Embedded Performer Support – A New Discipline

We were eating lunch on a Wednesday when the elevator music was disrupted with an urgent announcement, “This is a code yellow alert! – Repeat – This is a code yellow alert!” My colleagues and I snatched for the laminated cards that hung around our necks and determined that a “code yellow” meant there was a hazardous materials spill in the building and we were to evacuate immediately. We did. No one was injured. We had the perfect EPS application available to us at the right time.

The color-coded, laminated card hanging from a lanyard around my neck along with my employee ID card reminded me what a code yellow meant and what to do about it. That little card was a perfect example of low-end, low-tech Embedded Performer Support (EPS). EPS, in this case, served as an instant source of “reference knowledge” at the point of work. The alternative would have been me attempting to access “recall knowledge” that relied upon my brain to “recall” what I learned two years earlier in new hire orientation training. Fat chance of me avoiding a hazardous chemical spill if my brain was the only source to trigger agile performance on my part. The alternative would have been to rely upon tribal knowledge and ask someone else who was as clueless as I was.

I shared that little ditty to illustrate an important concept that is driving us [Training] downstream and into the work context. EPS represents an enhanced set of deliverables that enable this migration and include:

  • Seamless, frictionless, and ubiquitous access capability mobile, web/cloud-based, intranet, extranet, portal, portlet
  • That enable the right performers role specific, task-centric
  • To access the right performer support resources – content-based, social, collaborative, pushed to performers, pulled by performers
  • At the right moment of need “just-enough-just-in-time-just-for-me”
  • In the right amount work context friendly
  • In the right format compelling and readily consumable
  • To/from the right device(s) pushed, and/or pulled from anywhere with any device

The right moment for me was during an urgent scenario in my work context. Training had happened two years earlier. The appropriate response needed to be timely; needed to trigger agile performance,  and needed to be acted upon flawlessly. Or, as in my example…some knucklehead just spilled something that could kill us all…so run like hell…NOW!

It is important to note that EPS is not a technology – it is a discipline. I recently heard Bob Mosher describe EPS this way, and it made perfect sense. It forces us out of the mind-set that all performance is supported as a function of training. I suppose we could argue that fact, but training loses its sizzle and impact not through poor quality, but over time as knowledge retention wanes. It had been two years since I went through orientation. There was no way I could remember what code yellow meant. Access to just-in-time-just-enough-just-for-me EPS saved my bacon.

While it’s true EPS is not a technology, there are technology implications attached to implementing an EPS solution. I shared the chemical spill example and the laminated card as the PS object as a technology example on the low end of sophistication. I used this example to make a point – whatever technology is used to enable that seamless, frictionless, ubiquitous link to the right EPS needs to answer several critical questions including:

  • Who is/are the performer(s)?
  • What are the performance expectations of their role?
  • What are the expectations [tangible outcomes] of their performance?
  • Where are they physically located when the moment of need arises?
  • Where are they located within a workflow when the moment of need arises?
  • What is their level of connectivity when the moment of need arises?
  • What devices are in the hands of the performer when the moment of need arises?
  • What environmental attributes are present that could influence/impede performance?
  • What is the level of urgency to perform flawlessly at the moment of need?
  • What are the risks associated with less than flawless performance?

Take note that these questions are all addressing performance…and the performer…in their post-training work context. I draw this distinction because the answers to these questions shine the light on what “technology mix” and what “access/delivery venues” are most appropriate to enable an effective EPS solution.

When I hear the phrase performance support, the first images that pop into my head are job aids. Call them quick reference guides, cheat-sheets, or whatever; they are a document…typically one that may be downloadable…or simply a laminated card hanging around your neck. In other words, EPS is content-based. Wrong. EPS is not content-based, nor only an objectized content asset. As I wrote earlier, it is a discipline, and that discipline…after acquiring answers to the questions above points to EPS implementation as a means to provide a capability comprised of a number of methodologies that promote flawless performance by performers confronting moments of need. The knee-jerk reaction is to consider  job aids as the primary solution, but a better method may be served via a live collaboration with a subject matter expert who can satisfy the need. The source of the information may be an interactive on-line forum…a blog…a wiki…a chat room…a Yammer peer group. We must consider that EPS can be a social interaction. I caution you to not fall into the trap of thinking that all Performer Support Opportunities (PSOs) are content-based.

Those of us who embrace this new EPS discipline are not pioneers. Pioneering happened a long time ago. Social learning began with two cavemen, Igg Nyte and Puut Emowt, the two guys who discovered fire, and who were the first to effectively use social learning. Not nearly as ancient, we find the words of Gloria Gery, the queen of EPSS and author of “Electronic Performance Support Systems” (1991) who stated; “We don’t need new technology, we need new thinking.”

In the third chapter of her book, “Retooling Old Paradigms”, she convicts us all, and what I find amazing is that she made these statements twenty-plus years ago!
“…we are applying radically different technological alternatives to an old framework without reexamining the underlying assumptions and structures…We apply sophisticated technology to an obsolete paradigm of human performance development. And as a result, we are not making the difference we should.” (page 17)

The differences we should make…” that Gloria mentions are key drivers around the discipline of EPS. Remember that she said these things back in 1991, and she called the paradigm “old” then. Wow, and we had no Web 2.0 technology, smartphones, tablets/pads back then either. Makes me ponder just how far behind are we really? Our arsenal of technology tools and robust mobile devices that make the seamless, frictionless, ubiquitous connections offer capabilities that are so far out front of the training paradigm we live in it is embarrassing. Our training paradigm is not only limited, it is broken. Do we abandon it? Heck no, that’s baby/bath water thinking. We evolve it. We extend it to where real business value is generated…or lost – the work context.

How do we evolve it? We still have to design and develop learning content, and we’ll do that in using various sexy, rich-media assets, and we always will. But…it cannot end with training. The evolution can only start upstream in the classroom or on-line where we focus on the effective transfer of knowledge.  The evolution that includes this new “discipline” of EPS means we have to extend the blend of learning. The act of extending the blend implies we are reaching beyond the domain of formal learning and integrating PSOs into the work context for consumption at the moment of need. That’s not training. It’s not linear. It’s not planned…structured…or controlled. These PSOs are objectized content or interactive opportunities that are role-specific, and task-centric, and designed for immediate application. These assets have a wide range of diversity in that they may be social, collaborative, downloadable content, passive, active, pushed, pulled, or as stupid simple as color-coded cards hanging from a lanyard around a performer’s neck. Most importantly, whatever form they may take was borne intentionally out of the desire to support both ends of the learner-to-performer continuum.

The concept of this being a new discipline also holds water when you consider the approach of making design, development and delivery decisions in our existing training paradigm. Go back to that list of questions I offered earlier. None of them are associated with formal learning [Training] venues; at least not directly. However, there should be upstream training connections influenced by the EPS discipline. I suggest this because we’re still going to design and develop content, so why not develop it in such a manner that it satisfies both ends of the continuum? We can accomplish this by adopting a “create once-use many times” approach. Any content-based PSO developed for the post-training work context should also be embedded within the upstream formal training effort. Same rules if the PSO is a social collaboration – build the collaboration or the interaction into a simulation exercise. Give folks to practice what you want them to DO , not just demonstrate what they KNOW. The PSO becomes a key common denominator that is threaded throughout the learner’s experience; from the very beginning during training through competent performance sustained in the work context.

Why has it taken us so long to drink the EPS Kool-Aid? That question haunts me, and it embarrasses me because I missed it for so long. For many years I trained, and I developed training, and I designed training, and I managed teams that did those things very well, and I wondered why the performance needle was never being sustained in a positive direction. The discovery of how to sustain human performance in the work context was made [rudely] by mistake. All it took was a very rocky SAP deployment to convince me that sustainable performance outcomes do not happen during training…regardless of the blend or how sexy the Flash content may be; they happen and are sustained in the post-training work context; and EPS is the best ticket to punch to transform your learners into effective performers.

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning