Selling Performance Support In-House

As is often the case, a previous blog triggers a great question that shines the light on something I either missed or have not yet spent any time developing. Several folks I’ve recently talked with have expressed concerns and asked for ideas on how to get their leadership off the dime about considering performance support as a strategic issue for the organization. My gut reaction is this – performance support (PS) is too closely tied to training.

Before I get down tight on this topic, I must explain something. I am going to use several graphics some of you who are regulars to the blog have seen in previous posts. I apologize for the redundancy, but at the same time defend their re-use because many visitors coming to Living in Learning are first timers and as Pavlov proved, a little repetition goes a long way. Plus, what is being offered as visuals can easily be re-used by visitors here to bolster their own internal positioning efforts. I only ask that if you do snag something that you remember where you got it and include attribution.

Okay…back to the mission.

Positioning to Someone Who Cares

In a previous life, I used to sell long distance minutes for both AT&T and Sprint, truly a commodity product, and truly a tough sale when you weren’t the cheapest vendor on the block. That said, I do not think any long distance sale was ever as tough as selling PS to the training organization. To support that point, I’ve worked closely with all three of the top electronic performance support system (EPSS) vendors, and they consistently find it easier to position their product on the business unit side of the house than directly approaching the Training organization. Here’s why…

In another previous life, I was responsible for all learning technology in a healthcare setting. I was inside the training organization and constructing a business case for integrating EPSS. I was actually confronted by the leadership of the enterprise learning team [the ISD, developers, and platform trainers] with concerns that this “EPSS-thing” and informal learning were going to put them out of business. That was a load of horse hockey, but that perspective was a reality to those professionals…and very good ones to boot. I never even considered anyone would get all raked up in a pile over the most exciting thing to come along in a very long time. Thank you, Web 2.0.

That little glimpse of a past-life personal revelation is an example that shows how Training can see PS as a very real threat. I found the only way to get beyond that fear took several key change leadership tactics:

  • Build a business case that targets the organization as a whole – linked directly to one or more planks of the strategic business plan
  • Bait the trap by linking a projected ROI [476% in my case] and include it in the business plan
  • Find, kidnap, hold hostage, or bribe a business unit stakeholder [outside of Training] who you can convince to taste the PS Kool-Aid and can clearly see tangible business benefits to their slice of the organizational ecosystem…and then…become an enflamed sponsor
  • Build momentum by creating critical mass behind the effort by unleashing your sponsor on his/her stakeholder peers/colleagues
  • Stipulate that Training is still important…and never mention the “T” word again
  • Position PS as a strategic initiative that extends continuous learning and knowledge assets into the workflow where real business value is either generated…or lost.

There’s more to the Change Leadership drill but this gives you the guts of what you are going to have to do to get around Training digging in their heels to embrace the potential for change that will disrupt their comfort zone.

Getting Beyond Training Speak

Having been in corporate L&D for a lot of years, it may sound like I am being unfaithful to my calling. If my job scope was limited to successful transference of knowledge, I would have to agree. Sadly, that’s as far as many Training organizations are equipped…scoped…chartered to go. Their scope and their charter are to train the workforce. They do. They buy a big honking LMS so they can convert classroom training into on-line learning and track it. Level One and Level Two evaluation data is captured as well, which is used to confirm satisfaction and successful knowledge transfer. The LMS tracks how many butts in seats, and how many course completions, and how many passing scores are snagged in whatever time period tracked, which can only be used to demonstrate one thing – how busy the Training team has been. Rarely are Level Three or above tracked. Why? Because those metrics all manifest in the downstream, post-training work context…beyond the LMS…at the point of work. The LMS was never intended to track those metrics. I focus on the “point of work” because that’s where evidence of impact is found…as performance outcomes.

As a profession, we’ve positioned for many years that training drives performance improvement. It does, but the improvement is rarely sustained if there is no concerted effort baked into the learning experience that provides a thread of continuity downstream to the point of work. If that does not happen knowledge retention drops off the table and almost half of what was learned is gone before the sun rises the next day. (See Figure #1 below) Our workforce becomes reliant upon what they can remember, or their recall knowledge, when they are @ the point of work.

