Convergence of Training With Business Process Guidance (BPG)

I have been writing for months on the topic of “convergence”, often referring to it as an impending collision between two business-critical moments – learning need and flawless human performance in the work context. My unwavering position on this says that Training [the department] should have a role…make that a KEY role…in either preventing the collision, or instead, choosing to enable it as a seamless integration. Frankly, I do not see either happening except in a very few circumstances. For the life of me, I cannot understand this disconnect. Why would Training, who has every right to boast of driving human performance, choose to ignore the very work context where human performance opportunities abound?

Believe it or not, I have talked with many colleagues who, along with me, have repeatedly witnessed this phenomenon. Again, I have to ask why? With training budgets on the decline, or at least at risk, why ignore a bona fide solution that screams “valuable contribution to mission” and guarantees budget longevity? Consistently, I see Training ignore a viable “point of impact” that has direct correlation with the generation of tangible business outcomes. What training pro among us does not hunger for hands down, undisputable Level 3 & 4 evaluations to justify our existence? Contributing to real business dollars, whether saved or earned, is exactly what we need. Why leave it on the table?

I realize I am asking a lot of questions here, but these we have to ask…and…answer. More-better-faster training in the status quo is not an acceptable answer. Regardless, innovations to streamline status quo training seem to be the rabbit we chase with new technology and caffeine-laced drinks. That chase will never yield the rabbit we seek, and that leads to only one other alternative tactic – Change. That my friends, I believe is at the heart of this tendency to ignore a golden opportunity for Training to become the true business partner they have been pining after for years. I know this because I too used to beg and whine for that coveted “seat at the table”.

The time has come to truly earn that seat, and filling dashboards with reporting statistics that prove how busy Training has been by putting butts in seats, and increased hours of e-learning consumed, and a flurry of new training courses developed and completed, will not effectively earn a ticket to the dance. Those already sitting around the “table” have a tangible stake in the business that comes in the form of hard dollar contribution to the mission of the business. I have argued until blue in the face that we [Training] DID contribute to the mission. And we did. We pumped thousands through all their compliance courses. We had no choice in order to meet [enter certifying body of your choice here], and we injected tons o’ knowledge and skills through awesome interactive e-learning course content, and we had the Level 2 evaluation track record to prove it. All of that “activity” ensured we had a solid hold on being a confirmed…cost center. Bummer. If we had been a “cost reduction” center or a “cost avoidance” center, or a “revenue generation” center,  or a “customer satisfaction” center we may have been invited to dance with the stars. But we did not; hence, we were an expense.

Back to Change. What needs to change? In my no-longer-humble-because-humble-ain’t-working-opinion, business Training entities have change; they have to re-invent themselves. They have an urgent need to be in that enviable position where they can point to tangible proof that THEY have caused business impact. That does not happen in the classroom. It does not happen in on-line learning events. It happens downstream, post-training in the work context. And the LMS is not the technology designed to support downstream-post-training-in-the-work-context kind of informal learning. So what does support this environment? I point to a “methodology” more so than a technology as the answer, and hear it called Business Process Guidance, and in some circles, Performance Support. I will combine them as (BPG/PS) for simplicity.

Regardless of what you choose to call it, this methodology addresses learning in the work context. In one of its most powerful applications, we find it embedded within the actual workflow. In fact, in the case of enterprise systems like SAP or PeopleSoft, we embed BPG/PS within the application itself, enabling the worker to directly access support assets in the workflow without leaving the host application. The workforce can access “guidance” at their moment of need in the work context. Compare that capability with my earlier description of convergence. BPG/PS is not limited only to monster Enterprise Resource Programs (ERPs) or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs or Human Capital Management Suites (HCM). Consider a “process” that is not dependent, either at all or in part, on an on-line application like “on-boarding”. Virtually everything we do is describable as a process. Sorry, my performance consulting tendencies are showing with that last statement.

