Do We Train, or Do We Guide?

This is a question…make that “a decision point”…soon to be addressed by any organization contemplating deployment and implementation of on-line system technology into their workforce. Make note that I called out “deployment and implementation” separately. Just for clarification, deployment gets you to GoLive, that momentous gala event with the ribbon cutting ceremony, the clowns, the balloons, and the three-bite shrimp. The “Train or Guide” decision has little to do with that celebration and everything to do with implementation, or another word that is equally daunting to the training organization – routinization. Tradition says we “train our end-users to a state of readiness”, the reality afforded by new technology says we are better off giving the new user a GPS guidance system to navigate through the system real-time.

Having been in the training business for many years and a survivor of numerous technology systems implementations, I have consistently witnessed the poor residual effect of “training to readiness” on system utilization, and not because the training was lame, but because it was…training. With systems technology layered on top of systems technology, and with key information resources scattered across other systems and/or databases, it is no wonder that training, knowledge retention, and end-user performance fell short. What I have just described is now part of my history. And with U.S. businesses sitting on top of almost two trillion dollars in cash, history is about to repeat itself as new technologies are purchased and implemented and layered on top of an end-user population.

Did I mention two trillion dollars in cash? Projections say hiring will start ramping up later in 2011 as well. That means new end-user populations to on-board and ramp to competency quickly. New users and new systems. Yikes! The answer is not training. The answer is Business Process Guidance (BPG).

I have been writing about the convergence of learning needs and the point of work for almost two years now. The need to train our workforce needs to happen in the context of work – in the workflow. The learning moment of need is usually small and discrete to a task or a step in a process, and it needs to be available in a readily consumable format…in just the right amount…just in time…seamlessly and frictionlessly, etc. etc. To meet this need, I will no longer look to training as the sole source to support a successful implementation. If I am going to train at all, it will be training on how to use the “GPS” to navigate through the transactions relevant to the end-user’s respective roles. BPG systems provide the “GPS-like” capability that enables a worker to access answers to questions as they arise as they navigate through the context of the workflow.

I may still train end-users, but the training will be hands-on use of the BPG system as they work through scenarios that emulate the transactions they will encounter based upon their role in the operation of the system(s). The actual time spent in training will be a fraction of what the traditional training effort entails. A leading pest control company reduced training by 70%. The SAP training done in my previous life went down by half. The time spent looking for critical input information when down dramatically. So did the errors and back-end rework. So did calls to the help desk. So did employee churn. In training jargon, these results are all measurable outcomes necessary for level 3 & 4 & 5 evaluations. Leading companies in this space are routinely delivering ROI in the same budget year, often in less than nine months.

Ramping the systems up typically take three months or so depending on the number of systems, screens, and layers to be mapped. A huge implementation benefit is in the collaborative nature of development efforts. System subject matter experts (SMEs) are likely the ones who will write the business process documentation. This documentation serves a dual role as source content for the BPG system resources. Content ownership remains with the SME with clear version control protocols and dynamic feedback loops from the end-users themselves. What better way for single source control over content integrity?

BPG is not “on-line help”. Certainly, that is a side benefit, but with “push” capability to send notifications and alerts to end-users by role, there are dynamic communications capabilities built-in. Call it informed immediacy. Plus, legacy content can be re-used, streaming media can be streamed, anything that can be addressed with a URL is fair game for including into the appropriate layer within the journey through a “guided transaction”. Tracking capabilities to identify not only what assets may have been accessed, but by whom provide for real-time tracking and follow-up of informal learning assets. Throw in options to link to social media communities and discussion groups and you have the hybrid learning environments of predictions beginning to take form. And nothing bad had to happen to the LMS, in fact, the BPG system can link directly to the LMS.

The Delphi Group has done a great job of encapsulating business and customer impact of Real-Time Desktop Guidance using a concept they have coined as the Delphi Curve. Below you will see the Delphi Curve along with the link to view the whitepaper.

Delphi curve

 Notice where formal learning [e-learning] resides on the impact spectrum compared to BPG. This graphic clearly demonstrates what I have been trying to position for almost two years. If I could superimpose the work context on this graphic, it would be a cloud in the upper right corner. There we find the “point of work” and the end-user is engaged in a workflow, and very likely facing a degree of urgency to perform flawlessly. Chances are good that business risk is also present in this scenario. The end-user is a long way from the reach of training.