Knowledge Retention Loss
Figure #1

I use this graphic religiously with clients to paint the picture that Training in and of itself is not going to carry success in the classroom forward to flawless performance @ the point of work if there are no tools in place to reinforce the learning. These PS tools, if embedded into the training activities were likely be proven to be successful in rendering a positive Level Two eval. Why not build those objects with the intention of building competency during training to use those same PS tools @ the point of work? This is the perfect point to stipulate that Training does well what Training was designed to do – transfer knowledge to the learner. Point to this graph where knowledge retention is dropping off the radar and ask, “What happens when the “learner” switches hats to being a “performer” back on the job?

Then whip out this graphic, (See Figure #2) which I also use in every client contact. The first two moments of need quickly support what you just stipulated regarding Training – learning new things and more of things.. The last three moments point right at the money shot…the point of work…the turf where your business unit stakeholder get compensated for results provided their staff can sustain outcomes through flawless performance. It is perfectly acceptable to say, “And this ain’t training, dude!”

Moments of Need
Figure #2

Per Josh Bersin’s research that he shared on a panel I had the privilege to sit on in 2009, on average we spend 5% of the typical work-year (+/- 100 hours) in some type of formal learning – Training. Your mileage may vary depending upon your industry, but that slice of time is where Training is most likely scoped and chartered to function. Now ask the question, “What about the other 95% of the work-year?

The other 95% is where real business value is generated…or lost…based upon the workforce being sustained throughout their moments of need. Say again, “This ain’t training!”

What we need @ the point of work is different content than Training traditionally designs, develops, and delivers. We refer to this “different content” as the extended blend. These last three moments of need require smaller, more targeted, role-specific and task-centric objects – Performer Support Objects (PSOs). These objects must be designed for “those moment(s)” experienced by individual performers where training is not the right solution. The key word here is “individual”. What makes this a larger challenge is “when” and “where” these moments manifest. Can you say “untethered workforce”? Running around with a smartphone or a new tablet with your hair on fire is not the best time to log into the LMS and take a Fire Safety course. But a media clip that communicates,” Stop – Drop – Roll”, just might be the ticket. Heck, it might be a social interaction engaging a “combustion management SME” your head ablaze using the camera on your smartphone and getting a verbal recommendation to S-D-R.

Now there’s a novel thought. A PSO…an “object” as we’re calling it, might not be content at all. In this ridiculous example, the “object” was a live social interaction. Why not? The technology is already in the hands of the performer.

Fact: This is not always about content; though content may be the solution. Point is…don’t stop at content as the only solution. Know the work context and understand the “moment” being confronted by the performer, and here is where that “individual” wild card resurfaces. Your moment may not be the same as my moment, nor the next person’s moment. One size-fits-all may not be a viable option which in turn drives the objects smaller to be more task-centric. The smaller objects enable us to serve up the just-enough-just-in-time-just-for-me assets required. This means mapping the workflows at the point of work and identifying where moments are likely to surface. If this is an ongoing concern, those moments are already known by the business unit stakeholder. You just have to ask, and you and your map can target what is necessary to build the PSOs and plan to deliver them in either a push venue or enable the performer to pull them. Either way, build them to match up with the technology the performer is either carrying with them and/or has perched on a desk.

Placating the Nervous Training Traditionalists

Okay, so you just saw what I put on the table in front of my stakeholders, and they bought it. Sold. To date, I have not had a single internal stakeholder look at me and say that I was crazy and to take my PS voodoo someplace else. They were all ears because I was talking in terms of performance outcomes…and those who produce them…at the point of work…which is the domain of the stakeholder…and success there translates to hard dollars in their pockets when performance evaluations roll around. They already HAVE skin in the game; it’s just a game Training ain’t playing…yet. My bias is Training should be all over the post-training point of work.  Who in the organization is better equipped to be there?

All I’m doing is positioning the concept of supporting their performers @ the point of work, and I say, “Based on what you’ve just seen, we both know Training programs by themselves are only going to take your performers so far, and we both know that some Training is important, but we have to ask, “What happens after they forget so quickly? What happens when an action they take…or don’t…or screw up…is tied to an outcome that is linked directly to tangible business risk, profits, liability, waste, or loss?

[You really don’t need to answer that question and neither does your client – your point was made plain enough just by asking it.]

This is where I wrap the meeting up with a request to follow-up after they’ve had a chance to digest this new perspective and choose a workflow we can tackle as a beta project. I suggest something that they know has problems and know that those problem are impacting tangible business value. This worked every time I did it in two previous lives.

So…now you head back to Training and your colleagues are sitting around the fire at the mouth of the Training cave hugging their storyboards to their chests like flotation devices in a water landing. They’re in a trance and chanting ADDIE over and over…rocking back and forth. And here you come, dragging your new stakeholder relationship and your sparkling new embedded performer support system [EPSS] advocate behind you, or your cheap-as-heck Web services portal, or your existing SharePoint site, or your WordPress site. Whatever you

re dragging it looks foreign and scary and smells like change. Your silhouette looks to many of your peers like that of the grim reaper. Several are updating resumes. Others whimper softly, “Please don’t make me change.”

But they must change. They need to get over only being linear thinkers. Certainly, Training will never go away completely, despite budgets shrinking for many of us indicating all may not be so well in Camelot. Training may not go away, but it will slowly get painted into the HR and Compliance course corner. Change is indeed the driver because the point of impact for Training is a new ground zero and that is the point of work. The rules of engagement have changed, and we [Training] have to evolve to address this new point of impact.

When you get right down to what will change, it is more focused on new skills that come to bear more so than what will be lost. Storyboards will still be relevant, ADDIE…koff…will still work [may be a bit more iteratively] but it will still work. If there is anything to fear, it may be around the new skills necessary to leave the shadow of the Training cave and go downstream and into the chaos of the post-training point of work where moments of need surface. Whatever PSO assets are relevant and fit the “just-enough-just-in-time-just-for-me” criteria will still need to be developed. ISD skills should easily evolve to Instructional & Performance Systems Design (IPSD) to ensure that PSOs are the most compelling, work-context friendly, formats when developers crank out their PSOs. Instruction alone is not going to be enough to drive sustainability.

What about Training content, though? Is everything going to become a PSO? I seriously doubt it, but go back to Figure #2 for a second. Look at that arrow that pops out of the PSO box and points upward to formal learning. The nature of what we do in the classroom and/or on-line should be part of the thread of continuity I mentioned earlier. The PSOs performers are expected to use @ the point of work should also be integrated into role-specific, experiential learning activities during training that emulate scenarios known/anticipated @ the point of work. By doing so, we shift reliance from the ability to RECALL knowledge with the power of REFERENCE knowledge. The learner only has to remember WHEN a PSO is necessary and WHERE to go to access it. And again, the “it” here could be another humanoid type person to carry on a live dialog, or a chat, or whatever. Using this integration, the amount of time expended in the classroom or on-line shrinks dramatically.

Selling New Paradigms

Selling anything can be a challenge. After so many years of selling minutes, I’m convinced selling change into an established tradition is the hardest thing to do. Solution?  Sell around the obstacle. Sell to someone who gives a rip about the outcomes you will deliver. That is easy to do when the outcomes are already poised to be delivered by simply enabling their performers @ the point of work to perform their respective tasks flawlessly.

Hard dollars work best when you are trying to get someone’s attention; especially, the bean counters. The best place to capture hard dollar impacts is in the domain of your stakeholder. They know exactly what a screw up costs. They know exactly what is the average value of a sale…value of a key account lost…of average sales closure rates…of how much downtime they must endure when a performer does not make quota and churns out of the system. There are hard dollars just lying around waiting to be picked up and counted. Your ROI source data is not that hard to find if you engage with those who own the rights to that data every day. You just have to be prepared to ask for it.

Will you wind up with a few what-ifs in that process? Very likely. But here’s an alternative what-if to consider, “What if we just keep training and expect different results?”

C’mon out of the cave, the PS environment is fine and getting better. Standards technology [not SCORM] is about to flip the learning paradigm completely over. The Experience API (xAPI) …formerly Tin Can…is going to throw gasoline on the PS fire. If you think the paradigm is a bit threatening now, wait until April/May 2013 when xAPI is generally available. Think about how awesome it will be to actually track PSOs…which ones are being used and who is using them…something the LMS could never do. This is an exciting time to be in L&D, but all the action is happening outside the cave, and you must prepare yourself to function outside the cave. There is where you will be able to demonstrate business impact and earn access to money to fund innovation, support an evolved training vision, and job security waiting to be embraced. Where? Downstream, post-training, @ the point of work.

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