Friday, September 18, 2009

Performer Support and the Moment of Change

Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning

In an earlier blog article ( ) we stated that the moment of “Apply” is the “most critical moment in any person’s individual learning process.” Certainly preparing learners for this “most critical” moment should be at the heart of all we do – after all, if people can’t perform at that moment, what good have we done with all our efforts leading up to it?

But there is another moment of need that directly impacts how we address the moment of “Apply.” Change is a fundamental reality in today’s work environment. It is often unpredictable, absolutely unrelenting, and, more often than not, terribly unforgiving. Alvin Toffler, writer and futurist, has observed that change, today, is “non-linear and can go backwards, forwards and sideways". He further describes how we must respond to this dynamic change environment, in his book Rethinking the Future:

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."
The fundamental difference between how we support learners at the moment of “Change” and how we do at the typical moment of “Apply” lies in the requirement change makes of learners to “unlearn” and then “relearn” a new way. Our profession, for the most part, hasn’t provided the support it can and should when learners face this performance twist. Here are a couple of recommendations:

Take on the Challenge of Deep Rooted Change
Years ago, after completing work for a client, a participant in the project offered to drive me to the airport so we could continue our discussion. After a long drive I became a bit nervous about missing my flight. I interrupted our discussion and asked my driver, “How long before we arrive at the airport.” As he hit his breaks he turned to me and said, “I’m almost home.” Has something like this ever happened to you – where you have acted in an automated way? The cognitive principle at play in such circumstances is “automaticity.” Things that we do, over and over, tend to become automated in our skill set – to the point that we can do them without conscious thought. And when this has occurred within a workforce and the workforce is then called upon to change that automated performance, organizations face one of the most significant performer support challenges it can face.

Software companies have paid dearly in their failure to provide meaningful solutions to this moment of change—where skills have become “deep-rooted.” For example, Microsoft had to force feed Vista through its market channels. There was very little pull from the marketplace. Why, because Vista, with all of its remarkable capabilities, lacked the performance support infrastructure necessary to help people “unlearn” their automated skills and “relearn” how to perform the same tasks in Vista. Had Microsoft provided this support, the uptake by their existing customer-base would have not only been dramatically faster (thereby accellerating revenues) but the good-will generated within that customer-base would have suppressed rather than fed Microsoft’s competing market forces.

When organizations face any major change initiative, there is high probability of deep rooted skills that require overriding. This can best be done with a robust solution that supports performers in their workflow, at the moment of apply when they are called upon to “unlearn” and "relearn." Too few change initiatives adequately make this crucial investment.
This challenge of deep-rooted change has been around for a long time. We now have the knowledge and wherewithal to address it directly. We simply need to understand the realities of deep-rooted change and step up to it, ahead of it, before it’s upon us.

Grow Dynamic Learners
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, there is a new era of change confronting organizations today. This unpredictable, unrelenting, and unforgiving environment of change requires organizations to cultivate dynamic learners – learners who know how to be rapid, adaptive, and collaborative in how they learn, unlearn, and relearn. Today’s learners must cultivate a mindset that anticipates change. These dynamic performers must also have access to tools to help them detect change before it is on top of them. Because they live in a state of continuous change they must also cultivate personal learning strategies that minimize the probability of their own skills becoming automated (deeply rooted) unless those skills merit becoming so. These dynamic learners learn on the run and rely on performance support tools to assist them at every moment of learning, unlearning, and relearning. And when these dynamic learners see change coming at them, they know how to assess their current readiness to perform, identify what skills and knowledge they need to cast aside and then determine how to take advantage of performer support systems to assertively adapt to the conditions around them.

Is it possible to help learners develop these dynamic learning skills and disposition? Absolutely. Here are some blog articles we’ve posted that partially address how this can be accomplished:

Friday, January 9, 2009 “Flourishing During Rough Economic Times”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008 “The Role of Engagement in Performer Support”

Thursday, September 25, 2008 “Surviving Unrelenting Change”
Thursday, August 14, 2008 “Organizational Learning Agility and Performance Support”

The last blog article (listed above) references a research report we published last fall that discusses the vital need for organizations to cultivate the capacity to “learn at or above the speed of change.” Since publishing this report we have been engaged in a year-long benchmarking study with ten remarkable, and in most cases, multi-national organizations. The results of this study have reinforced the need to cultivate dynamic learners and the reality that it is possible to do so. It has never been sufficient to build exceptional learning and performance support solutions. The ultimate key to success in all we do lies in the choices people make and the way they choose to go about it. This is especially true when we work to support performers at the moment of change.

