Step Change Overdue on Our Training Paradigm

At the recent Masie Learning 2013 conference in Orlando, I was sitting at the bar two nights in a row nursing the business end of a decent cabernet. On the second night I found myself sitting next to the same guy, Murray Christensen. Earlier that morning at the General Session, Conrad Gottfredson made a point of introducing us with the instructions to both of us “Get to know this guy!” So I did. After a prompting like that I’m thinking this guy could quite possibly be another Performer Support fanatic. And he was…is…Murray feeds off it as well. 

We spent a lot of time lamenting over why so many senior learning leaders are not as fanatical as we are about something that seems so obviously critical to the business. We decided that many cannot see the true, tangible business value in pursuing a Performance Paradigm because of the familiarity and comfort…and funding…of a traditional Training paradigm. Few even consider that Training has maxed out the limits of innovation. What else can we do to innovate on training and actually get a different result? Honestly, I don’t think it is as much innovation as the limited scope within which we can innovate.

Nigel Paine, a Masie Fellow, lead an early morning discussion group on the role of Learning Leaders and how the role and expectations were evolving…expanding in some areas…contracting in others. I showed up late to his session, but managed to get there in time to hear him describe a concept that I have been searching for words to make the point. He described a concept of STEP CHANGE, and he described it in the context of where we are…where Learning Leaders are…with respect to Learning & Development [L&D] paradigms. I loved his definition:

STEP CHANGE is what we have left as an option
when all the innovation that got us to where we are today has run its course

In other words, when there are no real innovative innovations left, it’s time to step up and change rides. I’ve been in the L&D profession for 32 years and have ridden the Training Paradigm horse to the point of exhaustion, and it wasn’t until just a few years ago that it finally dawned on me that while faithfully riding that horse I had successfully amassed an impressive string of failures. The aggregate of these failures were not the garden variety shortfalls of anything I did, or that teams I’ve led did not do well; rather, they were failures wrapped in the success of producing and delivering top drawer training courses to the workforce. Our Failure was not based upon what we did so well – effective knowledge transfer – instead, our failure was rooted in our inability to affect something radically more important than knowledge transfer – sustained capability. And yet we continued to innovate on training approaches and expected different results.

Our failure over many years and many projects represented a very real blind spot that fell outside of the scope and charter of the Training Paradigm that I, and likely many of us, lived by for a majority of our tenure in this business. The last four years have reshaped my focus and my passion. This single business outcome of sustained capability defines what Nigel referred to as a STEP CHANGE. Innovation related to Training has run its course [take that pun to heart even if it hurts].

Sustained capability is the ultimate outcome we seek,
and sustained capability is at the heart of a Performance Paradigm.

I’m sitting at the gate in the Orlando airport and hoping this post does not come off as a nasty rumor of the impending death of Training; it’s not. BUT…I will put forth the proposition that within a thriving Performance Paradigm, Training may well wind up being somewhere between secondary and unnecessary. I know a lot of long-time, degreed Instructional Designers [IDs] just bit the chair they are sitting in, while others clutched their storyboards to their chests like flotation devices in a water landing. Sorry, folks, this is not the first time I’ve been guilty of disrupting the comfort of a familiar paradigm. That was not so much of an apology as it was a forward-thinking admonition that for the sake of business competitive advantage, we need a paradigm that is as AGILE as we need our Performers to be @ the point of work.

Now, despite seeds of doom I’ve planted, there is some good news. The Training Paradigm is not dead, or dying, but it is certainly in need of a step change evolution. That evolution is the inclusion and integration of an expanded vision that embraces the Performance requirements of our workforce when they are @ the point of work. The point of work concept implies a more AGILE design methodology that moves beyond training and produces and/or makes accessible targeted assets that were intentionally designed and developed [here’s proof that IDs are not at risk of extinction] for consumption from within a Performer’s workflow…a.k.a…@ the point of work.

These intentional assets I mentioned are known as Performer Support [PS] and are part of an innovative concept called Embedded Performer Support [EPS]. They are “embedded” because they are accessible at the moment of need, and very often that means from within the workflow. The Performance Paradigm has been driven by a phenomenon I wrote about a couple of years ago that I call “convergence”. What I see converging are learning & support with the point of work.

The actual point of convergence [the point of collision] is unique to the individual performer and is typically a moment of need. Not surprisingly, these moments that are most critical to the business are found @ the point of work and they also highlight the point where flawless execution is put at risk by a Performer’s moment of need. This point of collision is our new ground zero…our new classroom [for those unable to step beyond the Training paradigm] where we have the responsibility to equip Performers to flawlessly execute role-specific, task-centric work amidst their unique moment(s) of need.

The rules of engagement have changed, and our Training Paradigm and popular ISD models are failing to address this “new classroom” called the point of work.


ADDIE found dead in alley amongst shards of an old school storyboard! Cause of death appears to be self-inflicted. An empty prescription container of Content Irrelevance was found next to the body.

Coming away from my fifth speaking role this year on the topic of Embedded Performer Support, I’m continuing to see and hear evidence that traction toward a Performance Paradigm is finally being realized. The call to action is pushing for the Training function to evolve – to STEP CHANGE – and embrace the aspects of Performance that are outside of scope and charter for most Training organizations. If your Training team is not pursuing a Performance Paradigm, you are, or will soon find yourselves, behind the steepening curve of equipping your workforce with the agility and resilience essential for sustained competitive advantage.

Going back to Nigel Paine’s session and the STEP CHANGE concept, I found his message clearly geared toward learning leaders in the organization. And it should be because Step Change can be a radical kind of change. From a Change Leadership perspective, I’m prompted to call out the shift to Performance for what it is – transformational – and my advice is to not take it lightly.

Competitive pressures tied to the speed of the business have drawn a line we absolutely are called to cross, building the momentum supporting the shift away from a limited Training Paradigm toward a more robust Performance Paradigm. With all of the clamor for pursuing innovation, we find ourselves in a box that is too small and under-scoped for any new innovations we can think of to match the velocity of business. Training innovations have run their course and we have to take the next Step.

I have a couple more posts to follow this one that address methodology innovations to affect this Step Change, and there’s another post bumping around in my brain on determining the readiness to take the Steps necessary to sustain a Performance Paradigm and produce holistic Learning & Performance Solutions.

Until then…

Thanks for reading. Welcome your thoughts if so moved!


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