Friday, June 4, 2010

We've MOVED!!

Greetings!! We're not sure if most of you have heard, BUT we've moved the PS Blog to a new NING community. This blog site still contains all of our old postings, but we won't be adding any new content here going forward.

Our intent is to allow for greater opportunities to share ideas. Our new NING site includes not only all the information found in this Blog, but it also allows for MANY other Social Media features such as forums, My Pages, photos/video posts, webinar recordings, podcasts, and much more. We hope you will join us at our NEW location.

If you're interested in joining our new space simply send us an email and we'll send you an invitation. This is a members only website, at least for now.

Bob Mosher -
Conrad Gottfredson -

Looking forward to seeing you there! Please let us know if you have any questions...

Yours in Service,

Con and Bob

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Beyond Job Aids

Providing Access to Reference Information @ the Moment of Apply
In previous blogs we have discussed the three time phases of apply: the time before performance, the time during performance, and the time after performance ends.

The “time during performance” has been the primary focus of performance support focus for decades. Allison Rossett, in her book: Job Aids and Performance Support: Moving From Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere, calls the solutions we build to support performers during this moment of time “sidekicks”

Rossett also introduces another time phase of apply—the need to plan prior to actually performing. She calls these kind of performer support solutions “Planners.”

The third time phase of Apply is a critical area for any organization interested in continuous performance improvement. In this phase, following the actual act of apply, performers conduct an assessment called a “quick check.”

But there are times when the moment of Apply doesn’t require a planner, sidekick, or quick-check. All that is needed to ensure effective performance is intuitive access to the right information at the moment of Apply.

In these instances, performers have the skills but the information required to complete the task has changed or was never internalized because it’s always changing, too vast, or infrequently needed. Whatever the reason, many times performance requires information that the performer lacks.

To illustrate further. Once upon a time, a long time ago, people actually knew everything they needed to know to do their work. Hard to comprehend in today’s work environment where people are continually being asked to learn at or above the speed of change and at a time when the information pool we’re all drinking from is growing at breakneck speed.

In 2003, Chevron's CIO reported that his company accumulated data at the rate of 2 terabytes – 17,592,000,000,000 bits – a day. According to research conducted by the International Data Corporation (IDC) the world created 161 exabytes of data in 2006, that’s "3 million times the amount of information contained in all the books ever written." in 2009, the size of the World's total Digital content was estimated at 500 billion gigabytes, or 500 exabytes. And it is predicted that this year we will generate more than 988 exabytes. [4][5][6] IDC also predicts that nearly 70% of 2010’s digital universe will be created by individuals and/or organizations (businesses of all sizes, agencies, governments, associations, etc.)

This same pace of information growth is occurring within the individual work requirements of people. Today, people can’t store in their internal knowledge-base all they need to know to do their work. It’s all too vast and fluid.

Clearly, in these times an organization’s PS strategy needs to include providing intuitive access to the right content in the right form. Here are some tactical suggestions for how you can go about this.

1. Identify critical content for which performers need access to at the moment of Apply.

2. Anticipate and provide for multiple access options to that content based upon job roles and work requirements. Search covers a multitude of weaknesses in a performance support strategy. The challenge of search is that it often yields too many hits. Searching through search results can be costly for organizations. Certainly narrowing accessible content by job role can help reduce the number of hits search delivers, there is another option that can prove effective. Here’s what you do:

Step 1: For every type of content (e.g., task, concept, business policy, etc.) identify all the access options. For example if the content type were recipes performers might want to access them by occasion, primary ingredient, preparation time, dietary requirement, course, etc.

Step 2: Narrow the access options to those that would be of highest use to your audiences and build those access options into your content management system.

3. Push for parametric search. Some search engine employ parametric search to narrow its search based upon parameters like job role, work group, type of information (e.g., task, concept, report), unique access option (e.g., if the type of information were “reports” options might be by date or by data source.) All these parameters are attached to the content as metadata tags and it takes very few of the parameters to drill into a specific instance of needed information.

4. Provide contextual access to content via workflow.

Many years ago, Robert Mager and Peter Pipe published a brilliant little book titled, “Analyzing Performance Problems, or Your Really Oughta Wanna”. In it they provided a decision tree for determining whether training is really required in the pursuit of solving a performance need. Their insight is that there may be other reasons why people aren’t performing outside of their skill set. This is still the reality today. In our pursuit of supporting effective performance we must have the wisdom to support people when knowing how to perform isn’t the issue. What performers need is specific information called for during that performance. For example, a performer may need specific product information or the information from a report needed to make a judgment that will influence performance decisions, etc..

