Time-to-Business Impact & the Role EPS Plays

Do you ever get the feeling that the Training side of our organizations is delivering a message nobody on the Operations side of the business is hearing? What comes to mind is an old Gary Larson cartoon where a pet owner is speaking to his pet dog and saying, “Blah blah blah, blah-ba-ba-blah sit, blah blah treat blah blah bah…etc.” The dog was only hearing what really mattered to him. Could it be our Training message is more HR-speak than business-impact-relevant?

I must confess to being guilty of speaking HR-ese to clients. Nothing is worse than showing up to a meeting of business stake-holders gathered to address a business performance problem and announcing, “Hi! We’re from HR and we’re here to help!” and then watch half those present roll their eyes. Never has anyone jumped up, punched the air and shouted, “Eureka, more training is coming our way!” Maybe you’ve had different experiences, but having been in this role many times, I hate being in a defensive posture and defending my craft.

When you consider that roughly 5% or less of a worker’s year is spent in Training [formal learning], according to Bersin research, a question surfaces that may be at the root of our call-to-action – “What about the other 95%?”

I’ve been blogging since June of 2009 and this theme has remained consistent in 99% of my posts. The “other 95%” represents the downstream, post-training work context. The work context is where stakeholders meet business contribution goals. The success or failure specific to meeting those goals is a pure function of performance by their work team members. Nobody creates value while training. No sales are closed. No turn-over is averted. No material waste is avoided. No business liability is prevented. These outcomes drive value generation, and business stakeholders get compensated for those results…if they manifest…at the point of work.

Mistakes happen at the point of work. Performers learn from those mistakes. How much learning-the-hard-way can we afford to tolerate in the work context?

I’m not dogging Training as a work function; rather, I’m shining a light on the scope of Training accountability. Most of us do an excellent job of transferring knowledge through some really innovative training venues and authoring schema. Completion of Training equals deployment of knowledge. Application of knowledge at the point of work happens over time in “the other 95%” and our training was neither designed nor scoped to go downstream into the post-training work context and be applied at the moment of need.

Embedded Performer Support [EPS] is the discipline we so desperately need to integrate into our Training efforts. Notice that I did NOT say we should walk away from or stop Training. We still have a need to train our people, and always will, but when training only serves as the primer, we have to consider there are still coats of paint that must be applied after the primer has dried. Those coats of paint are applied at the point of work, and we need to integrate an evolved discipline that accommodates priming AND painting. We all know time-to-competency happens over time. To shorten that cycle is a noble target; articulating it to a business stakeholder is HR-speak.

Instead of Time-to-Competency, how about trying Time-to-Business-Impact on for size? Some might say that I’m simply playing word games to better sell stakeholders on training solutions. I would agree if all I was suggesting is putting lipstick on the training pig. Adopting the EPS discipline and integrating the right technology will reduce the priming, speed the painting, and minimize if not eliminate costly mistakes along the way.

Being blessed to speak at a number of conferences in 2013, I’ve had the added benefit of sitting in other break-out sessions. There is considerable emphasis on speeding up the process of developing training, and to get there the concept of “agile” is popping up at every conference. That’s a good thing…BUT…if the move to an agile methodology has rapid development as the primary goal…somebody better go get the lipstick…because we’re only getting more efficient at the 5% slice of the learning ecosystem.

Ecosystem? Is that more jargon? Could be if you can only talk about it, but wrap a design and development methodology that addresses the 5% AND the other 95%   – covering all five moments of need – and you are doing more than talking about the ecosystem; you’re covering it edge-to-edge. By covering the learning and performance ecosystem with learning and performance solutions you are well on your way of adopting an EPS discipline.

A new discipline typically implies new skills and new thinking. EPS is no exception. Your first evidence of an expanded skill set surfaces when initial discovery takes place. Instead of targeting learning objectives, we are now seeking [first] performance objectives AND the gaps that are keeping our stakeholders from attaining them. That effort is not a Training Needs Assessment. It’s more of a front-end analysis at the task level. Save ADDIE for training solutions; it will leave you wanting in the performance assessment discovery effort. Working with business stakeholders in the work context and ferreting out performance needs against performance expectations as defined by tangible performance results, and we will quickly realize the rules of engagement have changed. And so have the skills.

At these conferences I attended last year there were as many breakout session that suggested adding performance consulting skills as there were touting agile methodologies. I agree, having gained this certification years ago in self-defense. Too many times I witnessed top-drawer training fall short of sustaining capability in the work context, and too often took the blame for ineffective courses. It was not bad training my teams produced; rather, we only managed to deliver an excellent job of “priming” the workforce audience to paint. We never supported the painting when it mattered. Our scope was too narrow. We were ignoring the other 95%.

That’s when I went after performance consulting skills. It was obvious that failure was not happening in the classroom; it was happening at the point of work, and our training courses were never designed nor intended to be applied at the moment of need. Case in point: Having one’s hair on fire is not the best time to log into the LMS and take a fire safety course. The content changes. It becomes role-specific and task-centric. The moment of need mentality changes everything about design and development decisions. It places new emphasis on connecting those with a moment of need with intentionally designed Performer Support [PS] assets for those individual moments. Often those moments are found in the middle of a workflow. More often than that, those asserts have nothing to do with instructional design as we know it.

When those PS assets need to be accessed and applied imply the inclusion of the right technology to do so. Formally, the technology is known as Embedded [or Electronic] Performance Support Systems [EPSS]. Vendors are popping up everywhere with options. Caution: Not all EPSS are created equal. My advice is to step away from the shiny new technology until you have mapped the edges of your ecosystem to see which one is the best fit to meet your needs. Just an FYI – SharePoint is not an EPSS; however, it is a great repository for PS assets BEHIND the EPSS. In other words, the EPSS is more of a “broker” than a PS asset repository.

The costs for this technology have plunged. Web 2.0 capability puts EPSS in economical reach to solve a very expensive problem. I just ran ROI numbers for a project to assist 600 users and the first year payback was around 30%, but years 2 thru 5 were over 800%. Fist year costs do not apply when new applications are covered either. Some of the benefits that historically are experienced from integrating EPSS include:

  • Reduction of training by 50% or more
  • Reduced workflow documentation costs by 80 to 90%
  • Help desk call volumes reduced by 40%
  • Search time for Performers reduced by 25% with 100% accuracy
  • Time-to-Business-Impact cut in half
  • …and too many measurable business impacts related to additional productivity, redeployable time, cost avoidance, and more to list here.

Look at that list again. Do you see anything there that might be a threat to the Training Department?

Reducing Training by 50% or more? Are you nuts? We can’t lose our jobs over this technology? Hah…that Training job is more at risk by NOT embracing EPS and the associated technology than you might think. I’m betting my career  on the fact that it is not a question of IF you adopt EPS; it’s a question of WHEN. At my last corporate gig at a Children’s Hospital I experienced this “threat” first hand. The threat perceived by traditional training pros is indeed seen as very real. And it is…unless…steps are taken to adopt EPS as part of the scope of Training and that means building a Learning & Performance Strategy. The secret sauce is to start small and then scale. Earn one success and business stakeholders will beat a path to your door. You just need to make sure you are at a state of readiness to answer the knock.

Not sure how to pull that off? Find someone [koff…] who’s done it…drank the EPS Kool-Aid…and survived. The alternative may involve a little more lipstick, and I honestly do not see that as a sustainable future.

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