Assembling the Performance Support Strategy Puzzle

It’s hard to find any one thing in my career in corporate learning more satisfying than the recent buzz surrounding Performance Support (PS). In some ways, I can extract a sense of validation out of the rise in importance of something that has been around for years. I say validated because I’ve been an advocate of PS since being bulldozed by hiring into a company well into their third wave of a SAP implementation. Those were the days that stoked the fire in my belly to defend myself with a new strategy – Performance Support.

I found this self-defense posture the equivalent of being tasked with putting together a 1,000 piece puzzle that had just been dumped out onto the proverbial card table in front of me. We have all probably tackled a puzzle like this at some point in our lives, so I’ve chosen to use it as a metaphor in this post.

Where do you start with a puzzle like this? You may have a different tactic than mine, but I choose to start by turning over all the pieces, then maybe start grouping by characteristics of color or other distinguishing visual characteristics. Then what? Define the edges. Then start filling in clusters of easy-fit pieces that lend themselves to obvious image fragments. I always choose to leave the square foot or so of open sky for last. We’ve all been there, and regardless of tactical approach to putting the pieces together, there were some things we all would do:

  • Assess all the pieces and parts to get a sense of what we had to work with
  • Define the edges provide boundaries within which to build the rest
  • Focusing on small clusters at a time

Assembling a performance support strategy is not too dissimilar. We have to assess what we currently have to work with…and in some cases what is missing…what is in conflict…etc. From this process of assessment the “edges” start to become defined – “edges” of the learning environment that must be supported. I look at focusing on “clusters of pieces” as the equivalent of creating a pilot integration of performance support. Build the cluster and place it about where you think it may ultimately fit, but be prepared to shift it a bit as other results dictate movement.

Who knows if this puzzle metaphor is helping or hurting, but the bottom-line is to not attempt to eat the whole elephant, take it a piece at a time at once. That said; if the hunger is there, my sincere recommendation is to ensure you are at a state of readiness to begin the journey. And developing a PS strategy will be a journey as opposed to the transaction of buying a piece of technology. A PS strategy can even be seen as a threat within areas of the organization, and don’t be surprised if the highest levels of resistance come from within the Training organization. Resistance may surface within business stakeholders too, but not because they won’t benefit, but because they will potentially view this strategy as just more help from Training.

Oddly enough a large part of the PS strategy will involve “selling” a new paradigm and from within that conversation I recommend avoid using the word Training whenever possible. That may sound extreme, but I have changed the entire focus and tone of meetings with clients who had training solutions already in mind, by stipulating that…“Training will definitely play a role in this solution, but let’s dig a little deeper into that place where actual performance outcomes are produced – at the point of work.”

I only have to position two visuals – the PDR Learning Continuum (Figure #1)

PDR Learning Continuum
Figure #1

And Dr. Conrad Gottfredson’s Moments of Learning Need (Figure #2).

Moments of Need
Figure #2

Emphasis shifts immediately away from training and into the work context where conversation is focused on performance and outcomes…or the lack thereof. The non-training conversation begins that easily queues up the opportunity to pursue a unique set of discoveries Training typically never uncovers.


If your company trains workers like they did five to ten years ago – and the lure of Performance Support (PS) represents a logical evolution, be careful not to confuse being  “READY” to integrate PS with “READINESS” to integrate PS


Being able to discern the difference between “ready” and “readiness” is the equivalent of turning over the puzzle pieces and possibly even building the “edges” of the learning environment. This cannot be accomplished without some sort of assessment of the existing pieces and components of the learning environment from human resources to infrastructure to embedded paradigms.

With the demands of workloads and increasing velocity, our “do more with less” staffing models can quickly become a business liability. Integrating a Performance Support strategy can reduce that liability through increased agility and capacity within a lean workforce. There are a unique set of drivers that point to doing something different because Training is having hard time maintaining pace with the demand of business.

