Mapping the Work Context for Performance Support

With all the recent press performance support is getting…make that positive press…I’m noticing that we could easily slip into a best practice of admiring the problem of what to do about it. To be a bit less sarcastic, I must clarify that admiration of the problem is NOT a best practice, but it often seems like we manage to do it best.

Performance support, and integrating it into business strategy, will soon become a routine strategic inclusion. Why? Because it is directly linked to the generation [or loss] of tangible business outcomes. And who produces those outcomes? The workforce does. And where does this happen? In the work context. When this camper follows the performance outcome audit trail, it leads directly back to one thing – flawless execution within any number of workflows. And where are those workflows? Again…they are in the work context. The point of work. The point of convergence where work and moments of need collide.

Something to keep in mind – that point of convergence may not be the actual problem that should be addressed. You may be seeing a symptom of something that has happened upstream from where the identified performance gap is now causing pain. But then…none of us have ever treated a symptom with training, right?

Blame that phenomenon on the “ripple effect” where things happen because other things happened, and they in turn may cause even worse things to happen. Not to be too tongue-in-cheek but we have to consider dependencies of what may have happened before our identified performance gap surfaced. What happens downstream after we hit a home run is another story for another day. Suffice it to say we’re dealing with an interdependent ecosystem here.

This blog post is intended to provide some actionable information, should you have the bandwidth, motivation, and/or expertise to pursue, that takes you into the work context to see what this performance support thing is all about. If you do not go downstream and get your hands dirty in the actual workflows, then you are setting yourself up to only admire the problem through a training lens. I know this because there are problems I have encountered in my past that received more admiration than action. Having a roadmap to go downstream will provide an assist to avoid the trap of inaction.

Being a performance consultant is a plus, but not a requirement. Being an instructional designer is a plus, but not a requirement. Knowing enough to be dangerous about Six Sigma workflow mapping is a plus, but not a requirement. BUT…having a relationship of trust with the business stakeholders with whom you work is a minimum requirement, because it is their world where your efforts are going create an impact…and potentially a ripple or two to consider.

How do you build that environment of trust? It is probably the easiest thing you will do…as long as you never mention “training”. Seriously! If it comes up, stipulate that training may be a part of the solution, but if it is sustainable performance outcomes we seek, then training alone is going to fall short. We need to architect a solution that addresses moments of performance need, and that is bigger than training. For as long as I have been discussing these solutions, and using that spin I just shared with business stakeholders, I have never…NEVER…had one tell me I needed to crawl back under my training rock. You will still have to prove yourself, but at least you never placed any hopes on training transactions as the sole reason for you being on their turf, nor did you say anything that perpetuates the myth that training drives sustainable performance outcomes.

Work Context Defined By SPACE

I’ve previously written about three attribute clusters [SPACE,SYSTEMS & MEDIA] found in a holistic learning environment in other posts, so will not redefine the nitty-gritty again here. However, in the short version – SPACE includes:

  • Clear definition of WHO is involved – by work role – function – department, etc. Don’t forget your Help Desk crew…and maybe even a relevant SME or two…
  • WHERE are the workers with proximity to workflow – in it – upstream – downstream
  • WHERE is the work physically taking place…as in geography
  • WHERE within the workflow(s) are performance gaps surfacing
  • WHEN does the performance issue manifest – before – during – after “X” happens
  • WHEN did it start – did it ever work – what changed when it broke – etc.
  • WHY – nod and smile when you get your answer, but don’t take it as gospel until you have evidence to confirm. We’re not the only ones willing to treat symptoms…
  • WHAT is the cost of failure & WHAT would be the VALUE of success

There are more things to consider, but these are the biggies, and might I point out…none of them are part of a training needs assessment. Why? Cause this AIN’T TRAINING…

Okay. Am feeling better now…


The SYSTEMS attribute is not always hardware in nature. A SYSTEM could be a workflow. It can also include the directional flow of knowledge assets between and among work groups within a workflow. Consider things like:

  • If you plan to PUSH objects to the workforce they need some sort of DEVICE to have stuff pushed to.
  • Same deal for PULL – what technology is in hand/accessible from which to PULL assets?
  • HOW does the workforce access a network? Do they even have a network? Security, Firewalls, bandwidth, etc.
  • If collaboration is a viable source of information with WHOM and HOW is collaboration supported? Seriously…you may be surprised at just how “social” this solution might be.

