Define the “DO” First

The title of this post represents the core concept behind effectively adopting a Performance Paradigm as opposed to a Training Paradigm where we often chase the “KNOW” as our first priority. Rest easy, friends because there may yet be a storyboard in the process…and then again…maybe not. A performance assessment will better define if a training needs assessment is even necessary, but then this assumes you are motivated to drive tangible performance results over a solution that drives only the potential to drive performance results.

It Starts with Discovery

Again, don’t fall prey to limiting discovery to a training needs assessment; in reality, a training needs assessment can be included in your performance assessment. My suggestion is to take the skills and knowledge requirements and the learning objectives you uncover and stuff them in your back pocket…for now. I say this because your performance needs uncovered will likely validate whether the training needs in your pocket are based on fact or fiction…also known as “symptoms” of deficient performance. It’s safe to say that we’ve all managed to build awesome training at some point in our careers to attack symptoms. Not sure about your world, but I don’t have the luxury of time or resources in mine to chase symptoms.

I’ve written about discovery before in the context of intentional design, but this post is focused on a more detailed look at the performance attributes necessary for you to be intentional when it comes time to actually build something. I follow a framework of WHAT – WHO – WHEN – WHERE – HOW – WHY as general buckets within which I target questioning to give me the findings I need. The explanations that follow provide a greater description of each bucket.

It is important to remember that the quality of your discovery on the front-end will define the effectiveness of the solution that follows, so make the investment of time count. Start with an hour or two to map and establish targets for deeper discovery. You should hit all of the buckets I defined but at a level sufficient to prioritize what should come first; and more importantly, recognize the level of subject matter expertise that will be necessary to get to the details needed to define the root cause(s) of the gaps you’ve targeted for deeper discovery.

WHAT – Task-Specific, Role-Centric Work

When we’re first focused on performance, and more specifically deficient performance, we obviously need to know what work is being done and what is/are the specifics related to results not manifesting as required in order to meet business goals or outcomes. In other words, we are targeting task-specific work. How deep you go with your discovery becomes more apparent as you learn about the complexity of the tasks and the critical business impacts linked to successful execution of those tasks.

In the initial prioritization discovery you likely had the benefit of a manager’s or supervisor’s perspective at the higher level. That’s perfect for targeting and understanding what the performance outcomes should be, but what you’ll need for the deeper dive is access to an agent/performer who handles these transactions. Additionally, it is best to have that deeper dive conversation with the worker in the absence of the supervisor. That second level conversation will likely validate what the supervisor told you, but there are often more specifics to be extracted as to why it happens, and even better, they can show you. Chances are improved for you to get to those important details if a supervisor is not hovering over your interview.

WHO – What Roles Are Involved? Who Does the Work; Supports the Performer, Mentors, Coaches

It’s easy to only focus on who actually executes the tasks, but when you get right down to defining the root cause, it may turn out to be Help Desk misinformation, or a missed coaching moment, or defective tribal knowledge from a peer-to-peer collaboration. The point being there may be multiple targets your solution should consider. Identifying all the roles becomes essential prior to making design decisions when learning and performance assets are identified to avoid missing a Create Once – Use Many Times opportunity.

WHEN – Frequency; Time to Application

In a previous life I joined a company in the throes of SAP implementation. It was not going well. They had deployment down to a science, but implementation was disastrous mainly because GoLive took place up to six weeks after training. Time-to Application of learning far exceeded anyone’s ability to remember much more than how to login. The length of time to apply learning is only one factor – complexity of the tasks to execute compound the need to respond with the right assets. The greater the time gap, the more critical performance support assets are required to provide reference knowledge at the moment of need when recall knowledge is missing in action.

Another consideration is the frequency of executing the tasks by the worker role. Taking SAP as the example, a role that uses SAP every single day is less likely to have as much trouble than the role that only uses a transaction every few months. Again, knowledge retention is the key culprit.

WHERE – Physical Location to Workflow Proximity

Where has multiple facets to consider and for different reasons. The physical location where the task-level work takes place may uncover environmental attributes that drive and or limit design choices when making design decisions. Does the moment of need manifest in a scenario where urgency to perform is extremely critical? If so, you have a good indication that it needs to meet certain criteria:

  • Accessibility – How quickly can the worker access the asset at the moment of need? A rule of thumb for Performance Support assets should be within two-clicks or 10 seconds.
  • Relevance – Are the assets relevant to the business or task at hand? Relevance can also define the degree of granularity to ensure we provide only what’s necessary for the moment of need.
  • Effectiveness – Can the worker apply the asset effectively at the moment of need? Relevance certainly plays into this criteria, but so do media, mode and venue. Is the format such that the asset can be applied easily at the moment of need?

Workflow proximity actually has a couple of considerations as well. Proximity can be specific to where in a transaction workflow the moment of need(s) surface. If workers are frequently failing at step 7 of 17 then we have a potential target for performance support within the workflow, as well as a need for greater emphasis and/or clarification during training.

Proximity has another face when the performance root cause turns out to be originating at a location upstream from the performance target. This can be the case when our performance gap is identified as a point of failure but we find the root cause is something preceding the failure by another workgroup…or possibly even instructions/orders given by a supervisor located remotely from the actual work.

HOW – Systems, Tools & Mobility

It is interesting to note that the HOW can be partially defined in the WHERE bucket. The bucket it falls in is not important, but getting to the answers will come in handy when you are starting to plan your intentions regarding asset design. Primarily, I‘m attempting to define HOW from several angles including:

  • Systems – What business systems are used in the execution of task-level work? This would include things like the Enterprise Resource Program [ERP] modules used, Customer Relationship Management [CRM} platform used by the different roles involved.
  • Tools – A tool could be something like a pivot table in Excel, or it could be a physical piece of hardware…like a shovel…or a blood glucose monitor. Interestingly, some of the best tools you could discover are home-grown hacks, short-cuts, cheat sheets, or job aids that a worker developed on their own. When you find something like that, harvest it. Give credit to the inventor and plug it into the learning and support flow. If it worked for one worker it may likely work for others.
  • Mobility – This category is liked to include both the WHO roles and the WHERE when you consider where moments of need surface. WHERE the worker is when the moment happens, and what technology do they have available to access the most appropriate learning and/or support asset become important.

I hope you can see how the dots of intentional design are coming together, especially in the implication of both the WHERE and HOW sections. The environmental attributes of the physical location where moments of need arise define what the assets might be to best suit the urgency and even the mobility of the worker. And when you factor those attributes together, the most effective content design easily becomes a driver behind media, mode and venue selections.

WHY – Routine, Impact, Risk

WHY should be asked frequently during the discovery process in virtually every category described thus far. However, in this bucket I’m looking for tangible results that can serve as evidence of business impact…a.k.a. Key Performance Indicators [KPIs]. KPIs, when properly identified, provide us with source data that can define impact at levels 3 and 4 on the Kirkpatrick scale. Typically, these data are missing in the traditional training needs assessment. If we stop at “What do they need to KNOW?” to build learning objectives, we leave no room to evaluate beyond the training event at levels 1 and 2. To get to 3 & 4 in that scenario, we have to resort to voodoo or creatively cook the numbers…a.k.a. subjective reporting on post training performance.

When working through a workflow, it is always good practice to ask, “WHY do you do it this way?” Sometimes the answer is, “Cause that’s how we’ve always done it!” Now there’s a definition of justifiable insanity. In an earlier post I describe a Covert Consulting adventure I survived during a front-end diagnostic for a marketing curriculum project. I won’t recount the details here, but suffice it to say the root cause that was driving the request to revamp the curriculum had zilch to do with bogus training courses. The number one performance gap was a busted workflow…that they’d been following because that’s what they had always done…period.

That earlier post really shines the light on how critical it is to do your discovery homework. The alternative in that circumstance would’ve set me up to build an awesome training solution that would’ve been 100% effective on 18% of the problems they faced – further evidence to focus on the DO first.

From another perspective we should ask, “WHY do anything?” What is the risk if we do nothing? Is the problem big enough to justify spending precious resources to fix it? What would it cost us if we did absolutely nothing? What is the business risk? What do we stand to lose? And on the flip side, what do we stand to gain?

Don’t be afraid to ask why.

Summary Thoughts

When you consider how quickly business is moving, and the need for an agile and resilient workforce represents minimum criteria for creating sustained capability, the rules of engagement have clearly changed. Training cannot keep pace; scope and charter just do not match up when our new ground zero is located downstream in the post-training world…at the point of work…at the moment of need.

The shift to a Performance Paradigm is not optional. The call-to-action implies gearing up your organization to be at a state of readiness to not only make the change, but to sustain it.

  • Change – To adopt a Performance Paradigm it follows that the scope of your training culture will have to evolve, and not just the training organization, but the stakeholders as well.
  • Discovery – Discovery will evolve to a more business/operational focus. For some, this implies a new set of skills. Performance consulting skills should be hired or developed in every training organization because of how things have changed including…
  • Conversation – A performance conversation does not just happen. Our operational stakeholders are still under the spell of “Training drives performance” and we have to break it to them that “Training only drives potential” and if you really want performance…make that sustainable performance…we’re going to have to shift how we bring your workforce to a state of readiness sooner than later.
  • Measures – You cannot justify performance improvements without evidence of impact, and that means measuring outcomes at levels 3 and 4. That will not happen without discovery that yields KPIs specific to the performance we’re after.
  • Technology – Yes, there will be new toys, but they should not be on the radar until you can prove performance impact. Adoption of the Performance Paradigm is based upon an approach of “start small and scale” and you likely have the technology in place today to get your proof of concept under your belt. Someday you may own a shiny new electronic performance support system [EPSS], but step away from the temptation to buy into technology and then try to make your requirements fit into it. That can be painful; not to mention expensive and/or career limiting.

Bottom-line? I’m convinced this is by far the most exciting time to be in Learning & Development in the last thirty plus years I’ve worked. The last ten or so have been the most impactful to me because I spent the first twenty or so amassing an impressive string of failures. Not failures in the Training profession, but failures in the creation of sustained capability. In many respects, those of you still wrapped around the Training Paradigm are doing the same thing now.

Acquiring performance consulting skills turned out to be the turning point for me. Self-defense was the motivation to add those skills to my toolbox. Seriously! I’d done such a stellar job of training away at symptoms it confounded me when the training we produced was discounted as ineffective. The training wasn’t ineffective, it was misaligned. That’s when I decided to focus on the DO first.

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