Performance Support “Readiness” Drivers

  • Work demands for flawless performance at the point of work are moving faster and show no signs of slowing down
  • Doing more with less yields an increase in business risk, legal liability, missed revenue opportunities, and potential for loss, and these are all more directly tied to performance outcomes than ever before
  • Taking workers off-task to sit through formal training classes or on-line courses does not return cost-effective nor sustainable performance outcomes
  • Even the best training outcomes suffer knowledge retention loss of well over 80% in less than a month, further decreasing residual training effectiveness at the point of work
  • The need for informal learning and support are converging with actual workflows, and our current Training paradigms were never scoped nor chartered to effectively address this convergence so no tools are in place to respond to this need
  • With the workforce rapidly becoming more mobile and points of work flush with role-specific, performer-level moments of need, there exists a diverse demand for performance support well exceeding current training paradigms and existing assets
  • Working and accomplishing discovery at the “point of work” is a potential non-starter for many Training organizations because embedded competencies do not exist on the team

Implications of Moving Learning & Performance Support into the Workflow

The evolutionary impact that a performance support strategy has on traditional training outcomes implies changes in the design, development and delivery of training assets driven by a dramatic shift of emphasis. The shift from successfully transferring knowledge to effective application of that knowledge creates a tipping point that signals a need to evolve our approach of developing workforce capacity and agility at the point of work. What is most significantly evolutionary is WHERE, WHEN, and HOW this shift in knowledge application takes place – at the point of work. The point of work is where we find critical points of convergence characterized by MOMENTS OF NEED manifesting within workflows wrapped in a diverse mix of individual need. Meeting this user-level diversity of need requires a blend of assets designed, developed and deliverable to meet an expanded set of variables. In other words, satisfying the workforce at the point of work requires that our design, development and deliverables support six RIGHT things:

  • Enable the right worker’s access – regardless of role and where they may be located
  • To the right assets – pre-designed to align with workflows
  • At the right time – at their moment(s) of need
  • In the right amount – in a work-relevant, task-centric amount
  • In the right format – in a readily consumable and work context-friendly format
  • To/from the right device(s) – from mobile technology to stupid simple

Within these six RIGHT things, there is a high degree of direct alignment of PS assets that are influenced by the PERFORMER and their MOMENTS OF NEED that surface at the point of work. This implies a bottom-up influence versus the traditional top-down methods we use to develop training. In addition, the design, development, and delivery of these RIGHT things are further influenced by the attributes of the work context that are as diverse as the performers’ moments of need. Therefore, to formulate effective design, development and delivery decisions, new skill competencies must be present to successfully accomplish expanded discovery efforts regardless of the ISD model used. Instructional design strategies, methodology, and discovery must also evolve to include the diversity of work environment attributes.

The Multi-Functional Role of Performance Support

One can easily adopt a mindset that PS has a primary role that meets the “just-enough-just-in-time” description, be it a hard-copy job aid, an electronic download, a search of a threaded discussion on best practice forums, or even a live chat or discussion with a Help Desk team member. Adopting this mindset can be limiting because the primary driver focuses on a performer with a moment of need, and it assumes the performer is the one responsible to acquire the appropriate PS assets. For all intents and purposes, the moment of need is identified and is KNOWN by the performer. The act of acquisition involves the ability search and the capability to PULL the asset into their work context regardless of format for immediate consumption.

There is second key role PS should be tasked to support and that is when the moment of need is UNKNOWN by the performer, and yet it has been identified within the organization as something that is critical to sustaining flawless performance at the point of work. Those PS assets must be PUSHED to the performer, potentially with no less urgency for immediate consumption. Again, the application of these assets are designed, developed and delivered in alignment with one or more attributes within the work context.

In short, PS is a lot more complex than a job aid. I would add that when properly integrated as an inclusive bridge between training and actual work performance there exists an inherent strategic value that up until recently was never considered. I would even go so far as positioning a Performance Support Strategy as the driver over a Learning & Development strategy. Play with the language to suit your needs, but convergence points toward a unified Learning & Performance Support Strategy.