So…what is training’s role in all of this? To me, it is a shot across the bow to either get on the BPG bus or get run over by it. Before anyone categorizes that statement as mean-spirited, consider this question. Who in the organization is better equipped than the training department to integrate BPG into the training blend? I do not think training has a choice, and to ignore the opportunity is to continue the practice of manufacturing buggy whips. Here is a perfect example – one of the top vendors in this space does not even address the training department when they initially engage an organization. Routinely, they [training] either see the technology as a threat, or it does not match up with their training agenda, charter, scope, competencies, mission, or strategy. But…success is happening, and in spite of training, and it is happening on the operational side of the business. And it should NOT be that way.

Capacity and Sustained Capability are two key motivations for operational business stakeholders. Go back to that paragraph earlier that addressed the areas of impact. Every company I have benchmarked sees similar results. There is not a CFO on the planet that will turn away from this kind of measurable impact. I have been in training for a very long time, and the discipline is a love of mine, and it pains me to see the traditionalists blocking innovation that can deliver such a huge competitive advantage. Rebounding out of this recession with new hires coming and new systems layering, it feels like a perfect storm brewing and weathering it with a small investment in BPG is reason enough for this training pro to get on the BPG bus.

Considering a little bus trip? I can help with planning an impactful journey – it’s what I do these days!

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
LinkedIn Profile
Twitter: Gdogwise


  1. March 1, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    Hi Gary,

    Ted Gannan alerted me to your blog and so here I am delighted to have now read it and even more delighted to find great clarity around these topics.

    I’ve been in this space more or less for about 20 years now. In the L&D world where I come from it was known as Performance Support and Gloria Gery was the voice of change and guru. Some of us have been executing, arguing, influencing, yelling, cajoling, pleading and begging for BPG/PS and finding it’s an easy concept to understand, not an easy path to pursue. As Gloria used to say “things aren’t hard to do, they’re just hard to get done”. Words of wisdom.

    Businesses are getting it as you say. More business decision makers know they have to find consistency, quality, sustainability etc all at reduced costs if possible. BPG should be a no brainer but for all sorts of reasons, it still isn’t quite there yet. L&D departments should be all over it but instead many see it as a threat. I’ve just stepped out of L&D in my company because I could see BPG was only going to happen in the business. I’m proving to be right. So where’s L&D?

    Building training events. Trying to create SCORM compliant elearning that people actually learn from. Trying to fix the LMS which is ‘lost’ in the day to day lives of staff – it’s almost totally irrelevant (except when it comes to compliance). L&D are measuring success on meeting project timelines, delivering to budget, gathering pass scores on assessments. They are booking classes, registering participants, exhausting facilitators who are delivering technical content courses whose content is probably out of date within weeks or months or days. Delivering management reports to executives justifying sometimes enormous investments but unable to demonstrate impact on performance.

    L&D is a ship heading on a steady course to the edge of a flat world. Of course that’s a dramatic overstatement. But there is a ring of truth around it. If you read Jay Cross or Charles Jennings you’ll hear clear calls for learning to reshape itself or prepare for extinction. It just isn’t adding enough value. They cite the studies that show more than 80% of training budgets go on formal learning events and less than 20% on informal solutions. Yet more than 80% of learning for a job actually happens on the job! What are we missing here?

    Business impetus. The compelling event. Critical mass.

    Of course we need formal learning. We must have space in any organisation for people to move away from day to day work and reflect, consider, analyse, practice, role play, etc. To learn formally. But equally we must acknowledge that learning is embedded in the workplace. We must enable people to learn or to perform and perhaps learn. We need to be clearer on what people must commit to memory and what they can retrieve when required. At the moment its still largely one approach fits all.

    But all is not lost. There are L&D groups gathering together to try to shift the dial. We’re discussing strategies like using business execs to mandate BPG and informal learning. We’re looking to develop case study implementations of BPG that create momentum and make clear the relationships between formal training and on the job support. We have to help L&D to come along on the journey because we need them.

    It won’t happen overnight. But it will happen.

  2. March 10, 2011 at 7:35 am

    A very good piece, Gary. I’m in absolute agreement with you that workforce training and development simply *has* to be delivered/support within the workflow. Without context, information (and knowledge and skill) is virtually worthless.

    Peter knows that I have been ‘banging on’ about this for a number of years and am a great supporter of BPG in all its forms. There is simply no contest between the impact and effectiveness of contextual support and away-from-work training. The former trumps almost every time.

    I wrote a piece a while ago titled ‘when it’s just so obvious not to train it’s painful to watch it happen’ that focuses on BPG. It links closely to this piece by Gary

  1. February 10, 2011 at 5:05 pm
  2. March 3, 2011 at 12:59 pm
  3. January 22, 2012 at 12:57 pm

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