Once again there are more things to consider than these, but take a second and consider how many of these things are [NOT] included in a training needs assessment. With regard to technology, I caution not to overlook stupid-simple solutions just because technology proves to be sexier in virtually every circumstance. Heck, the solution might be as elegant as a laminated card hanging from a lanyard around a worker’s neck, and that’s okay if it is the right information – in the right amount – in the right format – and satisfies the right moment of need. And it AIN’T TRAINING.

Okay, I’ll take my knees off your chest for a second. One could easily think I am bashing training, but hear me out. I’m in training. It is my business. The name of our company even has the t…t…T-word in it. In fact, I’ve been in training so long that I can clearly see where it cannot go because the design paradigm does not fit the application of learning needs of a workforce in their work context. The rules of engagement have changed, and we [Training] are still upstream thinking linear training thoughts.

While none of what I’ve just described is routinely considered as part of a training assessment, there is nothing I’ve described above that should be excluded from a training assessment. NOTHING; and by excluding these things we leave a huge chasm between Training and Performance Support, and that does not…should not…cannot… be allowed to continue. With all my bluster I do not want you to miss this single fact – Performance Support Should Be Integrated with Training. And no, I’m not going to do the chicken/egg thing to promote one over the other. That conversation is better served over a beer. The point is they belong in a relationship of continuous learning opportunity by our constituents – the workforce.


Yup, performance support should be part of training, and when we are finally at the point of making choices regarding MEDIA…the choice of authoring platform…the choices we make in our design decisions…development decisions…our choices for delivery systems… koff…sounds a lot like ADDIE doesn’t it…consider this. Without defining SPACE and SYSTEMS first, how the heck can an informed decision be made with respect to how we should design a solution, develop the content, and either deliver it or make it accessible to the workforce at their moment(s) of need? ADDIE builds training – not performance support.

Wanna hear something really crazy? ADDIE, as a process methodology, not a learning design tool, and it can actually be used to develop performance support objects. I’m a believer that you can fix Thanksgiving dinner using ADDIE when you get right down to it. The point is not so much about what we are developing but WHY. If we limit WHAT to linear learning then the ADDIE tool smacks of linear design methodology. There is NOTHING about performance support that is linear, but who says we cannot string a bundle of performer support objects (PSOs) together in a linear manner to serve both function of training and performance support? And herein is our chasm I mentioned. Our job cannot be limited to transferring knowledge. We have to be focused on what content, assets, knowledge, collaborations, social connections, etc. that we need to bake into our solutions that support performance in the work context.

Can you feel me on this?

I absolutely hate having my designers and developers creating redundant assets. I don’t have the time, nor do our clients have the money for us to do double work. The battle cry these days is simple – Create Once – Use Many Times. I know, I know, re-useable learning objects never really amounted to much back when all the e-learning evangelists where going nuts over them; but you have to ask why…why didn’t they catch on? It was an awesome concept. I even benchmarked Cisco and Steel Case in a previous life, and they figured it that it DID work, but the applications were limited if the objects remained inside the context of formal learning. I have to say it again…performance support AIN’T TRAINING , but there is no law that says PSOs cannot be re-used to embed within a linear training flow. One might even create a thread of learning continuity that weaves its way from formal learning all the ay down into the chaos of informal learning @ the point of work.

In fact, if I had to turn the clock back a go through a massive SAP implementation again…or worse…a huge electronic medical records system (EMR) implementation, to name two source of night sweats…most of the training delivered would be comprised of role-specific, task-centric objects integrated with simulation exercises, and they would be as linear as a single role would align. I would not train people about the grand complexities of the SAP workflow if their role was limited to screwing on lug nuts.

Summary Thoughts

Have I left any doubt that ground zero for driving flawless performance is downstream in the post-training work context? When you consider the attributes of SPACE and SYSTEMS before diving into our comfort zone of MEDIA when we begin developing solutions, it becomes painfully clear that we can no longer avoid defining workflows – mapping how work is accomplished – @ the point of work. This is where tangible business value is either gained or lost. You will never find a business stakeholder who does not have their finger on the pulse of what is working and what is not. Align with them and you have a partner for life…and who knows a potential advocate who might lobby for retaining a training budget next year.

If we stop short with our training solutions of addressing all the attributes of the environment in a holistic way, we are admiring the problems we should be addressing, and we have little to no visibility of the work context. If we do not know the particulars of what must be DONE, we have little chance of building the most effective assets to support performance.

That’s my rant and I’m sticking to it…

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning