one of them, who have been successfully implementing PS for years at a fraction of the cost of e-Learning and with at least twice the impact. Here are some impressive numbers to consider:

  • Instructor-led class time reduced by as much as 75% when blended with PS.

  • Development costs 70% less than those needed to produce the “equivalent” amount of e-Learning.

  • Rapid design models and tools reducing development time by as much as 50% over standard e-Learning.

  • Standard training and support solutions for as little as $2 per user.

  • Print cost eliminated for training manuals and standard operating procedure documents.

  • Level 1 helpdesk calls reduced by 30% or more.

  • Call duration with helpdesks reduced by over 50%.

Gone are the days when developing a performance support framework was costly and delivered too limiting of a focus or impact. Today’s performance support authoring tools use the latest advances in XML single-source publishing allowing learning departments to rapidly create content while producing multiple deliverables at the same time. For example, a learning group can author a single set of content for a sales program or desktop application, which can then be used to produce training manuals for the classroom, an embedded moment of need PS system for the desktop, mobile learning assets to be accessed via mobile phone or PDA, AND a support tool for the helpdesk to use to decrease backend helpdesk call volumes. Not only does this cut down on development time and expense, but it also creates a robust learning solution which supports an employee throughout the entire learning journey. This content is also easily maintained and redistributed in real time, guaranteeing that the learner has access to the latest information. This is far more then training or e-Learning alone could ever attempt to accomplish. The greatest benefit of all is that the learners are more productive and spending less time searching for information while trying to do their job.

My intent is not to imply that training is no longer needed or valued. In fact training can be more impactful then ever when PS is designed and implemented as the key driver in a learning solution. Training no longer carries the burden of instilling every bit of knowledge needed to follow a process or master a system. Training time can be reduced and more effective as it focuses only on the fundamental skills and effective support strategies which are enabled by the PS framework available at the desktop. Training now concentrates on how and where to find information rather than being THE end-all for information which is rarely remembered, poorly applied once back on the job, and constantly changing.

An effective performance support strategy, design tool, and methodology are more important to the success of today’s businesses than ever before. It is the one learning discipline which can keep up with the rapidly changing demands of business empowering today’s workforce to a level of productivity and effectiveness training alone has rarely achieved.

I was recently at a conference and a colleague candidly told me. “Bob, I realize that my training programs aren’t getting the return we need, but I’m just not going to change right now because it’s just too scary out there to do something different.” I couldn’t disagree more!! If we take that approach we are destined to fail and be labeled as dated and ineffective. This attitude reminds me of quote a colleague of mine sent recently by Aldus Huxley; I see the better, but it is the worse I pursue”.

Con and I would welcome an opportunity to talk to each of you more about how PS could have a profound impact on your overall organization at a time when learning departments are being held accountable at unprecedented levels. This is NOT a time for us as an industry to fall back and not innovate. This is an opportunity to lead and support our learners as never before.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Delivering Strategic Value

The Role of Engagement in Performer Support

The above video demonstrates a fundamental challenge of leadeship -- "engagement". With times being what they are, organizations are turning even greater attention to this issue. Those of us in the world of performer support would be wise to also focus on the fundamental drivers of employee engagement. After all, a minimally engaged employee will most likely be reluctant to use the performer-support solutions we create and put in place. If you haven’t spent time reviewing what’s been written about engagement it would be a worthwhile effort. If you Google it, you’ll get at least 5,140,000 hits. Assuming you don’t want to sift through all that, here’s a jumpstart.

“Engaged employees are builders. They want to know the desired expectations for their role so they can meet and exceed them. They're naturally curious about their company and their place in it. They perform at consistently high levels. They want to use their talents and strengths at work every day. They work with passion, and they have a visceral connection to their company. And they drive innovation and move their organization forward.” (A Gallup Management Journal Q & A with Curt Coffman, Building a highly engaged workforce: How great managers inspire virtuoso performances, )

Certainly sounds like “engaged employees” are what every organization needs doesn’t it? But, how engaged are the people you support? According to Wikipedia ( ), “only 29% of employees are actively engaged in their jobs.” Yet, these engaged employees “are more productive, more profitable, more customer-focused, safer, and less likely to leave their employer.” So since “employee productivity is clearly connected with employee engagement,” and since performer-support is all about helping employees perform productively at their moments of need, we not only need to understand employee engagement but we need to know how to measure it, strengthen it, and employ it in all that we do. We can’t afford to be so narrow in our view of our work that we fail to address this issue of employee engagement.

What then, are the direct implications of engagement for the specific practices surrounding performer support? Here are a couple:

  1. If you want to succeed in the early stages of performance support adoption, find a project where engagement is highest. This, of course, requires you to be able to make that determination. There are tools that can help but you can also make a rough call by simply identifying the “more productive, more profitable, more customer-focused, safer, and less likely to leave” groups in your organization.
  2. If you want to help the overall organization become “more productive, more profitable, more customer-focused, safer, and less likely to [lose valuable employees,]” then building highly effective performance support solutions requires you to focus your attention beyond the tools you build to accommodate principles that drive employee engagement.

Dr. Timothy R. Clark, has introduced five factors that drive engagement (Engaging the Disengaged—In times of change five basis Forces help retain and engage employees, HR Magazine, April 2008 pp 109-112. Here they are:

1. Connecting —“Find an engaged employee and you are sure to find connections between that employee and the organization. … Leaders are primarily responsible for creating a sense of community to satisfy the basic human need for connection. Where there is no connection, people disengage and withhold discretionary effort. Creating experiences that allow employees to build relationships is mostly about the two-way sharing of ideas, facts and feelings.”

Self actualizing people have a deep feeling of identification, sympathy, and affection for human beings in general. They feel kinship and connection, as if all people were members of a single family. ~ Abraham Maslow
In a recent focus group meeting Bob and I discussed virtual communities with members of our performer support community who were attending Learning 2008. Part of that discussion focused upon the business drivers for this promising capability. One of the fundamental benefits mentioned was its capacity to strengthen and extend the boundaries of personal relationships. Beyond that, of course, there were performer support opportunities tied to specific projects where virtual communities provided compelling benefit. Here is a wonderful opportunity to blend what we do with a key driver of engagement.

2. Learning —“When employees are learning, they are much more likely to be engaged. It’s your job to create learning DNA in the organization. A culture of learning needs to permeate formal and informal learning systems. This happens most effectively when you embed learning into daily workflow. Help your people understand that an employee who doesn’t learn depreciates in value based on the speed of skills obsolescence.”

Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we repercieve the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life. There is within each of us a deep hunger for this type of learning. ~Peter Senge
Obviously, this is where we can provide core contribution to engagement. Performer support engages employees in their learning at all five moments of need. Historically our profession’s view of our role has been too narrow and focused solely on delivering formal learning events. We’re growing beyond that, thank goodness. Today we belong to a profession that can finally deliver the what Peter Senge envisioned when he wrote The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. This agile learning organization can’t happen unless its members are fully engaged. Learning may be our sweet spot, but there is room in this work to wield influence across all five of these factors. And we need to do it!

3. Envisioning —“Envisioning represents the third engagement force. Motivation draws strength from vision. The most highly engaged employees have two visions: a personal vision that creates a portrait of who and what they will become, and an organizational vision that outlines a compelling picture of where the organization tries to go. Both are important and interconnected.”

“Senior managers don’t have an exclusive preserve on envisioning. Envisioning capacity is a competency that can be developed. The skill lies at the root of creativity and innovation. It is a strategic asset to organizations and a vital engagement force. … Employees should be the primary visionaries of their own careers and joint visionaries in the enterprise.”

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours." ~ Henry David Thoreau
Where better can we help people understand the vision of the organization and facilitate personal envisioning than in the context of the work we do. We have always understood the need to align what we do with the cause and calling of the organization. We would serve our learners well if we will also help align what we do with their personal cause and calling. Lance Secretan provides wonderful insight to this need in his book Inspire! What Great Leaders Do (see .)

4. Earning —“Compensation and benefits create an economic bond between employees and organizations. It may be strong or weak, depending on the quality of the compensation system and the priorities of the employee. For some, earning is the strongest engagement force. For others, it’s lower on the list?

Probably the very best thing my earnings have given me is absence of worry. I have not forgotten what it feels like to worry whether you'll have enough to pay the bills. Not to have to think about that any more is the biggest luxury in the world. ~ J. K. Rowling
It is vital to understand that people vary in the degree each of these factors drive their engagement. Certainly increased skill development can increase compensation capacity. Organization differ in how they use compensation and benefits to incent their people. Where these incentives are tied to individual and group productivity, we can help—a lot. Performer support can deliver what employees need to perform in the most effective manner possible at every moment of need.

5. Contributing —“The fifth engagement force—and the heart of the engagement model—is based on the fundamental human need to contribute. To make a meaningful contribution and see evidence of accomplishment motivates most people to apply effort over time. It also deepens the relationship with the organization.”

What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other? ~ George Elliot
In the world of performer support, we build solutions that walk with performers as they do their job. We can, if we pursue it, build into those solutions reinforcement of contribution. How we go about doing this can and should be answered via the collective genius of our community. We need to take this one on.

I’ve blogged previously about the need for us to deliver strategic value to the organizations we serve. That need is increasing as economic waters increase their churn. Unrelenting change threatens the survival of organizations. Their workforces must be engaged and agile. No one is better prepared to help organizations address these core needs than this community. This is where we can contribute. We need to connect as a community and envision how to use learning (especially performer support) as the catalyst for accelerating employee engagement. The economic future of the learning community depends upon it.