Driving Performance with Extended Blend

Permit me to open this post by dispelling the myth that we, as training professionals, hold as fact and have convinced our stakeholders over the years – training drives performance. Yes, it truly is a myth. And after thirty-some odd years in the corporate training business, I’m as guilty as any for perpetuating this myth, and, I might add, with boundless enthusiasm. In all honesty, training offered as a performance solution can only drive potential.  And we have readily available proof of this reality through solid evaluation practices at levels one and two. Sadly, no business outcomes have been…nor can they be…generated during the creation of proven potential during training. In fact, no evidence of sustainable capability at the point-of-work exists either. We seriously must consider this question, “Is the promise of potential enough?” Methinks not!

Focusing On a New Ground Zero

If we hope to move beyond potential, we must move beyond where we create it – during training events – whether the event is an exotic blend of ILT/web-based; delivered in a virtual synchronous venue; detached from linearity via the use of MOOCs; or pushed out to mobile devices; or shrunken in size to form micro-learning or bursted in small learning chunks; or whatever other label we attach to it. Whatever flavor of the day training may take; it’s still training.

Training is designed to transfer knowledge – that is the primary scope and charter of training. Period. That’s not a bad thing – it’s just not enough if we want to get beyond rendering potential as the outcome.  We have to consider a new performance paradigm that is extended…one that moves downstream from training and into the context of actual work. I’ve written countless blogs about this context as the point-of-work. The point-of-work is our new ground zero – it’s where performance takes place – it’s where real business value is derived from tangible performance outcomes…or it is lost. It is also where we can prove our worth in terms of evaluation metrics at levels 3&4 that measure hard dollar results. I’ll say it again; the point-of-work defines a new ground zero.

At the point-of-work we are outside of the scope and charter of training solutions. The rules of engagement change and so do content design, development and delivery methods to optimize our impact. I’ve used the word “blend” a couple of times already, and each represents a different context. I hope you can sense that there are implications of extending our reach beyond training’s scope when moving closer to, if not embedded into, the point-of-work.

While we are expanding our reach into the point-of-work, we cannot treat what we do during training separately from the addition of performance support.  That last statement is critically important and is at the core of a performance paradigm. Consider this paradigm shift…

We are not extending the blend of training into the point-of-work; we are extending the blend of performance support at the point-of-work back upstream and into the application of training.  

This means the direction of what is being extended…and…the actual assets being extended are flipped or, as I prefer to call it, shifted. I really don’t like the popular concept of a “flipped classroom” because I see it as training gymnastics. It’s cute, but it’s still training. The extended blend is a true performance paradigm shift because of where we begin the whole design and development process – at the point-of-work – our new ground zero.

A dear friend and colleague, Dr. Conrad Gottfredson, describes the point-of-work as the moment of APPLY – the third of his game-changing five moments of need. [See Figure 1] I know you’ve probably seen this diagram before, but this version is dressed up a bit and wrapped in the context of a Learner-to-Performer Continuum and tailored for a contact center agent role. I’m calling it a continuum because that is exactly what a performance paradigm is intended to address. This is a holistic approach to supporting learning AND performance…and not necessarily in that order…from a learner’s point-of-entry to becoming competent performer at the point-of-work.

Armed Chorizo Sausage

Figure #1

 Learner-To-Performer Continuum    

Referring to Figure #1 again, note that the five moments of need overlay a continuum that begins at the point-of-entry [onboarding] to the point-of-work [competency]. To me, that continuum defines the holistic learning and performance ecosystem we are destined to address with any solution we build. Also note that ground zero is called out as the moment of APPLY. At the core of this performance-oriented paradigm shift is the point-of-work focus as our starting point for solution discovery. Read an earlier post, Define the “DO” First, to get the scoop on how discovery is expanded to address all five moments of need on the continuum.

What you also can see is the emphasis on identifying performance gaps at moment 3 [APPLY] to ensure we are building a solution based on root cause(s) versus getting sucked into solving for symptoms. Moments 4 & 5 are important too, and manifest at the point-of-work, but I see APPLY as the mother lode for framing a holistic performance solution.

