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?


  1. I what we are addressing in training is a performance problem--which is what all training should be doing, otherwise it is not training, it's education--then your approach of staring with PS tools is right on the money. Great post Bob.


  2. Disciples of Gilbert's Behavior Engineering Model have professed that training addresses a mere 15 - 20% of performance gaps and that the biggest bang from the proverbial buck comes from providing access to structured organizational knowledge. You're not turning your back on're turning your energies towards delivering value for both the performer and the organization by proposing investments in strategies that work.

  3. I have replaced training with performance support because that is what we do. Our performance is based on what we can do and the need of our customers dictates our path. Change occurs on a daily bases, so we need to invest in ourselves to be ready to meet challenges. Your post is right on the money Bob.