What is a Performance Support Readiness Assessment (PSRA)?

The PS strategy must be robust in scope and possess a vision broad enough to reach to the very “edges” that are mapped to define the limits of the business ecosystem. An accurate readiness assessment will help build the road map to enable integration of performance support.

  • A PSRA is a holistic snapshot of current state of organization’s readiness to evolve beyond their current Training paradigm to embrace the entire learning environment with intentional integration of “just-enough-just-in-time” performance support.
  • The PSRA looks at the inclusion [or the exclusion] of critical work environment attributes defined by Space, Systems & Media as well as human skill capabilities necessary to develop and sustain a dynamic, learning environment within the business ecosystem – regardless of size.
  • The PSRA examines scope of pre-design discovery acquisition to ensure compatibility with integration of a Learning Continuum framework that ensures a “thread of continuity” throughout all three phases of the continuum [Prepare, Deploy & Reinforce].
  • PSRA accurately defines the “edges” of the ecosystem and the work environment attributes that drive or restrain flawless performance outcomes of at the point of work.

What Should a Performance Support Readiness Assessment Include?

A PSRA will be unique to each organization that goes down the performance support path. The components listed below outline at a very high level the areas I consider to be Key Readiness Drivers that, when assessed, reveal the details necessary to accurately map the Learning Ecosystem within that organization. This Road Map is necessary to define the nature of support that performers will require along the entire spectrum of the Learning Continuum from training events to the application of knowledge at the point of work. The PSRA may consist of assessments of multiple key drivers that reveal…

  • Learning Engagement from culture to governance to the ability to lead Change
  • Work Context Integration from performance analysis to evaluating discovery processes to learning stakeholder collaboration
  • Learning Continuum Compatibility from design methods to development decisions to asset management to delivery methods
  • Effectiveness & Impact Measurement Capability from KPI discovery to data acquisition methods to reporting impact findings
  • Collaboration & Social Media Footprint from collaborative culture to policy to Web & Learning 2.0 integration
  • Technology Transparency & Utilization from learning management & delivery, to content creation & management, to performance management integration with work, to mobility & connectivity to Web 2.0 integration with workflows

Who should consider completing a PSRA?

  • The PSRA would benefit ALL businesses, not just large organizations with dedicated training departments
  • Small-to-medium businesses where training is a shared task or where there is an army of one – and/or restricted by limited budgets
  • Companies considering increasing or starting the use of on-line training programs
  • Companies considering introducing new learning Web 2.0 technology and/or Learning 2.0 methodology
  • Companies needing to realize a tangible return from training efforts and/or seek an increase in training efficiencies
  • Companies who are asking questions like, “Is there a better way to sustain capability in our workforce? How can we build in agility to expand our workforce’s capacity?”  

Summary Thoughts

The concept of a readiness assessment may seem intimidating to some and loaded with unfamiliar complexity. To others, this post may be enough guidance to encourage striking out on their own and begin turning over pieces to this strategic puzzle. Whether you already have the edges defined and a few clusters pieced together, or if you haven’t even opened the box, the work environment in front of you will be unique to your business. Whatever strategy you assemble, it will likely not replicate what another business would assemble even if they were in the same business. The point being – every learning ecosystem will have a different set of interdependencies and a diversity of need that is unique to that business. What will be common to all business regardless of size are these facts…

  • The velocity of work demand is not only continuous, it is increasing
  • The demand for flawless performance at the point of work is continuous
  • The nature and frequency of Change within your work environment is continuous

…and these three facts put a common question before every business…

Can we gain and maintain a competitive advantage by perpetuating a learning and support environment that is not equally as continuous?

Performance Support integrated as a strategic initiative is becoming more visible and more viable with amazing Web 2.0 technologies and innovative methods that can satisfy the demand where converging moments of need meet at the point of work. If you do not have the bandwidth or the expertise to handle a PSRA of your own, we should have a conversation.

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