Home > Discovery & Consulting, EPSS, Learning Ecosystems, Performer Support, Rants & Ramblings > Mapping the Work Context for Performance Support

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 Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
LinkedIn Profile
Twitter: Gdogwise


  1. August 20, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    Gary, what a great post and one that I can relate to wholeheartedly. I particularly like the Space, Systems and Media Cluster – it’s something that I can use to chunk together the questions I ask of my clients when they come screaming in panic to me that they simply need, must have training!

    I’m currently working on an organisational transformation project with a company that requires mainly performance support tools (they are also implementing a performance support system) but the question that gets asked in project meetings on a daily basis, as all heads in the room turn to me, “what do you suggest for training?” With all eyes on me, I explain all the above questions and how it’s not as simple as booking training rooms and locking in facilitators to train massive waves of employees across the business and their eyes glaze over. The challenge is “how do we get them to see (without us explaining ad nauseum – in words – words simply aren’t working for us anymore) that performance support will solve their performance and skill gaps?” (and then answering the follow up question, “if you’re learning and development, then what are you doing? You’re supposed to be giving us training!”)

    Any ideas?

    • August 20, 2012 at 7:47 pm

      Helen, G’day to you down under!
      Thanks you so much for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts. And…the most important question of all – “How do we get them to see that performance support will solve their performance and skill gaps?” and then the second most important question, “If you’re learning and development, then what are you doing? You’re supposed to be giving us training!” Neither are easy to answer, but there are a couple of angles you might try. There are several graphics I use EVERY time I attempt to make the case for performance support. I think it worth sharing right up front that there are several issues to address:

      1). Yes, you are T&D or L&D and training will be part of the solution…BUT…training’s key outcome is the transfer of knowledge…and the transfer of knowledge, even when successful in the transactional event of training be it live ILT or on-line or a blend, will deliver only the transfer of knowledge. In and of itself, successful transfer does not translate to successful transfer into the work context, and it certainly cannot guarantee sustained capability…sustainable human performance @ the point of work…and the point of work is where true business value is generated…or lost. That is a huge paradigm shift for most business unit leaders because we’ve convinced them that training drives performance…and it may…for a short run, but rarely is it sustainable.

      2). What business unit leaders WILL listen to are hard numbers and ROI. Read this recent post – https://livinginlearning.com/2012/07/03/calculating-roi-on-epss-for-learning-the-point-of-work/ Do not let the technology component of EPSS distract you in this post. Look at the impacts caused by getting the right learning in to the right hands at the right moment in the right amount in the right format and to/from the right device. The ROI is amazing. True, technology can make a huge difference, but you can build a poor man’s EPSS out of WordPress for free and drive similar results.

      3). Stipulate training is part of the solution to satisfy those who really really need to have training, but “hide the pill in the cheese”. Design your training in smaller objects – performer support objects (PSOs) – that consist of task-level, role specific, stand-alone “chunks” of information, job aids, workflow visuals, collaborative chat with SMEs/Help Desk, etc. They want training – Give them training…and make it as linear as they are accustomed to, but make the linearity a collection of task-level objects that can be re-used @ the point of work. Another post that may help is – https://livinginlearning.com/2012/01/31/justifying-learning-the-point-of-work/ Learning @ the Point of Work is the future of learning, though many traditionalists have not lost enough training budget to hear the noise. The convergence of learning and work are upon us, and the organization that has the most “nimble” and “agile” workforce will be the most competitive. Agility comes from getting the right info at the right time in the right amount…etc…@ the point of work. When you need to work with a pivot table in the middle of a workflow, you are not in a moment where a course on Excel is an appropriate fit. But a pivot table job aid…even one built specific to the application at hand…is the assist that’s needed @ the point of work.

      4). I wrote another post that address this all in a larger context and it has several visuals that may be valuable as you attempt to make the case – https://livinginlearning.com/2012/01/22/evolving-training-into-the-perfect-hole/ this one is kinda long, but it is loaded with key links to other posts that have additional visuals you are welcome to rip off and use yourself. In particular, there is a reference to a Learning Continuum that is instrumental in making the case because it addresses the “learning environment” that training does not support – the work context…a.k.a @ the point of work. The third phase of the Learning Continuum framework is REINFORCE, and that happens downstream in the post-training work context. Again…where tangible business value is either generated or lost. Training is not scoped nor chartered to work in that environment and curent design models to not produce a training product that lends itself to the informal learning needs @ the point of work.

      Sorry if this is sounding a bit redundant, but the concept is simple once you internalize it. And when you believe it and can offer up a visual or two that support your case, the concept of “we have to train everybody” begins to fade. The emphasis becomes more aligned with “reference knowledge” as opposed to worker relying upon “recall knowledge”. Quite simply, there is just too much to pack into the heads and hearts of the workforce. Within three weeks 85% +/- of knowledge retention is lost if not immediately put to practice or actively reinforced. In a sense you are shifting the emphasis of remember everything…to…remembering where to get the information you need at a task-level, role-specific moment of need.

      I welcome further dialogue if I can be of assistance beyond this massive reading assignment I just laid at your feet.

      Best of luck to you!


  2. August 21, 2012 at 3:01 am

    Hello again Gary, this is wonderful and I must digest it. I don’t want to do your work a disservice by a cursory glance as it requires me to read, think and reflect on what you have written as it will assist me in my work with my clients and stakeholders. I will get back to you – I promise. Thanks also for the LinkedIn request! So please give me about 24 hours and I will respond! 🙂

  3. August 21, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Hello again Gary, I’m back! I spent some time last night and this morning digesting your links (and also going to other links within your posts) taking it all in.