The realities of performance also suggest that performers may need both, help in knowing how to perform and information to support that performance. Whatever the case may be, information access is a vital consideration in performer support.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Is Being a “Learning Organization” Enough?

I was once debriefing a training class with a senior manager from an organization who had purchased a large training program from us. We were specifically discussing the results of the post assessments each student had completed. Overall the students had done fairly well. As the instructor I was pleased and anxious to hear what I was hoping to be glowing feedback from this particular manager. I was a bit taken back when he handed me the results and said, “These numbers mean nothing to me.” When I asked him to clarify he replied, “I don’t care what my people learn in training. I only care that they perform better or differently AFTER the training.”

Peter Senge and his colleagues spent most of the 1990’s helping us better understand the qualities of becoming a “Learning Organization” and many of us did our best to meet these guidelines. But after having spent the last 3 years of my professional life solely focused on Performance Support (PS) and the profound impact I have seen it have on organizations, I’m wondering if the goal of becoming a Learning Organization is enough. Should becoming a “Performing Organization” be the goal of the millennium and beyond?

The past 3 years have taught me that although learning is a key part of the overall success of any individual learner and the organization at large, sometimes learning is simply not enough. Focusing heavily on learning may play a huge part in why we don’t achieve the ultimate outcome we are striving for.

It may help if I take a second to share what my definition of learning has become. For me, the overall goal of any organization and its employees is to successfully and consistently outperform their potential. Learning is clearly a prerequisite to performance, but to have learned does not always translate into, or guarantee, performance. This is the one of the hardest things for training departments to understand. We have spent years and billions of dollars on classroom programs, e-learning libraries, certifications, and compliance training only to find that we’re still not getting the performance we need and want from our workforce. That’s because we are missing a key component! We need to be offering an intentional instructional model that takes what someone has learned and helps them transfer and adapt that knowledge into their daily workplace. This is the job of PS. Until an organization begins to create, deliver, maintain, and measure PS with the same focus, budget, resources, and rigor it has always dedicated to learning they will never truly realize the overall productivity growth they have been tasked with achieving.

In order for a learner to achieve peak performance they need to journey through two stages: mastery and competency. Each is a critical part of the journey, but in most organizations mastery is the area most served by the training organization leaving competency up for grabs. Mastery is the acquisition of knowledge. It’s what training and learning organizations do brilliantly, and should continue to do! Competency is when a learner takes what they have learned and can apply and adapt what they have learned to their unique work setting and the plethora of challenges they encounter.

This is where PS comes in. Its role is to help take a learner from mastery to competency. When a training organization adopts PS as a compliment to their learning strategy they will begin to impact both mastery and competency. At this point they will begin achieving an entirely different level if impact on the organizations they serve. In a time when training budgets and training departments are being held accountable at a level like never before, being able to show a direct impact on the competency of the learners they support will position them in a highly strategic way.

The Learning Organization of today needs to become the Performing Organization of tomorrow which includes a more robust and mature view of what is the entire learning journey. Although learning is key, it is not enough to sustain the growing and every changing world of those we support. Creating a comprehensive performance strategy which includes both mastery and competency is the only way to ultimately serve our organizations. Adding PS is a key step in achieving that goal!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Why Focus on Workflow Process?

Pursuing Competency Beyond Mastery
When you add performance support to the mix, the pursuit of skill mastery changes. There are levels of mastery with performance support. Mastery obviously includes complete internalization of an independent skill. With this highest level of mastery a performer has the ability to complete a task automatically. This capacity is securely encoded into long-term memory and can be executed without conscience thought – it just happens when it needs to happen. On the other end of the mastery spectrum is the ability to efficiently complete a task using a job aid without any direct training on a specific skill. The successful use of the job aid is made possible by a generalizable understanding of how to use it.

Competency embraces mastery at all its levels. But competence is only fully achieved when performers have integrated what they have mastered into actionable skill sets within the context of their personal workflow. This generally requires integration with other existing skill sets within the performer and also with other people via collaboration.

These integrated skill sets must be internalized at the appropriate level so they can be successfully executed as needed with a justifiable amount of effort. What is more, competency always carries with it sufficient conceptual understanding to facilitate proper judgment and the capacity to adapt, on-the-fly, to the unique challenges that occur in the workflow.

