Call It Anything But Performance Support

It’s known among my closest friends that I will do stupid tricks for a platter of onion rings. It’s that passion that blinded me to something that ordinarily would have scared me off when a fresh order of calamari was placed on the table in front of me. It was a group dinner kind of thing and somebody ordered appetizers without my knowledge. I popped what appeared to be an onion ring in my mouth and thought to myself, “Hmmm, that’s a bit chewy.”

When I shared my observation out loud, I was told it was calamari. I loved it. It looked a lot like onion rings…it was deep-fried…it had a spicy marinara dipping sauce…it tasted good…what’s not to love?. Then someone asked me if I knew what calamari really was. With cheeks pooched full of deep-fried calamari, I could only shake my head…had no clue…and really did not care. I was deeply engaged into a feed, and it was all good.


“Shut the front door!” I shrieked, or as close to a shriek as one can offer up with a mouthful of calamari…err…squid. “That’s not EVEN funny!”

Once again I had been tricked by an unknown…only to find out what I had been missing in terms of delicious things to eat. The first time it happened it was sour cream. I could not get by the name. I knew sour milk was nasty; hence, sour cream had to be even nastier. Oh, how wrong I was. And to think how many meals had never reached full potential of culinary delight because I was hung up on what something was called.

Lessons Learned

Change the words “onion rings” to “training”…and then change “squid” to “performance support” and you have the gist of my post today. The menu had onion rings on it, and it had calamari on it as well. I live in a deep-fried paradigm, and what I would’ve ordered, had the choice been mine to make, would truly have been onion rings.
If a baked potato with butter, chives and bacon crumbles were Training, why would I want to deviate from a good thing and add sour cream…err…Performance Support to what I already knew worked just fine?

This is the challenge in front of us when we are trying to successfully position the added value and positive business impacts of Performance Support to an organization comfortably fed by a Training paradigm. It is that Training paradigm that blocks even considering there are other options to drive performance outcomes. Henry Ford nailed it when he said, “If I’d asked them what they wanted; they would’ve said faster horses!”

So what do we do? We go to war…“The Art of War”…to be more precise. We take an indirect line of attack to defeat the indifference perpetuated by an obsolete paradigm.


Hide the Pill in the Cheese

When my dog had worms, he refused to eat the medication that would improve his health. Hard as I tried to get him to swallow the medication, he would spit out the pill. Not so when the pill was wrapped in a piece of cheese. Chomp, chomp, gulp…done! That tactic was described by Sun Tzu as an indirect path. And that is the perfect battle plan for positioning Performance Support.

Take something known…some critical business practice…some familiar methodology…or a combination of all of the above that already resonates as acceptable practice [a.k.a. The Cheese] and wrap Performance Support [a.k.a. The Pill] into it…and for goodness sake don’t tell anybody. Don’t tell them it’s squid until they’ve eaten it and have enjoyed the results.

After chasing the Performance Support brass ring of acceptance for over ten years now, a best practice has surfaced – never call it Performance Support. If you do, you’ll have to explain that it has nothing to do with Performance Management. And then you’ll have to explain why something that sounds so similar is not the same thing. And then you’ll have to explain why it’s a bigger deal than a job aid, “Because we already do job aids…” And the spinning of resistance begins…been there…done that. Go get the cheese!

If it looks scary…

Truly, if Performance Support looks scary…or to put it another way…doesn’t match up to the existing Training paradigm…you will get push back. Even if it is gift wrapped as the greatest thing to ever happen to the discipline of training, it still can look scary and nobody wants to touch it.

Evolving to a Performance paradigm and integrating Performance Support as an embedded discipline is pure and simply perceived as CHANGE…something scary…something extra on top of training…more work to do…new discovery questions to learn…a different conversation with stakeholders…new metrics and measures…new technology…and…“it’s SQUID…and I ain’t eatin’ none of that.”

So don’t tell’ em what is…tell ’em what it will do. Building a solution for a call center agent population? Call it Embedded Agent Support. Building a solution for a field-based technical service team? Call it Embedded Field Tech Support. And to further hide the PS pill in the cheese, give it an acronym. EAS and EFTS; who can resist buying into a cool acronym that describes a hands-down, sought-after end result?

“Embedded Agent Support” or “Field Tech Support” or “Embedded [add the job function of your choice here] Support”. Who would not want to embed support to a critical job function? Take what is known and has been historically a positive impact to sought-after business outcomes…through driving performance…and position that without ever mentioning “the Pill”. It truly is about positioning what the outcomes are versus what you’re going to use to get those results. There’s plenty of time to fess up to the fact that it’s SQUID. Trust me on this, I just pulled this off recently.

The question you’ll likely get is, “Is this training? or What does this do to our training?”

And your answer is, “This solution extends the blend of training…by moving the right assets to the point of work to support moments of need that training alone cannot reach.” Sun Tzu would be so proud. We’re taking something known and acceptable…like “training” and “blend” and attacking the resistance to change indirectly. Position outcomes, not tactics.

Nobody knows it’s SQUID, until you tell them….AFTER…they see the results from your first pilot.

Important note: The introduction to the unknown is only served up as an appetizer…small portions…controlled pilot…it was not the main course. In other words, start small…take a bite…confirm the delicious results…and then scale.

Summary Thoughts


Adopting an Embedded Performance Support discipline is not just “Change” it is “Transformational Change!” We are asking the organization…Training and Operations alike…to turn loose of the paradigm that we’ve sold and they’ve bought for such a long time that Training drives performance. It does NOT. Training drives POTENTIAL…and that’s what our known Training paradigm is scoped and chartered to do. Period.

The key outcome training delivers…and we can prove it…is effective knowledge transfer…a.k.a. Potential. Period.

We successfully train people to KNOW you need a shovel to dig a hole…but nobody actually digs one…short of simulations and exercises that emulate digging a hole. We can only hope that upon graduation they get the chance to dig a hole really quickly because the Knowledge Retention fairy is going to show up and degrade what’s left of our “potential” big time. But hey…that’s why we have a help desk…right? Wrong! We have a help desk because there is a legitimate need for a help desk. The problem exists when we dump a workforce that is not at a state of readiness into the workflow with nothing more than rapidly fading recall knowledge and a toll-free number to call the help desk.

What I’ve just described is not a sustainable model. And…Training alone is not the solution. Training alone cannot drive sustained capability at the point of work. Our Training paradigm does not allow us to move beyond the transaction of training. Training has not failed; we’ve simply continued to keep on training and hoping for a different outcome. Why waste the effort? Let’s protect the investment of time and resources, and a Performance paradigm protects our Training paradigm by driving effectiveness to the point of work…and the moment of need. Keep training but what we DO during training is to practice what we want our learners to DO when they get back to their jobs. That’s the “70” out of the 70:20:10 framework…and embedded Performance Support assets are the post-training components that need to be intentionally designed into the solution.

That changes what is done in the classroom…back to the SQUID…sorry…but role-specific, task-centric performance support becomes core Training content. We should train on:

  • Where the performance support resides
  • When you need to use it
  • How to access it
  • How to apply it effectively at the moment of need

This is at the core of the Performance paradigm, and it does not mean more work; instead it means different work. It very likely means half the time spent Training. It likely means well over half the time creating workflow documentation that normally would drive training design. And there’s a big honking piece of technology needed right up front. And list goes on.


Sorry, this always happens; I go off on a rant; talk about food or something else ridiculous to make a point. You have to understand…of my 30 plus years in the corporate L&D business, the EPS discipline is THE biggest game-changer I’ve ever experienced. Seeing traction and momentum building in my current role is validation that all my rants and passionate posts have not been wasted…and…I’m really glad nobody told me those onion rings were squid.

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