Myths, Monsters & Performer Support

The recent post of ”Assembling the Performance Support Strategy Puzzle has attracted a lot of hits already, and there was one comment in particular that resonated with me…actually the question posed picked a scab from a previous life. When introducing Performance Support (PS) into an organization, I think it is important to recognize there are at least two points of view with which you will have to contend. Those that have not a clue why they should give a rip about PS, and those that fear the implications of embracing PS!

Of the two factions, I find the “clueless” being the most receptive. The “fearful” yield resistance on a number of levels and reactions can range from kicking and screaming to covert sabotage. Regardless, both factions need to drink the PS Kool-Aid for reasons NOT so much to do with Training, but because of the implications of survivability and sustainability of the company’s competitive advantage. The challenge we face is that neither persuasion can yet understand or appreciate the power of integrating PS into work practice.

Notice in that last sentence I never made any reference about integrating PS and “training”. Let me say this about that, If PS is part of a Learning & Performance Support (L&PS) Strategy, training is already integrated with it. My point is that all the integration in the world matters little UNTIL that “blend” is fully integrated with work practice…and where does that happen?  It happens @ the point of work.

The Myth

Training as a profession has always sort of been in a “sales” role. Selling the shift from classroom training to on-line e-learning, and then back again as a compromise to protect a draft pick and a player to be named later. We sold sexy flash-based on-line courses. We sold the need for a big honking LMS. The biggest “sale” of all was that “Training drives performance!” which was bought hook line and sinker by business stakeholders. They bought our shtick and internalized it to the point that anything that even smelled like performance issues meant training was the solution. Yup, we did this to ourselves, and to come back at them with a proposal to NOT be so quick to jump on the training pony, we witness plenty of empty stares and spit bubbles.

We have to find a way to change the story without admitting being so wrong for so long…or insulting their intelligence for buying into the Myth in the first place. Oddly enough, I’ve accomplished this with a perfect record, and it took only a single visual to support the conversation. And I’m dead serious about putting this visual in front of the stakeholder. If you don’t use the diagram, assume control of the nearest white board and write it down. The stakeholder needs to see it…and you need to point to it. (See Figure #1)

Moments of Need
Figure #1

I know you’ve seen this before if you’ve read any of my earlier rants, and I’m sure that I’ve previously described how excited I was to learn of Dr. Gottfredson’s Five Moments of Learning Need, but at the time, I never realized how deeply those “moments” would be woven into an innovative strategy to drive business outcomes. As you can see, the first two moments cover our Training hind-parts, so we’re not caught in a lie. We DO use training for learning new things and more of others. So you see, Training DOES serve a useful purpose, no apologies necessary for perpetuating the Myth. Now we must position “moments” 3, 4, & 5 and preferably without a confession of guilt.

That’s easy…blame it on something else! Seriously! I blame it on a phenomenon called CONVERGENCE. I posture that there is an increasing velocity of workloads and demand volume facing our workforce as the economy reawakens…AND… with a learner workforce, we are seeing a convergence of moments of need with the actual execution of work…and that convergence happens @ the point of work.

Do not underestimate the value of using the phrase “@ the point of work” because that is where your stakeholders make or break their COMPENSATION PLANS. See where we just went? Right smack dab into their wallets. This is no longer a “training conversation.” This is a conversation about WHAT HAPPENS when a member of THEIR work team screws up…and that likely happens WHEN they were confronted with a moment of need to remember or apply knowledge [#3]…or when a new process or procedure changed the rules [#4]…or they need to be AGILE enough to jump to a new ride and initiate PLAN B when something breaks, fails or goes terribly wrong [#5].

All three of these MOMENTS happen WHERE? @ the point of work. WHEN do they manifest? @ the point of work. To go down this path, you are changing the conversation to performance outcomes instead of knowledge transfer. I often say this, “I will stipulate that training will always be a tool in our toolbox, but if I do not address the SUPPORT needed by the PERFORMER @ THE POINT OF WORK when one or more of these last three moments surface…I am doing you, Mr./Ms. Stakeholder, a grave disservice. Why? Because our business lives and dies by what we DO in a moment of need, not by what we know!”

By that point in the conversation, you do not even need to make a reference to drawing a connection between their performers’ flawless execution at the point of work and that manager’s annual performance review and compensation carrot hanging out there. Trust me; you had them at “When one of your people screws up…”  While that might be a little dramatic, it never hurts to make eye contact and put your hand over your heart when you speak these words. Bottom-line; change the conversation to something that matters to them. This ain’t about training!

The Monster

Switching gears to the other faction, we have a decidedly tougher sale to make within the ranks of the training organization. I find this incredible on so many levels, but I’m here to tell you that it is very very real. The introduction of anything…repeat…anything that points to a remote potential that may diminish the role of Training…whether it is stand-up facilitation, or on-line development, or an exotic blend of a half dozen venues…it is viewed as a threat.