Here's an example:  Suppose you completed a course titled “Mastering Spreadsheets.” The course was facilitated by a remarkable instructor who taught you all the details for using your organization’s spreadsheet software. During the class you practiced and mastered 10 fundamental skills associated with that software. Suppose, also, that your day-to-day work doesn’t require you to use that software but you do need to use it as part of periodic ongoing project work with others in your organization. In this work, you receive digital spreadsheets from several team members and you do the following:
  1. Consolidate those spreadsheets
  2. Add specific data, gathered from several other applications to the now combined set of spreadsheets
  3. Perform a number of calculations
  4. Make judgments based upon those calculations
  5. Enter those judgments into another application along with specific data points
  6. Forward the revised spreadsheets onto other members of your work team
  7. Monitor the completion of your team members calculations
  8. Reconcile any discrepancies in their conclusions via a virtual meeting
Question—to what degree do you think the “Mastering Spreadsheets” class would have prepared you to be competent in performing this specific workflow process? High chance it wouldn’t have unless the course had anticipated this workflow process and provided you practice completing it and then left you with a performance support tool to help you at your moments of “Apply.”

We once were asked to help a multi-national company design and implement an enterprise training solution for an ERP reengineering effort. The project involved completely changing the way they managed their financials. Every associated workflow process was redesigned to involve people on the front-line of the business who had never engaged in the organization’s financials before.

We opted to train on business processes. We linked business and non-business tasks with workflows and job-roles. We developed a web-based performance support system that provided access to specific task instructions via role-based online workflow diagrams. We used the online system as the primary training resource in every class. Our objective, to train everyone to use the online performance support system to help them “do their job.”

The result? The go-live day was a non-event. We had put extra support personnel at the help desk but by the end of the first week we sent the extra help back to their work areas because they weren’t needed. The company had completed changed how several thousand people performed their jobs without a hiccup. Why? Because work-flow process was the backbone of the training effort coupled with a web-based performance support “broker” that supported those processes.

Workflow process is the primary means for ensuring that performance is purposefully and effectively directed. It should be the backbone for all training and performance support efforts and most certainly is the key for any organization interested in pursuing competency beyond the mastery of independent skills.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Upgrading - A PERFECT time for Performance Support

I remember teaching my first Lotus 1-2-3 release 1.A course in 1987. No laughing please... I know that this may have been before some of you were even born! But seriously, we did have computers back then and many users were struggling to master the complexities of things called Spreadsheets, Word Processors, and Databases. These were the emerging technologies of the time. Of course, many of these applications are common place today. My children, for example, have been using all three to help with their homework since they were in middle school (two of whom are now using them for their university studies).

Back in 1987 I thought I would be teaching Lotus 1-2-3 forever! Who could ever need more then Lotus had to offer? And there was also a software product called Symphony, a Lotus product that came with all 3 technologies (a precursor to what we now know as the Microsoft Office suite). The technology was mind blowing, revolutionary, and it all fit in 128 K of RAM and on a 5.5" floppy disk (Remember those??) Wow, was I ever wrong - Nowadays the average shelf life of commercially sold software is somewhere between 6 months to a year. Somewhere in the early to mid-90's a new term was born: Upgrades!! As fewer and fewer "new" technology disciplines were launched software companies quickly learned that a majority of their money wasn't to be made through a new product launch, but rather through an endless stream of upgrades.

This shift impacted the learning industry. Gone were the days of filling our classrooms with newbies who were taking our "Intro to PC Literacy" courses. Now we had to shift our attention to "New Features" and upgrade classes. Eventually, it became harder and harder to fill even these classes. As the learner matured and grew, so did their intolerance for sitting in a classroom with 20 other strangers, or even colleagues, waiting to hear about a new feature they cared about.

Enter E-Learning,  E-Learning initially did a nice job of stepping up to fill a much needed gap in the upgrade arena. It was cheaper than the classroom and was delivered to the desktop. What could be better? Well, even e-Learning has since struggled to meet the increasing upgrade demand. Learners have matured and become savvier on these applications.  It is much more difficult to create an on-line course that meets the individual upgrade needs of today's demanding learners.

Another fundamental problem is in the overall design of these courses. Whether online or in the classroom, our instructional model hasen't adequately addressed the "moment of need" that emerged with accellerating upgrade cycles.. If you've followed our blog for any length of time, you have heard us repeatedly reference Con's work around the "5 Moments of Learning Need". Clearly upgrade learning falls within the "When things change" or "When things go wrong" categories. If you look at most e-learning or upgrade courses they still take a "learning for the first time" or "learning more" approach. Candidly, upgrade learning is often neither of these. Upgrade learning requires "unlearning".

You may have heard Con tell the story about being driven to the Atlanta airport after completing some work with a client. He quickly struck up a conversation with his driver and in no time they were having a grand old time. After a good amount of time, Con mentioned to the person driving that he didn't see any planes in the air and asked how close they were to the airport. The fellow promptly hit his breaks and announced, "I'm almost to my house!!". Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever arrived home and can't remember the last 5 turns you took to get there? This is a principle of learning theory called automaticity. Things that we do over and over can become so engrained in our skill set that we begin performing without conscious thought. Such is the life of most software end-users today. For example, much of what we do in Microsoft Word has become so "automated" that we barely think about the action when performing it.

Unlearning automated skills is one or the most challenging types of learning. Traditional training approaches, including most e-Learning methodologies, aren't suited to meet this need. They are too removed from the moment of need to help a learner make the mental jump from how they used to do something to a new way of performing.

Enter Performance Support!! Performance Support is perfectly suited for upgrade learning. It lives in the last 3 moments of need - Apply/Remember, When things change, When things go wrong. The key here is its contextual nature, and the architecture in which good PS and PS Brokers are designed. As we've shared in an earlier posting on PS frameworks, well designed PS starts by introducing the steps and then escalates to more in-depth learning assets and resources. It also lives within the application and not behind an LMS or in a brick and mortar classroom. The combination of these two design elements make PS ideal for helping overcome automaticity and accelerating the adoption of upgrades. It has also been known to significantly lower support calls during these often stressful times for learners.

With some major upgrades on the horizon (Window 7 and Office 2010 just to name a few) we as learning professional need to equip those we serve with the most effective approaches to make these difficult transitions. We also owe it to our organizations to do this in the most cost effective way possible while, at the same time, helping our learners become as productive as we can as quickly as we can. Performance Support can meet all these needs if orchestrated well!

Monday, February 8, 2010



By Magaret Martinez
In the previous blog, Timothy R. Clark and Conrad A. Gottfredson discussed how many businesses are struggling with achieving or maintaining competitive advantage. To help, they suggest that organizations should learn to pursue learning agility—the ability of an organization to learn at or above the speed of change—to sustain competiveness. In the Five-Factor Model of Organizational Learning Agility, they suggest that there are five primary factors that interact to promote or hinder learning agility within organizations. One of the factors, the second factor, is Learning Mindset, i.e., the prevailing assumptions, beliefs, and dispositions relating to the way people learn. As competitive environments increase in speed, complexity, and volatility, they propose that organizations and individuals need to move “towards a dynamic learning mindset. Dynamic learning is defined as rapid, adaptive, collaborative, and self-directed learning at the moment of need. The new mindset recognizes learning as the source of sustained competitive advantage in the context of a protean organization.”

A learner-centric culture has never been more important to organizations than it is today and the most successful organizations have realized the criticality of supporting a “learn how to learn” environment. How to achieve this is an obvious next question. To help employees learn in a rapidly changing environment is first to understand how people learn and especially how people expect and want to learn differently.

To explore this question, let’s look at student data captured over the past few years. Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson, the faculty, have been offering their Performance Support Lab and Seminar offered by the Masie Center. Participants are generally training leaders and instructional developers who are seeking new ways to improve, particularly in the area of performance support. A critical goal for them is achieving a high performance workforce in times of rapid change.

Before the seminar, each participant takes the Learning Orientation Questionnaire (LOQ), described below. The LOQ is based on three factors that consider the level of the learner’s emotional investment in learning and performance, strategic self-directedness and independence or autonomy. Scores help the faculty examine individual differences in their learning audience. High scores indicate learners are more successful in the learning domain and demonstrate use of sophisticated learning skills, e.g., holistic thinking, problem-solving, non-verbal and creativity skills. High scorers typically seek complex, exploratory challenges, are self-motivated, autonomous, self-directed and comfortable with change and setting and achieving long-term goals. In contrast, low scores identify learners that are less sophisticated, less self-motivated and less autonomous and more risk and change aversive. One hundred and eighteen participants have taken the LOQ and their scores are shown here in the graph below.

Clearly, those who are choosing to attend the Performance Support Lab and Seminar are high LOQ scorers (3.5 and higher), like to learn and are seeking ways to provide better learning and performance solutions.

The LOQ uses the learning orientation research and recent advances in the neurosciences to describe learning orientations or dispositions to learn. The learning orientation research explores the theoretical and neuroscience foundations for understanding sources for individual differences in learning. Neurosciences in the last ten years have revealed the extraordinary complexities of brain activity and multiple aspects influencing thinking processes. These theories highlight more than the cognitive element, they explore the sometimes dominant power of emotions, intentions and socialization on learning, performance, memory, and decision making.