As you might have guessed, implications also surface that indicate some performance consulting skills might come in handy for whoever accomplishes the expanded discovery effort. You will find that your discovery exceeds that of a training needs assessment. A traditional training needs assessment does not ask the right “DO” questions. Like I said earlier, methods will change, and in turn, impacting the rules of engagement.

Leveraging the Extended Blend

The radical nature of the extended blend approach is evident in two ways:

–        The direction in which we are extending the blend; and

–        What assets comprise the blend

We are actually moving from moment 3 back upstream to moments 1 & 2 where training takes place. This shift in direction sets up an interesting situation where maybe…just maybe…we don’t need training at all. The extended blend discovery methods may validate for us that appropriately designed performance support may close the performance gap. If that is what we discover, why build a training course if performance support assets close the performance gaps identified in discovery at moment 3?

Now…before any of you training purists get your knickers in a knot, there are still plenty of opportunities for training to happen. Remember we are on a continuum, and the solution is holistic and covers all five moments of need. Training is still alive and well at moments 1 & 2. True, we started at APPLY, but training will continue to exist…but…it may look a lot different. You may find that the development of appropriate performance support assets actually serve a dual role and become very valuable and relevant learning assets for embedding into your formal training application at moments 1 & 2.

The Role of Agile Design

I know “agile” design methods are the current rage, and at conferences when I ask session participants who uses…or plans to adopt…agile methodologies, about half the audience raise their hands.

My only caution to adopting “agile” methodologies is based upon what your motivations are behind that choice. If you are motivated solely to increase rapidity of training development as your primary goal, you are effectively putting lipstick on the training pig, and are wrapped around the axle of an out-dated training paradigm.

Dr. Gottfredson of APPLY Synergies developed a methodology called A.G.I.L.E. that is the only model I’ve seen that produces solutions that specifically address all five moments of need in a learning and performance ecosystem. The output produced from this unique agile methodology renders a Learning Experience and Performance Plan [LEaP] – that maps assets across the entire continuum.

I had the opportunity to take the Conrad’s course in its beta offering over a year ago and became an immediate advocate, as have other members of the Performance Support Community [PSC] leadership council. Is that a plug? You bet it is, because it works, and I’ve not seen anything else that is in lock-step with the five moments of need and/or overlays the entire Learner-To-Performer Continuum.

Leading With Performance Assets

If we choose to begin at the moment of APPLY, why not field test the performance support assets that our ground zero discovery reveal to us? [See Figure #2] Instead of grinding through an 8-to-16 weeks of storyboarding and development of an exotic blend of learning in a course-based solution, why not incrementally launch via available technology and test the assets in the field with a pilot group? In a limited field test we can then gather pilot-user feedback to validate three key components:

  • Relevance – Are the assets business relevant to the task at the point-of-work?
  • Accessibility – Are the assets within reach via technology in 2-clicks or 10-seconds?
  • Effectiveness – Are the assets formatted and comprehensive enough to affect results?

Leading with Performance

Figure #2

 By gathering this critical feedback, we can go through an iterative design and refinement process to fine-tune the assets. If appropriate, we can then launch enterprise-wide to impact performance. Meanwhile, the grinding on storyboards continues for the linear part of the formal learning solution. The bonus is that I already have field-tested performance support assets suitable for embedding into experiential, task-centric, role-specific training exercises and activities.  The whole point of this can be summed up with a couple simple questions: “Why delay deployment of validated performance support assets that are proven to impact performance outcomes at the point-of-work? Why wait for the course to roll off the assembly line?”

This approach positions a new credo of Create Once – Use Many Times – because we now have a field-tested assets that can be embedded into a stack of formal learning venues as well as supporting functions that extend back upstream. In addition, notice the diverse blend of supporting roles on the right side of this diagram could all benefit from assets that were borne out of expanded discovery at ground zero. Who knows, there may even be customer-facing assets that can be re-used/re-purposed as well.

Technology Implications of the Extended Blend

Chances are good that a new blend of technology plays a role too, but before rushing off and buying performance support technology there is much work to be done around your readiness to make that kind of purchase. First off, my advice is to step away from the bright shiny technology and the enticing vendor sales pitches that can easily lure you into making a premature decision you will regret as you get deeper into implementation. The mistake often made involves confusing being “ready” to buy into electronic performance support system [EPSS] technology with being at a state of “readiness” to buy into EPSS technology. I say this because this is not simply a technology purchase as much as it is an organizational change management initiative. You are changing a paradigm and with that kind of change, there are implications on new skills related to discovery; new conversations with stakeholders; new metrics and measures at levels 3 & 4; and ultimately new technology.