    I’ve been in this business for over 20 years within internal L&D teams in public and private sectors; worked as an external consultant; worked with an LMS and e-Learning Courseware Development vendor and now freelance contractor and naturally, I’ve noticed many changes in the L&D field. I used to joke, “everything is a circle, just wait, things will come back around again.” I don’t have the liberty to say that anymore.

    I’ve noticed more change happen in our field in the last 5 years than before (for me personally) – although the signs were always in front of our eyes like you mention, the restructures, the realisation that business can do their work without recruiting numbers they used to previously. Admittedly, I’m one of these people who like change and observe the machinations of what is occuring around me and in the business that I work for and try to make sense. I’m actually quite excited with the big changes occuring in our industry at the moment.

    I’m currently working with an organisation within one of their business units who developed an internal training team (yes, the dreaded ‘t’ word) who were made up of business SMEs who had a penchant for facilitation – but no other experience in performance consulting. Recently there was a massive restructure and all the facilitators were made redundant but some of the consultants (who are NOT performance consultants) were strongly advised to “create a centre of excellence around Learning and Development which did not rely on facilitator-led training”. As a contractor, I kept my mouth shut (initially) as it was not my place to question the strategy but I could see – the massive discomfort, the anxiety, the stress, the anger, the tears from the facilitators (who have since left the organisation or found work back in the business originally doing what they were doing in the business putting ‘training’ at the back of their heads – scarred with the idea that they never want to go through a restructure again) and also the consultants who came to me to ask questions like, “how can we consult to the business if we can’t give them facilitator-led solutions?” “What other solutions are there?” “Can you give us some professional development to consult?” “How do we advise our business partners that there are no facilitators anymore?” “Does this mean WE have to do the work of the facilitators now?” “What does this mean for us?”

    My answer to them was that this is an exciting time for them because they have been given a clean slate to make a real difference and create a new name for Learning and Development. Here is an opportunity to partner with their internal business clients and stakeholders and come up with innovative learning solutions that involve doing the 20/70 stuff – the coaching, the structured on-the-job development; using social learning and collaboration; exploring performance support tools and media, maybe using tools like Sharepoint, Yammer and online workspaces, wikis, podcasts! I was getting quite excited thinking about the potential but they were staring at me in disbelief.

    So from this, it shows me that there is a huge gap in knowledge, skills and performance of our own consultants which will NOT equal a Centre of Excellence (for the record, I despise this term).

    So going back to one of your posts, you mentioned that our own internal departments running ‘training’ are at fault as we got ourselves into this position. This is true. It is also because the same ‘training’ department has undertaken all the business requests without adequately exploring their needs and instantly providing gratification by creating courses. In so doing, the business has come to expect their people to attend courses – and not to do on-the-job training simply because this is considered irrelevant or, puts more pressure and time on the teams. It’s also because ‘training teams’ simply didn’t know the last 3 of the 5 points of the Learning at Points of work model. Nor, asking the questions of ‘space, systems, media’ – and I found out recently, had no concept of ADDIE.

    Of course, this is not their fault because they weren’t provided the professional development nor had the performance consulting background or the qualifications in learning and development. When they think learning = training in a classroom or doing an ‘eLearn’ (that has been developed by an external vendor).

    I love the concept of the slides you had in your posts and I will use them next time in my meetings with my stakeholders as in the past, I only gave anecdotes and words – I have to provide them with visuals.

    I am also working with a small business team (‘my own pilot team of 11 people’) deploying these new and innovative techniques (podcasts, on-the-job SME coaching, job aids, online work spaces) and so far they like the fact that they can be more self-directed and collaborate with each other. I’ve noticed that they have more opportunities to share what they have learned in the workplace – it’s not me telling them, but all of them learning and sharing from each other. I hope that this model and the results of this team will provide me with the evidence to present to management of what can be done across the business – you explained it as the “pill in the cheese” – rather than me ranting and raving anymore – I’m not a good sales person as I don’t get why others don’t see what I’m seeing so I do get exasperated.

    I love the idea of the “Learning Broker” and I’d like to use this as a term. Besides, I’m finding the term ‘instructional designer’ inhibiting now. In fact, the term simply feels wrong – even though companies know this and recruit to this name (and the remuneration range of job titles). We not only have to explain these differences to our own L&D counterparts but also to businesses who don’t know the difference. Maybe this is something that has also stood against us – what we actually call ourselves?

    You mentioned that it “sucks to be a trainer” and that “training departments now find themselves slipping behind the knowledge curve in the race to inject performance agility into the workforce and enable increased capacity to sustain human performance outcomes”. This is what I’m experiencing currently with my fellow colleagues who are anxious and stressed with what the future holds.

    Thank you for your posts as they are so rich with information and advice and I will use the slides to explain to my stakeholders the concept and in so doing, guide my colleagues to not fear the future but to embrace it (if they want to stay in this field).

    Many thanks and look forward to your future posts!



    • August 22, 2012 at 9:48 am

      Helen, thanks so much! Let me know if I can help you in the future!

      Take good care!


  4. August 22, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks Gary, much appreciated – and thanks for the advice and the suggestions regarding the visual which I will use. Keep up the excellent posts!

  1. August 20, 2012 at 6:47 pm
  2. August 27, 2012 at 5:56 pm
  3. October 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm

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