What do these scores mean? LOQ scores offer explanations for individual differences in learning, communication, and performance, including expectations, beliefs, preferences, strategies, skills, values, and approaches. In this data set, the 3.5 scores describe high performing learners and the 4.0 scores describe transforming learners.

High Performing Learners are assertive, persistent, low-maintenance, skilled learners that rationally, systematically, and capably use psychological processes, strategies, preferences, and self-regulated learning skills to achieve challenging learning objectives and tasks. They like to focus on process, principle, details, task completion and the right steps towards attaining critical, worthwhile goals. These learners take responsibility and control of their learning and become actively involved in managing the learning process. These learners will avoid situations that provide highly structured, non-discovery, low learner-controlled environments, explicit guidance, and low-standard achievement. In contrast to transforming learners, high performing learners are not as theoretical or passionate, committed or persistent about all learning. They are more selective about how hard they work and on which learning goals. To improve learning agility, performing learners should acquire more abstract and holistic thinking, strategic planning, change management and long-term goal setting skills.

Transforming Learners deliberately use personal strengths, deep desires, strong emotions, persistent and assertive effort, and sophisticated, abstract or holistic thinking ability and strategies to self-manage learning successfully. They enjoy talking about new concepts, exploring new ideas, taking the initiative and risk, and making mistakes to attain greater expertise. They aggressively take responsibility and control of their learning and become actively involved in managing the learning process. They use stimulating beliefs and emotions, e.g., motivation, passion, personal principles, and desires for high, challenging standards towards high-effort achievement of challenging personal goals. They also are assertive, low maintenance learners that learn best in environments that encourage and support: risk-taking experiences; mentoring relationships; self-directed learning; complex, problem-solving situations; and transformative goals. They too will avoid situations that provide highly structured, non-discovery, low learner-controlled environments, explicit guidance, and low-standard achievement. To improve learning agility, transforming learners will learn greater discipline, consider details, ensure accuracy, efficiency, reliability and task and project completion and learn to communicate in a less theoretical, more practical manner.

Conforming, performing and resistant learner orientations are also shown in the data sample in much fewer numbers. These learners are less ready to embrace learning, change and improvement with eagerness, independence or passion. While, research in the neurosciences has shown that neuronal structure and activation (brain plasticity) can change in response to experiences and learning opportunities, these learners need the resources to help them change, especially with reasons, roles, models and guidance for change.

Learning agility is a process of change and continual, committed persistent efforts towards improvement. When trainers or teachers are striving to support better learning agility, they must consider the gap between the dynamic mindset that exists and what needs to exist in their learning audience. The learn-to-learn domain of their audience needs to be analyzed and areas of improvement need to be identified. The learning audience for today’s workforce must be much better at rapidly scanning, finding, synthesizing, collaborating, reflecting, innovating and producing or reproducing. Learning agility for an organization is limited if these skills do not exist or are not supported in their workforce. Trainers and teachers can close these learn-to-learn gaps, by strategically infusing informal learning, non-formal and formal learning opportunities with more sophisticated learn-to-learn skills that are too often taken for granted, including holistic thinking, creativity, problem-solving and critical thinking. Closing the gaps is not an easy task, but understanding how learners learn differently and knowing that all learners can improve with the right support and motivation can ease the challenge.

As we get better at understanding the learn-to-learn domain, we can get better at supporting the learning mindsets of our learners and improving learning agility across the organization.

Available Resources.
If readers would like to take the Learning Orientation Questionnaire (LOQ), they can use the following access code: LJ230306QD to sign in as a new user at:
This limited free offer will be available for one month.

After taking the LOQ, they can find their LOQ scores, interpretations for their scores and their learn-to-learn domain, and links that offer strategies and interventions for improving learning agility at:

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Note:  The following is a reprint of an article written by Timothy R. Clark and Conrad A. Gottfredson.  We include it in this blog because Performer Support is a core contributor to organizational learning agility.

Organizations have reason to ponder their mortality these days. A few short months ago, a financial tsunami hit the United States. The rippling effect sent the economy reeling into a recession second only in magnitude to the Great Depression. Out of the wreckage a permanently altered reality—a new normal—has emerged. Organizations now compete in faster, more complex, and more volatile markets. And casualties are mounting. Consider that six of the top ten bankruptcies in US history have occurred since September of last year. Those six corporations had a combined asset value of over $1.25 trillion. What’s more, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reports that corporate bankruptcy filings have doubled in the past twelve months. We’re not out of the woods.

At stake is the fundamental capacity of organizations to adapt to rapidly changing conditions—and do it again and again. It’s becoming increasingly clear that strategy will not save us. As the span of competitive advantage shortens, strategy cycles come more frequently. Whatever competitive advantage an organization enjoys today is melting away. The only question is the rate of the melt.
How can organizations sustain competiveness? We believe the answer is found in the pursuit of learning agility—the ability of an organization to learn at or above the speed of change. Organizations must accelerate knowledge cycles to keep pace with competitive cycles.

Organizational learning agility is an enterprise capability that requires deliberate and systematic design, including essential cultural, structural, process and technology support elements. Based on our research, there are five primary factors that interact to promote or hinder learning agility within organizations.
Figure: The Five-Factor Model of Organizational Learning Agility
  1. Intelligence Function— The capacity of an organization to survey and interpret its entire business ecosystem, including the internal competitive environment and the external competitive environment. The intelligence function interprets information and feeds the strategy function, which feeds the learning function.
  2. Learning Mindset—The prevailing assumptions, beliefs, and dispositions relating to the way people learn.
  3. Leadership Behavior—The dominant patterns of leadership within an organization.
  4. Organizational Support—The processes, systems, structures, and other forms of support that organizations provide to help employees in their formal and informal learning and execution activities.
  5. Learning Technology—The forms of technology employed to enable learning at individual and organizational levels.
Factor 1: The Intelligence Function
The first factor is the intelligence function, which is intended to be the distant early warning system and interpreter of the outside world to the organization. Some organizations approach business intelligence-gathering in a systematic way. Most are haphazard and ad hoc. Regardless of the configuration and maturity of the intelligence function, it is critically tied to the learning agility of an organization.

To move to a high level of learning agility, organizations must establish a comprehensive, balanced, and systematic process for gathering, integrating, and interpreting intelligence from a variety of intelligence domains that bear on the competitive position of the organization. They must have an established framework and logic to help them organize, prioritize, and inform the organization. Finally, there must be direct communication and coordination among the intelligence function, the strategy function, and the learning function. Otherwise, the learning function will be blind-sided with unforeseen events and no time to respond. It will remain a tactical, passive, and uninformed business partner.

Factor 2: The Learning Mindset
The second factor in the five-factor model is the organization’s prevailing learning mindset. The dominant learning mindset across organizations is undergoing a second major shift since the postwar period. For centuries permanent learning was the prevailing model, which envisioned “one-time learning for permanent qualification.” As markets became more turbulent, learners gradually embraced a continuous learning mindset as a response to relentless disruption and skills obsolescence. It was during this time that the notion of the learning organization came into currency. Today, organizations find themselves in the midst of a second major transition. As competitive environments increase in speed, complexity, and volatility, organizations and individuals are compelled toward a dynamic learning mindset. Dynamic learning is defined as rapid, adaptive, collaborative, and self-directed learning at the moment of need. The new mindset recognizes learning as the source of sustained competitive advantage in the context of a protean organization.

As organizations move toward dynamic learning, they face a number of challenges. For example, employees across every demographic cohort demonstrate a general need for guidance in the use of social networking and digital media as learning tools. Many fall into patterns of inefficiency and ineffectiveness, and need help avoiding super saturation, working memory overload, non-productive learning, or irrelevant learning.

Learning leaders should consider more carefully the return-on-instruction for teaching employees how to develop skills for problem definition, scoping, searching, filtering, integrating, and interpreting to replace the unguided, free flow, and stream-of-consciousness patterns that prevail among employees. It may be time for learning organizations to take a step back and offer new “learn how to learn” solutions to help employees learn in the digital environment. Even Millennials, who are natural swimmers in social networking and digital media, don’t necessarily know how to learn in the domain. Swimming and learning are not necessarily the same thing.

Factor 3: Leadership Behavior
The third factor is leadership behavior, which we define as the dominant patters of leadership within an organization. The new behavioral requirement is shifting from knowledge and skills to the ability to acquire knowledge and skills. Competence is becoming a matter of individual dynamic learning. Not surprisingly, the new requirement can be personally threatening and psychologically unsafe for many leaders who have operated on the leader-as-expert model for so many years.

Leaders must stand first in line to model patterns of high performance learning. This requires a very different emotional and social posture. Leaders must become comfortable portraying themselves as competent by virtue of their ability to learn and adapt rather than on the basis of their current knowledge and skills. The new environment requires a level of humility and curiosity that is simply alien to most traditional conceptions of leadership. Ironically, leaders are being challenged to develop and engender confidence in the very act of their not knowing. Leaders need to be able to acknowledge publicly when reality moves beyond their knowledge and skills, and do so based on their demonstrated ability to learn and adapt. They must be submissive to the fact that they will pass through periods of temporary incompetence as they move through learning and change cycles. But they will do so based on their underlying ability and willingness to learn. What’s different today is that credibility is based on personifying the qualities of a high performance learner more than those of an expert.

Indeed, we are starting to see the emergence of a new kind of leader. It may in fact be the biggest shift in emphasis in leadership development theory in several decades. As a pattern, the new leader is exceptionally attuned to the changing environment and the perishable nature of competitive advantage. Because of this ongoing acknowledgement, the new leader is less wedded to trappings of status and privilege, less ego-driven, less yearning for deference, and certainly less attached to the status quo. Instead, dynamic learning leaders are more concerned with understanding the changing ecology of their organizations and protecting the value the organization has created through a vigilance and readiness to learn and adapt. The leader understands that learning is where advantage comes from, that it represents the highest form of enterprise risk management, and that the biggest risk a firm can take is to cease to learn. It seems increasingly clear that leaders who don’t possess deep patterns of aggressive and self-directed learning in their dispositions are almost certain to fail, whereas the ones who do are almost certain to succeed, provided, however, they combine those learning patterns with the ability to engage people.

Factor 4: Organizational Support
The fourth factor is organizational support. High agility organizations support learners at all five moments of learning need:
  1. Learning how to do something new for the first time.
  2. Learning more based on prior learning experience. 
  3. Learning at the moment when learners apply what they have learned in the context of workflow. 
  4. Learning when things change in order to adapt to new ways of doing things.
  5. Learning when things go wrong in order to solve a problem.
As a simple diagnostic, an organization can measure its basic learning agility by assessing the organization’s capacity to address the five moments of need. As organizations put in place systems that facilitate learning agility, those systems must be aligned and integrated in an efficient and intuitive way to accommodate performance for all five.

There are other critical aspects of organizational support. Learning agility is a co-creative process that springs from richly enabled interactions within and beyond the organization. There must be a process-oriented view of the business as a whole rather than fragmented sets of siloed activities.

In addition, highly agile organizations embrace collaborative learning and apply effectively the collective knowledge and skills within and even beyond their borders. Collective knowledge and skills encompass not only what is resident and evolving within people, but also all that has been captured and stored along the way, made and kept useful in a form that is immediately accessible and adaptive to individual needs.

Factor 5: Technical Support (Learning Technology)
The fifth and final factor is technical support. As organizations step into a full-out pursuit of learning agility, they must guard against being techno-dazzled, and instead pursue learning technology as a means to enable the previous four factors. In spite of the lost paths that many organizations pursue, there is promising news.

The learning technology market is finally turning serious attention to the informal side of learning. In response, performance support, authoring, delivery, and brokering tools are going mainstream. In addition, performer-generated content through social networking is extending performance support capacity in response to the widespread need for fingertip knowledge support.

Learning Content Management is also reasserting itself in the form of multi-channel publishing from single-sourced, metadata-enriched content. Other broader knowledge management technologies and practices are beginning to wrap around these LCM systems, enhancing the ability to capture, store, manage, and maximize the usefulness of content capital.

Other types of technology that accelerate collaborative work are integrating as mashups, further disallowing structure, aggregating human capability, and harnessing innovation and value out of what, at a tactical level, is a chaotic creative process.
And as Web 2.0 tools and systems continue to integrate, orchestrate, and extend across the traditional siloed boundaries within and beyond the formal structures and firewalls of organizations, they will continue to enhance but not drive learning agility.
All of this reflects a beginning of what technology can and is doing to help organizations learn at or above the speed of change. The key, here, is to apply these technologies to this vital mission.

The Pursuit of Learning Agility
Two decades ago, Peter Senge challenged organizations to develop the capacity to learn and adapt quickly. Most leaders acknowledged his point, but did very little to make the learning organization a reality. In the meantime, markets have become more unforgiving. The good news is that leading companies are making significant gains in various aspects of learning agility. However, few are excelling in all five factors. There simply isn’t a more important leadership challenge today than to move an organization to higher levels of learning agility. For learning leaders, the call to action is clear. A seat at the table is available for those who are prepared to meet this challenge and thrive in the new normal.

Monday, January 18, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

I’ve always been a big New Year’s resolution guy. I’m not sure why I don’t muster up the same determination and focus throughout the year, but there’s something about that “clean slate” feeling of turning another page in the calendar to get me going. Although 2009 CLEARLY had its challenges, it was an amazing year for Performer Support and the growth of this community. We doubled in size and now have over 600 member companies visiting the site on a fairly regular basis. The conversations and energy around the many PS solutions occurring across this community are overwhelming. Both Con and I are anxious to see the many exciting things 2010 holds for this community and PS as a discipline. We both firmly believe that as we begin to come out of this recession that the training as we once knew it will never be the same, and are anticipating that PS will play a major role in how we serve our learners going forward.

With that said, I would like to share my Professional New Year’s Resolutions with you and see what you may be thinking about for 2010. PLEASE click on the comment “envelop” at the end of this post and add your two cents. We’d love to hear and share how this community sees training and Performer Support progressing in the upcoming calendar year.

New Year's Resolutions:
1. To continue to grow this community by over 500 new members this year. This may be a bit aggressiveJ but as the energy continues to grow we feel that this number is possible. Please feel free to invite any of your colleagues from within your company or those you know in your network. The more we add, the stronger and more helpful the community becomes. If you’d like to send them our email addresses so they can be added to the e-mailing list that would be fine.
2. Redesign and expand the PS Blog and community experience. Con and I have been hosting this blog for over 2 years now. Although we have enjoyed the dialogue, it’s time to take this discussion to a whole new level. We will be moving the blog to the NING platform in the first quarter of this year. This new technology platform will allow us to add other social networking capabilities which will enable us to serve each other better. We’d love to hear your feedback on what features/functionality you would like to see us add first. If you'd like to take our online survey please click here.
3. Explore, and continue to expand, new form factors such as mobile support – Having worked on a few mobile support projects in 2009, this platform seems to be perfectly positioned to play a strong role in performer support going forward. I’d like to see this community become a testing ground for the best ways and tools with which to deliver PS.
4. Single Source will explode in 2010 – Singe-Source publishing seems to be the tie that binds when it comes to effectively designing and integrating PS into an already vibrant learning strategy. Most organizations already use too many tools with redundant outputs and out-of-date content. Single-Source publishing has finally come of age and can do an amazing job of serving outputs for all 5 moments of need. I’m anxious to continue exploring this area and would love to see us share our collective experiences.
5. Elevate the moment of Apply – In these difficult economic times, and frankly any work environment I’ve ever known, the moment of Apply is where it all comes together. I would like to see the training/learning industry better recognize this all too critical moment of need for what it truly is and begin shifting our attention and efforts toward supporting it better. As a colleague of mine recently said, “If all we do isn’t about apply. Why even begin the journey”. For too many years we have been mired in formal instruction and helping our learner stall at only acquiring knowledge, or the first two moments of need. I hope we see 2010 as the year of Apply where we move beyond old models, tools, and strategies to an approach that is first and foremost performance driven, not simply knowledge driven.

Again, we’d love to hear your PS resolutions for 2010!! Please feel free to contribute a comment as we’ll post them to be shared across the community.

Monday, January 4, 2010

When Things Go Wrong


It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.  Albert Einstein

Leaders are problem solvers by talent and temperament, and by choice.  Harlan Cleveland

One of the realities of life is that things don’t always work the way they’re supposed to work; life doesn’t always happen according to a script. And sometimes, in our rapid pursuit of doing what we need to do we make the wrong turn and experience those unique learning moments called road blocks or even failure. In the New Normal, it isn’t enough to know how to do something correctly, it is also vital to be able to diagnose and solve problems that happen along the way. The situations we call “problems” can be caused by unforeseen circumstances, other people, and ourselves. Regardless of the source, these moments of “Solve” require diagnostic skills coupled with performance support.

The traditional organizational bandage for solving problems that arise in the workflow are “help desks” and sometimes intentionally created support networks—both backed by capable troubleshooters. When life was copasetic with only a few twists or turns along the way, this may have been a sufficient solution. But, today, this model, alone, absolutely won’t solve the “solving” challenge.

The New Normal has shifted the definition of competence from simply applying knowledge and skills to continually acquiring and adapting knowledge and skills. Competence is now a matter of individual learning agility and the moments of “Solve” are prime contributors to the agility challenge.
Learners, today, must be comfortable in their ability to “Solve” unanticipated challenges. They must have confidence in the very act of not knowing. They must be disposed to face challenges beyond their current knowledge and skills. This confidence at these critical moments will come from:

  • A performer support infrastructure that has anticipated their needs at the moment of solve
  • The training they have received to engage those tools in solving problems,
  • The on-the-job successes they have along the way
  • Organizational acceptance of failed attempts that may happen in the process
 In addition, microblogging technologies provide remarkable opportunity for instantaneous access to the collective wisdom within and beyond the organizations we serve. Immediate collaboration at the moment of “Solve” combined with the capacity of individuals to resolve the core challenges that come their way are the scalable resources help desks need to meet the demands of the New Normal – a work environment in the state of constant flux.