The more steeped in status quo…the greater the threat. Who in their right mind would rush to embrace a technology like electronic performance support systems (EPSS) if when properly implemented that could cause well over half of classroom training to be eliminated?

In a previous life, I was confronted in a water-cooler conversation about my zealous and acutely misguided proposals to increase the integration of informal learning assets @ the point of work. This colleague of mine had members of her training staff – platform trainers and ISDs to be specific, wondering if they needed to update their resumes. I’m not making this up. There were people threatened by the introduction of an innovative integration of PS into the work practice.

The parts of the conversation that they could not hear was the part that a L&PS strategy, when implemented, would give them more time to address moments of need closer to the point of work…and consequently closer to the point of real, tangible generation of business value and sustained outcomes. I had people clinging to flip charts and storyboards like flotation devices in a water landing. At the root of the problem was the realization that introducing a L&PS Strategy smacks of Change…and I must confess that can be a scary thing. But if you can make it through the darkness of one night with the closet door open and the monster inside doesn’t devour you, you can easily start looking for something else to fear.

Part of me wanted to answer that “updating the resume fear“, with a “Heck yeah, they better update their resumes. But not because of what I’m doing. C’mon…look at what’s happened to our training budget for the last three years. We’ve getting whacked every year. That continually shrinking trend should be scarier than a freaking EPSS. Doncha think?”

Funny; how hind-sight is 20-20. What an opportune moment to drop a little reality on Chicken Little, and I blew it.

Performer Support

This post has been about generating critical mass within the diversity of the organization to accept a strategy that represents a Change in thinking. I am not convinced we can do that with a TRAINING conversation. I would only mention the “T-word” once, and that would be in the context of the first two moments of need. I’m not even sure I would call it BLENDED LEARNING although that is much close to the truth. I caution that not telling the ENTIRE truth can totally miss the importance of the conversation reflecting the HOLISTIC nature of what a L&PS strategy is intended to sustain. Yes it is the PERFORMER we seek to sustain, but who, where, when do they have their respective moments of need is extremely individualized. There is another layer of diversity of need to consider. What INTERDEPENDENT variables across business functions, work groups, or project teams conspire to trigger those moments? We’re dealing with a strategy that is designed to integrate into some that is unique to every business – and it is best described as a dynamic ecosystem. I’d not go into that conversation with your stakeholder, but it really is a huge driver behind some of the design, development and accessibility decision you’ll need to make before building any solutions.

I’m not sure if it was Bob Mosher or Conrad Gottfredson who coined that phrase, dynamic ecosystem, but it is spot on as an accurate descriptor of what we are attempting to sustain. Training was neither scoped, nor chartered to address anything as dispersed and as diverse and as individualized as the point of work. BUT…training is the best place for integrating Performer Support Objects (PSOs), right into the linear content flow in experiential exercises. No job aid (PSO) should ever be developed that has not been integrated into an exercise that is role-specific and task-centric in function. In other words, in the training event itself, the learner gains the knowledge to use the PSO they will depend upon @ the point of work. Radical, eh?

This approach proves yet another point. Do we still need ISDs in the game? You betcha, but their design methodology may be better served by overlaying a Learning Continuum that is scoped to address the holistic nature of the company’s ecosystem from “edge-to-edge”.

Summary Thoughts

As my posts go, this one was a bit on the shorter side, but I am beginning to feel more urgency around performance support in the networking groups I cruise every day. And I can see an increase in the desire to go out and buy a solution. There is no question companies are READY to pursue anything that will drive workforce capacity and sustain capability. Who wouldn’t? The biggest mistake is confusing being READY with being at a state of READINESS to go down this path.

I made this mistake about three lives ago, and it involved a LMS that we just had to have. We got it, and I can hear my dad sharing his wisdom from long ago…”You know, a man who buys a boat is happy twice…the day he buys it…and the day he sells it.” Turns out the same is true for LMSs. We were sooo ready, but had no clue what was on the list of things we needed to address and define before we could confidently say we were at a state of readiness.

<Selling Alert>

I do not sell anything on this blog except my passions for learning in whatever form it takes. And that’s not really sold when I give it away, but after drinking to PS Kool-Aid so long ago, and seeing it now resurface, I can no longer sit here and spew thoughts and suggestions without confessing that I plan to make a living out of L&PS Strategy development. I have the scars, and I have the t-shirts, and I am willing to have conversations with anyone who may be wondering about how to get to readiness. I’m cool with coaching, acting as a guide, or building the whole strategy; it only take a phone call or an email to have an initial conversation.

</Selling Alert>

As always, I’m interested in any thoughts stirred by this post.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise