Admiring the Problem of Moving to a Performance Paradigm

In a previous life, I had a boss that used the phrase “admiring the problem” when there was an opportunity staring us in the face and all we could muster was a string of meetings to discuss; agree on key points; white board thoughts and great ideas; discuss a little bit more; and then schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss what we had just discussed. No action on innovative ideas seemed to ever gain any traction, so we just stayed in that comfortable status quo position to see and agree that what we had before us was an obvious opportunity. Sound familiar?

Albert Einstein described insanity as “…continuing to do what we’ve always done and expecting different results.” We do this very well. We do this efficiently when “continuing to do…” is something familiar like a long-embedded paradigm, and, especially when we’ve reached that sought-after state called “unconscious competence” in what we do; meaning we no longer have to think about what we do…we just do it…

We have managed to be unconsciously competent in the discipline of Training – not to be confused with the tactics of Training. Perfect example; we do this by sampling different innovative approaches to Training and expecting results different from what Training and all its past and even most recent innovations can deliver. We are NOT changing the discipline; we are only changing the tactics. What appears to be a different approach becomes more or less “lipstick on a pig” in that the underlying body – Training – is still Training…enhanced, tweaked, and dressed up with new methods [MOOCs, MOCs, Micro…among others] and/or technology [Mobile, etc.]. In reality, we are still chasing and rendering what Training is typically scoped and chartered to deliver…effective knowledge transfer.

After living in my own Training insanity in several large corporations for enough years to see Training morph from linear, classroom-only options to sexy, exotic blends, virtual delivery, MOOCs, and mobile, I’ve come to the conclusion that there may be a better definition of insanity. My definition is not an attempt to one-up Albert…that man forgot more than I’ll ever know…instead; I’m suggesting something I see through the lens flavored by an evolved insanity brought about by the history and learning gleaned from my own experiences. Certainly I am not unique with having had many of these experiences, but I do find myself impassioned enough to suggest that “continuing to do what we’ve always done” does not imply that “doing something different will work any better.”  We’ve already tried that…locked snugly inside our Training paradigm…see the references to methods and technology mentioned above.

Now…before you judge this evolved definition as a declaration of defeatism, hear me out. I will use Training as the focal point of what follows because regardless of how we render Training, production of sustained capability is rarely realized…despite the fact that we succeed in delivering effective knowledge transfer. Insanity is perpetuated by believing we ever will…

Production of Sustained Capability

Admiring the problem is what we’re doing by limiting innovation that has not a prayer of driving different outcomes. In our shrinking-funding, limited-scoped world of Training, we have created an expectation that Training, through some really innovative gyrations, is going to somehow step beyond the 5% slice of the Learning and Performance [L&P] Ecosystem. [See Figure #1] Our hope is that Training excellence and innovation are going to sustain human performance outcomes in the other 95% of the L&P ecosystem.  I have often blogged about the “other 95%” and describing it as – the point of work.

I’ve been there and done all these things we find resident in the 5% slice. We used innovations in both our methods and our application of technology to change everything except the one thing I now am so impassioned to argue is at the root of why Training continues to come up short of sustaining capability – We failed then, and we fail now to address a larger context – the point of work – the “other 95%” of the L&P Ecosystem – where the manifestation of our Training efforts consistently fall short. That’s not a dig directed to training; rather, it is evidence that we cannot support post-training performance with our current approach to training as the sole solution.

The 5% slice of the L&P Ecosystem was/has been/still is, in many organizations, ground zero for the focus and funding of the Training discipline. Nothing inherently wrong or bad about that fact; but we are leaving 95% of the ecosystem to fend for itself [or call the overwhelmed Help Desk] when post-training performer support is required to ensure flawless execution by role and by task at the point of work; never mind that the 95% slice represents where true business value is generated…or lost.

Figure 1

We’ve seen things like this happen over and over again, at least those of us who have been around long enough to see the introduction of numerous training innovations; be they based on new methodology, or technology. Most of our efforts and a majority of our funding went to, and still do go to Training – the 5% slice of the Learning and Performance Ecosystem. There was no shortage of innovation as I’ve just described. Both method and technology-wise we have evolved, but we have to confess most of those innovations were targeted to “continuing to do what we’ve always done” – Training our workforce…faster…cheaper…maybe even better – but it’s still only training.

We saw this happen with the introduction of e-learning years ago. Many organizations saw early successes and rushed to put most, if not all, instructor-led training [ILT] on-line, but single-instance learning via self-paced courses failed to sustain performance. I’m here to tell you it was not because of training product failure…was not the failure of the learning venue…it was the learning context the content was designed and developed to support – the 5% slice. The training did exactly what it was supposed to do – it transferred knowledge. So what happened then?

Business blamed e-learning as being ineffective when in reality it worked perfectly…but only in the context of knowledge transfer. The performance context everyone hoped would be impacted was not…so Training takes the hit. The pendulum started to swing back toward ILT and wound up somewhere in between with the innovation of blended learning. Throw in the technological innovations of hybrid LMS platforms, mobile devices, streaming media, and [insert the technology of your choice here] and we see a plethora of options for delivering new content mixes from within new venues. And where did we deliver it all? Yup…the 5% slice.

We were then and are not now sustaining capability; instead, we were and are transferring knowledge. That begs the question, “What about the other 95%”?

Evolution of Strategy

Are the two outcomes – Knowledge Transfer & Sustained Capability related?  Absolutely they are! They are SO MUCH related that sustained capability needs an effective transfer of knowledge to be successful. This relationship points to an Evolution of Strategy as opposed to walking away from Training. The strategy requires an expanded scope and charter that supersedes that of our existing Training paradigm; and the 5% slice of the ecosystem is where it lives. Our existing paradigm is being stressed beyond limits by the organization increasingly demanding Performance results. Learning and work are converging as a result.

Honestly, training does not converge very well with anything, and we are finding no choice but embed smaller and more target assets closer to the point of work. To get there we are confronted with a new discipline to integrate into our learning and performance strategy – Embedded Performer Support [EPS]. Design requirements change. The discovery to acquire enough understanding to intentionally design Performer Support [PS] assets has changed. The technology to enable accessibility to those PS assets at the moment of need have changed.

This new integrated strategy needs to embrace every organization’s learning and performance environment holistically and address both the 5% and the 95%. The question pops up immediately, “How do we do that when we’re barely funded and staffed to handle what we’re doing now?” That question only holds water if we make the assumption that “what we’re doing now” is sustaining performance and generating value beyond training volume and activity metrics.

Surprisingly, these changes are not always additive in nature. Some things we do today can cease. Some things we should do are new, and I think these two facts point to a different question set we need to put on the table in front of ourselves and our clients whether they are internal or external. The rules for engagement have changed for both…and for us for that matter.

Agile ID – The Answer?

Transfer MUST take place; that is a given, but there are a few different considerations we must consider first because there is a growing interest in the industry toward adopting agile instructional design methods. They are popping up like mushrooms after a heavy summer rain. Some are delectable and some will poison your chances of fully adopting a useful Learning &Performance Strategy [L&PS].

I’ll make a note right here and now…Agile Instructional Design is not ADDIE on steroids. Agile cannot be limited to producing rapid development output. Agile should not be training-centric; in fact, it should be oriented first on performance requirements at the task level and across multiple roles. The right agile methodology can be used to stop/reduce worthless and unnecessary training altogether…hence not additive.

Another key point is this; not all agile methods out there are created equal. Some still cling to dated ADDIE concepts but boast of rapid development using iteration and incremental implementation of training content. And that statement can be a problem. Did you catch it? The words “TRAINING CONTENT”? If your Agile methodology is oriented toward a Training Paradigm, despite being rapid and efficient, we once again are NOT changing the Training discipline…we’re back to tweaking a freaking tactic. Whew! Yeah, that was rant-like, but I’m sticking to it! This ain’t only training any longer!

Our strategy to cover the combined 5% and 95% of the ecosystem does not shun transfer of knowledge. What it DOES do is take a closer examination of the nature of this transfer in the context of the point of work and the performance outcomes we seek to sustain. This evolved examination requires we answer a new set of questions.

Here is a sampling of several high-level questions categories we should include:

  • WHEN does transfer take place?
  • WHERE does transfer take place?
  • HOW does it take place?
  • WHO consumes the asset?
  • WHY does flawless performance at the point of work matter?

Obviously, there are more questions, but when you consider these five there are implications aplenty that are well outside the scope of the Training 5% and headed downstream to the 95% post-training work context – the point of work.

Performance Paradigm

Clearly the answer to whether “transfer” and “sustainability” are related is not a simple “YES!” it is a resounding “YES, AND…”

YES we need effective transfer…AND YES we need to integrate an intentional design methodology that is agile enough to address the WHERE, WHEN, HOW, WHO, and WHY questions posed above. Given these questions and the implications they represent, we are beyond the normal discovery we seek to define transfer requirements to meet enabling and terminal learning objectives. In a Performance Paradigm we have a need to accomplish effective transfer…in the context of generating evidence of performance outcomes [tangible business results] that we can point to as sustainableAnything less is just Training.

WHEN does transfer take place? Actually, there could be multiple transfers that span from the actual transaction of formal training to a Moment of Need that surfaces at the point of work. In reality there are five Moments an agile design methodology should address. [See Figure #2]

Agile Design Applied Across Moments of Need
Figure #2

The first two moments we accommodate in the 5% slice of the L&P ecosystem. We do this well when we train with whatever blend or delivery venue we choose. That is where the Training Paradigm stops.

A Performance Paradigm driving the L&P Strategy pushes us downstream and into the post-training work context where moments three [APPLY], four [when things CHANGE], and five [when things go wrong and the performers must SOLVE a problem]. All three of these moments require a different kind of asset than traditional ID methods produce and needs to be consumable at either of these post-training moments of need.

WHERE does transfer take place? At moments three thru five, the Learner has changed roles and is now a Performer that is resident in his/her work environment. They are physically located at their respective points of work. That might be a sales person in their car. It might be a Performer in a cube farm stuck on step 6 of 14 in a SAP procurement transaction.

Using the SAP example, we can quickly see how asset solutions for those last three moments are specific to roles and tasks and can be very individualized. These assets are called Performer Support [PS], and our discovery now needs to be structured to identify PS opportunities that can span from downloadable job aids and checklists to social interactions. In other words we have a new ground zero and the moment of APPLY [moment #3] becomes the key driver that defines what should be developed.

HOW does the transfer take place? WHERE influences the HOW, because it points to the technology venue required to enable access to the asset. Do we push it, or is it pulled by the performer? Or is there a need for both? HOW has a secondary implication when you consider the actual work to be completed. We should also consider the level of urgency at that particular moment of need, and the business risk attached to less than flawless performance.

Seriously, if your hair is on fire, that’s not the best time to log into the LMS and take a fire safety course. If the environment or the situation represents a very short window of opportunity to acquire the right PS and then apply it effectively, the implications on both the PS design format and accessibility become critical. Likely the assets are not linear in nature as training content is designed. Risk represents another layer attached to urgency. What is the cost of failure, and/or what is the cost in terms of rework or redundant effort by someone else to fix the problem? We have to understand the ripple effects of errors…and the dependencies on others so they can work flawlessly on what a dependent task produces for them. Hmmm, dependent relationships…sounds like an ecosystem trait doesn’t it?

WHO consumes the asset? A role or audience analysis helps define the WHO which in turn defines what is accessible and relevant. Role-specificity of task-centric assets may very well reduce what a specific role must wade through in order to get what they need to execute their task flawlessly. But it goes deeper. WHO also point to those that support the Performer at a moment of need? Help Desk? Manager? Coach/mentor? All support resources…AND Training…need access similar to, if not the same, PS assets used by the Performer. For example, the Help Desk should have been included in the discovery to understand what PS assets they need to “push” when a moment of need call comes in. It is very easy to look at PS as a “job aid” and call it good.

It cannot stop there. Intentional design requires that we look at all five moments of need and make design decisions that enable re-use with the intent for multiple uses by different roles that contribute to the same performance objectives.

Summary Thoughts

When you get right down to it, migrating to a Performance Paradigm and integrating with L&P Strategy does not point to a small initiative. It will not happen all at once either. Some of our organizations are closer than others. Regardless of how close you may be to Nirvana, the journey is rife with CHANGE.

Personally, I believe it is not so much a question of “If you adopt a Performance Paradigm”, as it is “When you adopt…”  It can be a daunting task to consider, but then who eats an entire elephant in one sitting? In all honesty, this is an investment in Change. I used the word journey earlier…and indeed it is. A logical question is “Where to start?

  • Treat the journey like a 500-piece puzzle. Dump the contents out, turn all the pieces over and start piecing together the edges. I call that first step mapping your ecosystem; you need to define the “edges” if you ever hope to assemble an edge-to-edge strategy.
  • Assess your readiness to begin the journey. If you do not know what “readiness” looks like; find somebody who has been down that road. Keep in mind being “ready” is not the same as being in a state of readiness.
  • Assess your technology footprint. What are you using for learning, content repositories, mobility requirements, enterprise business applications. Does any technology you own support convergence of learning and work?
  • Plan to start by mapping your Current State…prioritize a highly visible pain point and then build a performance solution to solve it. The results will render tangible evidence of success, and you will create an essential internal advocate for your approach. Word of business impact travels fast, and needing to quickly scale your Performance methodology will become a good problem to have.

Truly, I have to repeat, start small and scale. EPS integration is not like cutting over a new LMS. If you don’t start small, or at least narrow it down to a single pain point, the initiative may entail too many moving parts to tackle all at once; and too many moving parts gives rise to having too much to admire and nothing ever happens.

Gary G. Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
(317) 437-2555
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Twitter: Gdogwise