Where to from Here?
Our performance support community needs examples to help us move forward in this area. We have many excellent examples that address typical moments of “Apply.” But how are you addressing the moment of “Change?” How are you cultivating “Dynamic Learners?” Share with us what you’re doing and we’ll continue to share back.

Friday, September 4, 2009

If I could start the jouney all over again...

As I sit here waiting for the long weekend to arrive (for our non-US readers, this coming Monday is a holiday called "Labor Day" here in the states) I've had a moment to reflect on my week. I was filled with appointments, presentations, and travels talking about the value and application of Performance Support (PS). Candidly, I've been overwhelmed of late by the huge upsurge in the popularity of this discipline. Whether it's the economy, conversations sponsored by industry leaders such as Elliott Masie, or just the natural evolution of learning, PS has clearly moved into the spotlight in many organizations and is quickly becoming a vital part of their overall learning strategy. It's ALL very exciting and long overdue...

The more I think about my own journey and the conversations I've had this week, the more I wish I could do this whole learning thing all over again. I would do it all so differently. Those of you who have known me for a while, know I've been at this learning arena for a long time - 26 years to be exact. The first 5 were spent as an elementary school teacher in upstate NY. After getting my Masters in computer education, I joined what is now Element K in its VERY early years (I was the 26th employee to be exact back in 1987) and spent 16 years there. I then went to Microsoft for 3 years and was a Director in the learning group. And finally, for the past 3 years I have been with LearningGuide. The irony of that journey is that I didn't utter the word "Performance Support" during the first 23 years of it! I built a lot of GREAT training assets, many of which I am very proud of, BUT never broached the world of PS until very recently.

I think I have found a home! Throughout most of my professional life I have struggled with the fact that although I was certified in training/teaching, it seemed like very little of my teachings had a long term and direct impact. People may have liked me and probably learned a whole lot of good stuff, but I grew tired of hearing that much of it didn't "stick", was hard to truly apply, or just didn't have the long term impact it should have. Why was that?

If I had to do it all over again, I would throw out much of what I learned about ID and do it very differently. Don't get mad a me here, but frankly the last 3 years of my professional life have strongly challenge much of what I had been taught during the first 23, including all that wonderful academia stuff. Fundamentally I was taught that everything could be solved with good training. It was the proverbial "hammer looking for a nail" and EVERYTHING looked like a nail!! My latest journey with Conrad into a deep study and intentional work in the PS arena has changed my outlook.

If I could do it all over again, I would stop even worrying about training, at least initially, and architect all my learning solutions around PS. If that didn't work, or couldn't stand alone, which in many cases it can't and shouldn't, I would build good sound training to back it up and fill in the gaps. Until 3 years ago I did it in the opposite order. I RARELY build job aids or EPSS tools to support my training initiatives, and because of that very little of my training continued on into the learner's real world. PS is such a strong and powerful discipline that I now view it as the first line of attack and defense when it comes to a learning problem, and I'll build training as a secondary approach.

Now, many of you who are reading this may accuse me turning my back on training. That couldn't be further from the truth. Training is still important. It still has a vital role to play in an overall effective Learning Ecosystem. My point here is that PS actually makes training better and allows it to do what it does best - make someone knowledgeable. PS on the other hand helps make them productive and acts as a perfect complement to training. My point here is that I feel PS needs to lead the charge, not take a back seat to training as it has for years.

Since hindsight is 20/20 I'm going to leave that argument in the past and move on. The learning solutions I design going forward will all pivot around building, implementing, and maintaining effective and relevant PS which is supported by an just the right amount and type of training. My experience of the past 3 years has taught me that, in the end, that's what learners have wanted out of "training" all along... Care to join me in the dialogue?