You should plan to start small and then scale with a project that represents a highly visible pain point and involves a willing and enthusiastic business stakeholder who sponsor’s your efforts. You will need both as a starting foundation to serve as a “proof of concept” that feeds tangible business impact you will ultimately need to build a viable business case. After all, the budget to that this step forward does not likely exist. BUT…if you can show positive results and show a tangible return on investment, the money to move forward will magically appear. I know this works because I’ve done it several times. Budgets get shifted based on proof and business impact, not on great ideas and promises of potential.

After spending a good portion of my time at both Learning Solutions 2015 last March and again during Performance Support Symposium 2015 in June trolling the vendor expo and hospitality suites, I’m more convinced than ever that while each vendor has similar core functionality they each have distinctly different capabilities that can spell the difference between an informed decision and an emotional one. Hence, you really need to be at readiness not just emotionally stoked to dive headlong into a new paradigm.

The moniker of “EPSS” harkens back to the late 1980s and early 90s, so the technology is not new. That said, the new web-based technology is amazing, and at the same time, what we knew about the past technology, distracts from what some vendor platforms really can do. Virtually all can provide contextual delivery of performance support assets at the moment of need – that was core to what we expected from the older technologies. The newest platforms will blow you away, and the question you must ask is this, “What else do we need to consider?

What you need to consider represents a fairly sizable list, and there is no primary source of comparison that I’m aware of at this time. I subscribe to Gartner Group and queried them on when the EPSS magic quadrant would make the front page. Their response stunned me, “We don’t have any plans to cover that technology.” Yikes! So what do you do? Send out an RFP? Good luck with that, because without comprehensive business requirements that extend well beyond contextual delivery at the moment of need, you may miss tagging the most critical value adds available today.

I do not plan to address technology in this post because I could not do justice in a short blog post…not that any of my posts are short. My only recommendation for now is to find someone who has been down this road and engage with them to affect a readiness assessment to determine just how ready you are. The objective is to clearly define ALL of your business requirements that align with the diverse mix of strengths represented across the various vendor offerings. I’ve written a blog a few months back on what a readiness assessment should address. Those results will provide enough visibility on how you would use EPSS technology in your situation. Knowing those details up front provide source info necessary to build a Use Case format as opposed to launching a RFP to five or six vendors. Make informed selections on the vendor who best fulfills all your use case requirements. Don’t be surprised when you find the best vendor solution has more to do with guidance around operational business processes than training. You may discover the biggest bang for your buck has less to do with training than the operational side of the business.

Summary Thoughts

So why would I throw in the technology wrinkle and operational business processes into an extended blend conversation? If you have to ask, you’re still schlepping training solutions. My friends, there is a new day dawning that is obsoleting aspects of our out-dated training paradigm…and performance support is at the core of it all. We have a call-to-action to get downstream to the point-of-work. Maybe I’ve been radicalized in that regard, but for me, the moment of APPLY as ground zero and having a nose for performance solutions ahead of anything that smacks of training best represents a new paradigm. And, I have to emphasize, this performance paradigm approach is not going to be a passing fad; it is here to stay.

The new Performance Support Community [PSC] founded by Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson has been established to be THE source for information seekers and a very robust community of EPS professionals willing to share. From a new EPS Maturity Model unveiled at the PS Symposium 2015 in Austin this June to exciting plans to expand capabilities and resources to the community of over 4,000 members, the PSC is a key driver of this discipline in our profession.

I’ve been blessed to be on the Leadership Council of this new community, and if you are interested in joining, drop me an email as membership in the community is by invitation only. Your email is how I can extend an invitation. The PSC never shares and never sells your identity, so I hope you consider becoming a part of our growing community. Beyond extending the blend, I think you will find you are in a place where you will extend your value to your organization as well.

Gary Wise
Workforce Performance Strategist
(317) 437-2555