This BPG/PS methodology CHANGES everything about what Training has clung to since the invention of the storyboard. They say never stand between a mama bear and her cub. I say it is equally as dangerous to come between an instructional designer (ISD) and their storyboards. BPG/PS is seen to pose a real threat to the ISD population because of the implications of Change. The question becomes how to overcome the resistance that seems so prevalent across Training organizations. The threat is real if formal training is going to be abandoned. It is not. Never will. So toss out the def-con five threat status. BPG/PS is about expanding scope, not contracting it. That new scope requires treating the entirety of the learning environment as an “ecosystem” and the work context is the critical addition to Training’s scope. Training is tactical. Continuous Learning requires addressing an ecosystem holistically. Excuse the plug, but using the PDR Learning Continuum framework provides an all-encompassing structure to integrate formal and informal learning for a seamless application to the ecosystem.

Just this morning, I had an email exchange with a colleague, Peter Davis, Senior Manager, Knowledge Design & Delivery for Westpac Banking Corporation, the largest bank in Australia. They have fully embraced BPG/PS with amazing results. Our dialog sprung from a comment he left on the blog post “Do We Train, or Do We Guide?” He was agreeing with the concepts put forth in that post that Training is missing a huge opportunity and reinforced how badly we need Training to embrace BPG/PS. He suggested three things that needed to happen to move Training off the dime: Business ImpetusA Compelling Event – and Critical Mass. I could not agree more. My response to his triad suggestion follows:

Peter, you referenced three phrases that answer the question “What are we missing here?”

Business Impetus – I think it is right under our [Training’s] noses in the form of increasing business velocity and demands for flawless performance to mitigate business risk and drive tangible business outcomes. Until training embraces their role in meeting the velocity of business demands with agile training assets and methods that thrive in the work context, business impetus will be overlooked in favor of boasting about butts-in-seats and e-learning volume activity.

The Compelling Event – What is more compelling than losing your funding to run a training department? Who among us can afford to lose a single head count? Does Training see this as an economic disease or as an undiagnosed symptom of operational performance gaps? Our funding comes from successful operational performance…not of our department…but of the revenue generating side of the business. Of all the business entities in the organization, Training is the best equipped to promote workforce readiness – should it decide to pursue that critical mission. I think the compelling event is whatever epiphany we can unleash that connects the dots for Training leadership that budget protection comes from increased funding, and the only source for that in these trying times is positively impacting operations that drive revenue in a significant way. BPG/PS is the toolset to drive cost reductions and drive up productivity and workforce effectiveness – all contributors to profitability.  And none of those activities are based upon formal learning [training].

Critical Mass – To better leverage BPG/PS within the Training function, I believe will only happen if we frame success with tangible evidence that highlights the extraordinary business results we consistently see – the dramatic paybacks gained from the use of BPG/PS technology – and that no harm came to trainers during the process. I personally witnessed training staff push back on BPG/PS because they felt threatened. Avoiding Change by rearranging deck furniture on the Titanic is not a viable alternative and a far greater threat. Promoting acceptance of BPG/PS is a classic transformational Change event. We need sponsors. We need proof, and to that end, we are harvesting seeds for successful Change even now from outside the Training organization as evidence of tangible business impact. I see that the threat is of the unknown…of a fear of things becoming different…of the effort to learn new methods and processes…and of the disruption of status quo. I am convinced the path to critical mass will have to be paved with undisputable evidence of success.

So here we are…standing at ground zero to the impending convergence issuing a call to embrace Change. I honestly do not think we have a choice if our intentions, as a Training organization, include recognition as a source of building capacity within the workforce. To go a step further, we need to take steps to ensure that the outcomes from our efforts produce sustained capability. Both of those outcomes manifest downstream, post-training in the work context, and that is where BPG/PS has home field advantage.

So…what is it going to take?

What compelling evidence does your leadership need to see to seriously consider the gravity of this Change?

Are Training departments willing to re-invent themselves to expand downstream into the post-training work context? If not, what is blocking this critical evolution?

There are likely a hundred other questions I could ask, but these should be enough to either stimulate a dialog or encourage steps toward the river to find that downstream current. Given the opportunity, do not just get wet, be sure to swim to the current.

I welcome your comments whether they are PRO or CON, and they can be as rambling as my own. I think this is worth talking about, especially if there is potential for you to take the concepts of re-invention and effectively address the convergence that is going to happen in your company’s workplace ready or not.

…and that would be conclusion of yet another rant!

Thanks for reading…

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise