Embedded Performance Support & Scaling to Successful Implementation

Implementing Embedded Performance Support [EPS] can be as daunting a task as eating an entire elephant. Not sure I’d ever want to eat an elephant, but if I did, it would be one bite at a time versus scarfing down the whole thing. One bite at a time rings true for implementing EPS as well. Keep in mind that EPS is not a technology [though technology may well be part of the effort]; EPS is a discipline.

Also, I posit that the technology enabling the EPS discipline is not a learning technology. Permit me to explain. When you implement a learning management system [LMS] or other enterprise-wide technology, the intended user population normally serves the masses right out of the gate; not always, but in most cases. EPS can also be deployed enterprise-wide, but when you look at where the discipline is applied, you will quickly see that implementation is accomplished at the task level and across one or more roles. EPS can indeed serve the diverse performance support [PS] needs across an entire enterprise, but think back to the task of eating the elephant. Implementation requires incremental deployment and integration at the role/task level – one bite at a time. In other words; start small and scale.

I recently had a conversation that illuminated this in a big way. The conversation centered upon the use of an embedded performance support system [EPSS] to serve a very large and diverse enterprise. None of the EPSS vendors consulted could provide an example where this had been accomplished in one fell swoop. Why? Because attempting to eat the whole beast is a recipe for disaster. There are several reasons for this:

  • EPS is still a new paradigm for many of our leadership, hard to be “all-in” on something new
  • EPS has cultural implications across stakeholder groups; especially the Training org
  • EPS is not intended to serve everyone with one application at the same time [like a LMS]
  • EPS is more targeted to post-training application than to the training transaction [though should be seamlessly integrated with training]

Leadership Paradigm Shift

In my past corporate lives, EPS has played an important role in driving sustained capability on two separate occasions. Notice I did not mention anything about driving effective training. I’ll stipulate training was impacted, but will get to that later. For many years, and I’ve mastered this myself, we’ve convinced leadership that training drives performance outcomes. Again, I’ll stipulate that Training contributes, but sure as heck does not sustain capability. We’ve spread this myth so successfully that our leadership bought into our well-rehearsed pitch. In many cases, we’ve even convinced ourselves [Training] that this is truth.

When the success of Training’s contribution is measured in courses consumed, and/or butts in seats, with stellar level one evaluations, and consistently positive level two scores, it’s no wonder the paradigm sticks. By those standards we are indeed successful – a successful cost center. Instead, we need to be seen as value-added business partners. That will never happen trapped in the cost center role we now have locked down upon ourselves. The “new classroom” so to speak, is found @ the point of work, and that is always a downstream, post-training proposition where we’re after flawless execution in countless workflows that drive business outcomes. In short, we must change the conversation and debunk our own paradigm. What we seek is sustained capability.

Sustainedas in consistent performance on the path to competency

Capabilityas in the ability to DO workflow tasks flawlessly

Sitting down with leadership and debunking this “truth” can be a challenge and stands to encounter significant resistance. You have to change the conversation from training to supporting performance. I’ve had great success doing this with one simple graphic. (See Figure #1) Use a whiteboard or a flip chart and draw a circle with a little notch as you see below. That little notch represents the average amount of time we spend running our workforce through formal learning [Training]. In many cases, our leadership approves budget and resources of up to 80% for this 5% of the learning and support ecosystem. Josh Bersin’s research shows cross-industry averages where Training takes place approximately 100/hours per year, or 5% of a 2080 hour work year. Depending in your industry, mileage may vary.

Learning Performance Ecosystem
Figure #1

All you have to do is point to the big slice of the pie, turn to your audience and ask, “What about the other 95%? What are we doing about our Learners who leave our classes and go back to their respective roles as Performers with expectations of flawless performance? Where is the risk greater to either generate business value…or lose it? During training? Or at the point of work?” I have yet to have a stakeholder tell me I’m nuts for thinking crazy things.

What this diagram shows [and yes, you’ve seen this before in other posts] is a gap between where we ARE focusing our efforts and where we SHOULD be targeting. It is the “other 95%” where we should be extending the blend of our learning and performance support solutions. Where we want and need our workforce to be successful is where we are NOT engaged. EPS is the discipline that promotes extending the blend. Blend of what? Of learning AND performance support. This defines the EPS discipline. Now how do we get there?

Cultural Implications

In one of my previous lives, I was Sr. Director Learning Architecture and responsible for all learning technology. Having already drunk the EPS Kool-Aid in an earlier incarnation, I was hot on the trail of a brand new EPSS platform to support an Oracle/PeopleSoft HRIS upgrade. Another Sr. Director responsible for training design, development and delivery stopped me in the hall one morning with her concerns. She stated that several of her team expressed their fears that this new “EPSS thing” appeared to be a threat to their jobs. “If he reduces the amount of training with this thing, what are we going to do? Should we be updating our resumes?

To say the least, I was stunned; learning moments can do that to a person. Me and my EPSS thing were about to nudge the balance of their cultural training universe. I’ve been around long enough to know that nudging another entity’s comfortable universe points directly to a change management opportunity. I clearly had some selling and positioning to do with an essential segment of the population. To be successful we would need qualified ISDs and developers and platform trainers.

While training time may be reduced, there remain essential roles supporting EPS that require the expertise of instructional designers and developers. The context of classroom instruction may also evolve, but facilitators and training instructors still have a job to do. As it turned out, the fear factor was largely based on “change” of their status quo. Bummer. This was a change driven by the needs of the business.

Seriously, do not underestimate those who may feel threatened by the implications of integrating an EPS discipline. Everyone will still have a role, and likely more protected than pre-EPS because the outcomes of their efforts will be aligned with evaluations at levels three and four. How so? Remember flawless execution at the point of work drives the generation of value and enables sustained capability; both tied lock-step to the impact of integrating EPS; both yielding tangible business results.

Start Small and Scale

Regardless of the size of your enterprise, be it 50 or 500,000, it is important to select where EPS should be applied first. Start with low-hanging fruit. Bag a win, and prepare to scale. Prioritization driven by pain is a good thought to keep in mind. Considering EPS is intended to drive performance, we should pick a performance gap that is a high profile source of tangible pain. By tangible I mean something that’s costing the company money through less than flawless performance. Root cause analysis follows and can come in many forms; emphasis here is on task-level gaps by role. What we are searching for are those gaps where PS can fill the moment(s) of need. Not every gap is a PS-fillable gap, but those that are constitute performer support opportunities [PSOs].

In a former life, EPS was first target toward the Manager Self-Service module of SAP. Period. Then we added another module and another after that, with each addition showing positive results and garnering favorable feedback from the user roles impacted. We created momentum through small wins. We began to scale as the good news spread. We created advocates within the ranks of stakeholder groups. Before the first year was behind us, we evolved from “selling” EPS to “taking orders” for it. Remember just how important an advocate is when you’re wrestling leadership through a cultural change initiative.

EPS Integration with Training

The ability to scale became paramount because during the enterprise SAP system integration with the EPSS, we had our ISDs building PSOs at the task-level by role. These PSOs were then integrated with scenario-based exercises during the training we did in the 5% slice I mentioned earlier in Figure #1. We reduced SAP training by half, but no ISDs were harmed during the integration. Trainers loved the exercises because they shifted their roles to being more of a facilitator. No trainers were harmed either.

Shortly after the SAP integration, we saw something else happen. Product Sales Training fell right in line with the EPS discipline. Technical Field Service followed shortly thereafter. The point I’m making is that training still played a role, but the context of training was more aligned with the expectations of work. Methinks you’ll be hard-pressed to find any leader who is compensated by value creation to turn a deaf ear on the changes you are suggesting with EPS. And when business stakeholders are seeing levels three and four results tied directly back to the efforts of the Training organization, we can step away from being viewed only as a cost center. If you are driving value creation, you now have proof of your worth.

Summary Thoughts

Integrating the discipline of EPS can be a challenge for the reasons I’ve just shared. Hey, if it was easy everybody would be doing it, right? Based on what I’m seeing in our industry, it won’t be long before everybody is doing it. In early adoption we see a huge upside for competitive advantage. There are clear benefits to be gained that stakeholders can quickly link to their compensation metrics, including things like:

  • Reduce the time it takes for flawless execution to produce value – improved productivity
  • Reduce the time-to-competency by converging learning and support with work
  • Reduce error rates and rework to correct mistakes that drive up costs
  • Reduce if not eliminate creation of material waste by avoiding costly mistakes
  • Reduce the time spent searching for the information needed to execute flawlessly
  • Reduce time off-task to take training
  • Reduce errors cause by relying on unpredictable tribal knowledge

And the list may well go on. One thing to note, none of these impacts have anything to do with training’s primary goal of effectively transferring knowledge. All of these impacts are tangible and are manifest in the post-training work context. That being the case, I think the cause for training traditionalist’s concern and for feeling threatened, become crystal clear. Never has there been a discipline more aligned with actual work and business outcomes than EPS. The work context is our new classroom. This is the most exciting time in my thirty plus years to be in corporate L&D. If there is a threat, it is not because of integrating EPS, it’s what opportunity costs are left on the table or lost if we do not; now that’s a threat worthy of updating one’s resume.

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