Change the Conversation – Extend the Blend

I hate using the word “paradigm” but I honestly cannot think of anything better, so I will plow ahead and use it anyway. This so called paradigm I reference in this post represents a concept I’ve sold…we’ve sold…everybody in the Training business has sold for years – the concept that Training drives performance. Our challenge now is that business stakeholders, and even our own in-house leadership bought it, and expectations are firmly in place for results that match what we sold. Training, as the performance driving silver bullet is misfiring, and we really need to reset expectations and change the conversation. This post offers one approach to accomplish the change.

The more committed we are to this “performance-driving” paradigm the “behinder” we get. I realize that may sound a little ominous, but hear me out. We’ve been touting Training as a viable solution to virtually any performance problem for years. Our clients bought in. They’ve been buying in for as long as we’ve been selling it. We’ve done it well, and we’ve even started believing it ourselves to the extent that we [Training] wrap up a training event and move to the next. We’re doing an amazing job of deploying learning, but we are NOT extending our reach to implement the application of the knowledge gained. And by stopping at deployment, we’re leaving business impact on the table. That’s worth a little different conversation.

It is not that our training is ineffective; it’s that it is insufficient to deliver on what we’ve been selling. Consider what we actually deliver in Training programs – transfer of knowledge. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s all Training was ever intended to do in this paradigm – deliver knowledge and then demonstrate evidence that we really did transfer knowledge [test, demonstration, etc.].  Transferring knowledge successfully does not reliably predict performance outcomes in the post-training work context; much less produce sustainable evidence of business impact. While there may be a brief performance spike, the improvement is not sustainable without reinforcement. Training does not reinforce, and Training does not drive performance – it only contributes to performance as part of a continuum. Training was never intended to extend far enough along that continuum to the point where our learners change hats and become performers.

Here’s an evolved concept – the learner-to-performer continuum – and it provides the basis for a changed conversation. The “continuum” component implies something that is continuous as opposed to a transaction with a beginning and end. Training, for the most part, is a transaction. The event starts, knowledge is transferred, and we fill out a Level 1 eval and maybe take a test to confirm Level 2 success. Our conversation must extend beyond this all familiar transaction. I’ve had some success changing the conversation by using several visuals that illustrate why a different conversation is necessary. I’ll share them with you now; some you’ve seen before if you’ve been a visitor at Living in Learning for any length of time. The order in which I present these may not suit your purposes, so if you choose to use any of these graphics, a different order may better serve you. Go for it.

Extending the Blend

The first thing that is likely to pop up in anyone’s mind when you toss out this phrase is “What is the blend…and to where is it being extended?” This first slide (See Figure 1) is intended to depict an overly simplified illustration of the learning ecosystem. The 5% slice of the ecosystem is where we train, and according to Bersin research, we drop an average of up to 80% of our training resources there. Depending on your industry, 100-hours of training a year may be high or low, but it will always be the smaller slice of the ecosystem pie.

The 5% slice establishes where we are today…the “as is” of our paradigm. A key question I then put on the table for the client is simply, “What about the other 95%?” This is where real business impact takes place. Business value is either won or lost in the 95% slice of the ecosystem. I’ve labeled that slice as “point of work”. This is the downstream, post-training work context where learners morph into performers and the stakes around flawless performance are tied directly to hard-dollars.


Figure 1

Why extend the blend? If the direct linkage to hard-dollars idea is not enough, let’s go back to the paradigm where we continue to talk about learners. What happens to a successful learner after they leave the classroom or pass the on-line training course?  We know we have successfully satisfied critical learning moments of need because we have Level 2 evals that prove it. After that graduation, they leave a safe, structured, controlled learning environment [the 5% slice], and they forget. Humans do that. (See Figure 2)

Training graduates are journeying down the continuum…the learning hat is coming off…and the performer hat is taking its place. The deeper they journey along the continuum the less they remember. The less they remember the greater the chances of screwing something up and racking up huge losses, missing opportunities to generate value, or creating a business liability. Safe to say, performers are a lot more dangerous and pose a greater business risk AFTER they get out from under the learner hat. Here’s yet another reason to have a different conversation.

Why Extend the Blend

Figure 2

Knowledge retention degrades within minutes of completing a training program. Without reinforcement in the post-training “point of work”, relying upon a successful learning experience that was validated by stellar test scores is an expensive risk. When knowledge degrades, performers cannot consistently deliver performance outcomes with the same level of proficiency as they did during in the 5% Training slice. Human do that.

Moments of Need

This next illustration (See Figure 3) is one that changed my approach to a lot of thinking around the post-training work context. I have Dr. Conrad Gottfredson to thank for making the case that the “other 95%” is no place for Training. If there was only one image to use to change the conversation, this is it. In fact, I have this in a sheet protector in my portfolio. It has supported many conversations prompting evolved thinking.

Moments of Need

Figure 3

Of these five moments of need, we consistently address the first two in the comfort of our existing paradigm. Learning new things and more of others are typically formal learning [Training] engagements of one blend or another. Training’s emphasis in the first two moments targets the learner, and the assigned task is to contribute to a state of readiness by virtue of knowledge transfer. It represents the first phase of the learner-to-performer continuum. Training contribution is good. It represents a start. It equips learners with critical job knowledge. That same knowledge that blows out of their brains and the way back to where they need it most – the 95% work context slice of the ecosystem.

On one hand, moments one and two are a lot like buying a couple gallons of paint, drop cloth, rollers, and trim brushes with the intent of repainting the bedroom for your wife. It’s a start. It is visible evidence that you have the potential to paint the room. But…the room “ain’t painted” until the paint is on the wall.

Back to the Continuum…where the learner-now-performer faces a completely different set of needs. Look at moments three through five; now they are performers, and none of these moments can easily or efficiently be addressed with a linear training course. The moments of need have changed and are now mission-critical, and real business impact is at stake. If your hair is on fire, that’s not time to log into the LMS and take a Fire Safety course. Right then is the time to access a simple task-specific job aid that reminds us to Stop-Drop-Roll or whatever one does when their hair is on fire. Point is, in the work context, it’s time to execute flawlessly…it’s time to paint something. Just knowing how is not enough to ensure flawless performance or sustainable outcomes, and make no mistake; there is not a stakeholder on the planet who would not want to achieve this.

These last three moments are where we must extend our blend and introduce Performer Support (PS) to address the inability to recall something from memory that’s shot; adjust to change that is running amok and causing chaos; and/or responding effectively when something really really important has just broken down. This slice of the ecosystem is where our workforce desperately needs agility and resilience in order to flawlessly execute their respective jobs. Training cannot do this. Training was never designed nor intended to do this, and yet we…and our stakeholders…are standing up to our hocks in a paradigm that does not embrace the “other 95%” where business outcomes hang in the balance.

Let’s go back to the “blend” for a second. I’ve been saying that training has no place in the work context, and yet blended learning is something we all use at one time or another. Yes, I am referring to the same “blending” concept but…and here’s the difference…I’m suggesting we extend the blend beyond just mixing synchronous and asynchronous learning methods…and integrate real PS assets as part of that same blend.

Training may not fit in the “other 95%”, but PS DOES! And here’s a twist that tweaks design, development and delivery decisions –those same PS assets also BELONG in the 5%.

How? We should never build a performer support object (PSO) that a performer is not expected to apply in the context of their job…AND…I should never build a PSO that is limited to that role. Every…repeat…every PSO I build for application in the work context should at a minimum…be introduced in the context of Moments 1 & 2…during Training. Ideally, these PSO should be embedded within some experiential training activity or simulation so the learners now has a point of reference knowledge [How to use the PSO – When to use the PSO – Where to find the PSO] as opposed to relying upon recall knowledge which runs out their ears on the way back to their work context.

Closing Thoughts

Performer Support is not limited to post-training applications. The time has come to change the conversation when we receive a training request. We have to make the case to extend our blend beyond the limits of training assessments that uncover learning objectives. We have to change the focus of the conversation to include a more holistic discovery that integrates the performance attribute of the downstream work context to identify three key things:

  • Performance objectives – Define the business outcomes the stakeholders seek. Learning matters to us. Performance and outcomes mater to our stakeholders.
  • Performance gaps – Determine root cause(s) behind the gaps.  See ADDIE Abandoned for Performance Consulting Skills
  • Tangible evidence of impact – Identify measurable key performance indicators that reveal that performance improvement has taken place.

We cannot measure performance impact or value added to the organization by only evaluating training at levels 1 & 2. I don’t give a rip if someone knows how to paint a room or knows how to dig a hole. I want the perfectly painted wall or the perfect hole. And so do our clients and stakeholders.

Change the conversation. Extend the blend. Don’t stop at deployment of learning; move ahead to implementation of knowledge and capability. There’s quite a difference between those two milestones.

If you are not sure how to do it, or need help getting there, call me. I do this for a living these days.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
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Twitter: Gdogwise