Learning @ the Point of Work

When we strip away products & services and the marketing glitz & glitter, what is left that sustains [or not] the viability of a business? My vote goes to – the workforce. Even if we do not strip these things away, I still feel strongly that the workforce is at the root of a successful sustainable business. Obviously, there are other external factors like the state of the economy, cost and availability of money, and other environmental drivers and restrainers, but even including them, the pressures and demands on the business to survive, much less flourish, still is largely dependent on the effectiveness of the workforce. Why then do we insist on training them where direct business impact is not part of the outcome?

After involvement in several huge enterprise-wide cutovers of business applications [SAP, PeopleSoft, and Epic] and large organizational Change initiatives, I have witnessed first-hand the tendency to drive to GoLive [deployment] with aggressive training programs and then fall short when routinizing the Change [implementation] into workflows and day-to-day business practice. We train people in classrooms and on-line and with innovative virtual blends, and then we wonder why the evidence promised by Level 2 test scores and successful demonstrations of proficiency in training simulations do not manifest with consistent results in the downstream, post-training work context.

The primary culprit is our human ability to retain enough knowledge long enough to become proficient in applying it in the work context. That is nobody’s fault; nor is it a negative reflection on excellent training efforts and resources. It is merely a fact of life these days – the brain cannot remember enough information…long enough… to apply it effectively. However, learning retention is not a singular thief.

A companion culprit is the business environment we live in where demands for flawless execution are a continuous burden we all carry regardless of role. Mistakes are a constant reality in the working world, but we must ask – “How many of those mistakes could be avoided if the workforce had access to the right Performer Support (PS) at their moment(s) of need?”  A follow-up question to that is – “Where is that moment of need going to surface?” The answer to the second question defines a context in which to answer the first – “In the work context – In the workflow – @ the point of work.”

Urgency to perform and tangible business risks are not the only attributes that impact flawless execution @ the point of work. Physical location [at the bedside, on the factory floor, in a hotel room, in a parking lot] where the degree of mobility, accessibility and connectivity combine to define what is possible [or not possible] to make the right PS assets available to the right worker @ their moment of need and @ the point of work.

If we step back and take an inventory of all the attributes and the variability within the work environment and overlay the diversity of work roles and job functions, the job to provide learning @ the point of work can seem daunting. When we become comfortable working in the work context, the task is more different than daunting, and that is consistent with my experiences in my last three corporate training jobs. I found either resistance or reluctance [not sure which is worse] to embrace the workforce @ the point of work. After surviving my first SAP cutover, I became convinced we [Training] no longer had the option to rely on our bread and butter best training practices to sustain the workforce. What I experienced  standing between Training and making this shift to the downstream, post-training work context was a blend of misaligned focus and fear.

In all three corporate roles, focus was on cranking out training classes and content to meet cutover deadlines, on-line session counts, butts-in-seats targets, and Level 1 & 2 metric thresholds. There was a trend building in my last experience toward Level 3 and above measures of impact, but the vehicle to get there remained locked on to old-school, upstream training classes and on-line courses.

The fear factor surfaced as a dual resistance to innovation and Change – a resistance to considering that traditional, embedded paradigms could be justified if only we could prove business impact at higher levels of Kirkpatrick’s promise. Now I am near the front of the line to support metrics that reveal Level 3+ results, but continuing to hit the training nail…only harder and with a bigger hammer does not change the outcomes where they count most – @ the point of work.

Truthfully, do we realize tangible business outcomes during training? Not in most cases. No sales reps close business during an outstanding selling skills class. No customer service reps retain a customer by efficiently resolving a service issue during a stellar simulation activity. No front-line factory supervisor makes a split-second decision that avoids the creation of material waste while consuming a sizzling-hot, Flash-based eLearning course on-line. Our workforce generates business outcomes elsewhere – downstream from where we focus up to 80% of our training resources. They drive business outcomes @ the point of work. Likewise, they have the potential to fail @ the point of work, and we have a responsibility to prevent or minimize that failure, and training is NOT the answer.

There is a fundamental shift that only the most agile learning organizations are embracing, a shift to enabling learning @ the point of work. I see this happening as focus shifts away from formal training as the solution to “brokered” learning. Training is not the source of learning. Training becomes the “broker”. What is actually brokered? The right learning assets – in the right amount – in the right format – to/from the right device @ the moment of need…and that moment typically carries the greatest business risk when it surfaces @ the point of work.

So…does that put Training out of a job? Hardly, but that thought is one of two sources of that fear factor I mentioned earlier. Training will still need to deliver formal training; compliance mandates will see to that. The second source of fear is the implication of Change. My response to that fear is simple – “Get over it!” If Training does not step up and head downstream to the post-training work context to equip the workforce with assets agile enough to learn @ the point of work, then being out of work may be a good business decision. Rumor has it that out-sourced compliance training is an economical way to check-the-box without the overhead of staff and benefits. Fear that more than Change…

The rules of engagement have changed. It is time for Training to become a true business partner within the leadership of the business units – each one representing a learning microsystem with unique needs – each one possessing unique knowledge of where their performance “pinch points” exist. Acquire or hire the workplace learning & performance consulting skills necessary to isolate training solutions from the appropriate Performer Support.  Acquire or hire the knowledge to integrate a Learning Continuum into design, development and delivery methodology.  Acquire or hire the awareness and the knowledge to prudently apply Web 2.0 technology.  Acquire or hire the knowledge necessary to build a brokered solution necessary to get “right assets into right hands” when the moment of need strikes.

However you get there, become an advocate that facilitates [brokers] through technology, new methods or human means the connections between the workforce experiencing moments of need with appropriate assets whether they are information, social, collaborative, and/or knowledge-based that render the “right” learning @ the point of work.

Questions for you:

  • Do you agree or disagree that learning @ the point of work is becoming important enough to address? Why?
  • If you agreed, what steps have you taken to move learning closer to the point of work?
  • What worked? What did not?
  • If you have not considered going in this direction, what are the key restrainers preventing the shift?

Where we think, work, and share together – we learn!

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


  1. William J. Ryan, Ph.D.
    August 15, 2011 at 5:45 am

    I knows what I likes and I likes what I knows! Change is so uncomfortable Gary, what you speak of means we have to leave our warm and cozy spaces and meet with business people who just don’t understand training and metrics, oh pshaw!

    Tongue in cheek with a touch of reality however one area we need to create synthesis is in establishing the metrics of successful performance else we may end up being in the way of the operational folks – the same folk who haven’t defined success for themselves and are our opportunity (and challenge) to move the learning from the projector in the room to the performer on the floor!

    • August 15, 2011 at 7:44 am

      You are right about the uncomfort of working in a new environment, Bill. And you are correct about business unit folks not understanding training…and that is precisely why the “T” word should never cross our lips in the conversations we have with them. We should never start a conversation with business unit leaders with, “Hi! We’re from Training, and we’re here to help!” We are out of our element in the work context, and they know it, and being underfoot is not a comfortable place to be. So what do we do?

      We do more asking than telling. We do more listening than talking. We have nothing to sell, so give up on selling a training solution. Their’s is not a problem training can solve in the work context…at least not to the point of sustainability. The conversation is around affecting that “synthesis” you referenced. They [the business folks] already know what success does NOT look like, and it is our job to assist in defining what it DOES look like…in tangible outcomes we can measure…and measures that they agree are valid evidence of success. It is surprising how many of them cannot articulate key performance indicators of success without some guidance. We have to usher the journey from “as is” to “should be”, and that involves a skill set many in training do not have mastery.

      To your point, we will never make the transition into the work context without demonstrating value through measurable results…that are first preceded with collaborative dialog about what those measures may be…when do we gather them…who gathers them…for how long do we gather them…how do we format them…and what actions do we take as a result of gathering them. And if there are no actions defined or possible, they were likely the wrong metrics to begin with. But that’s another rant I’ve already ripped off in the ROI vs EOSC post. Don’t get me started…hah! Thanks for the comment, Bill, we make a fine choir!


  1. January 22, 2012 at 12:56 pm
  2. January 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm
  3. July 1, 2012 at 11:01 am

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