Define EPS Readiness Before Developing Strategy

The discipline of Embedded Performance Support [EPS] is rapidly becoming an integral part of a dynamic learning and performance strategy. Adoption of this innovative and disruptive discipline represents an organizational change management initiative whether your organization consists of 50 or 500,000 souls tasked to generate sustained business value. The first question to pursue an answer is, Are you “ready” to adopt this discipline, or are you at a “state of readiness” to adopt this discipline? Too often I’m seeing a “ready” horse before a “readiness” cart because current “AS IS” state of readiness was not clearly defined.

Pushing Disruptive Innovation?

Cultural and Strategic Implications

EPS has many moving parts, and adoption of those parts most relevant to your organization’s business requirements start with the strategic mindset providing the impetus behind when, where, and how EPS is integrated. Cultural beliefs and attitudes can either impede or accelerate adoption. Many organizations are locked into long-held beliefs that training is the default solution to overcoming performance challenges. While training can certainly contribute to closing performance gaps, sadly, the only outcome that can be consistently proven is the creation of potential. Is potential enough?

The Performance Conversation

With workforce productivity tied directly to the generation of business value, the conversation we have with stakeholders changes and must shift to a new ground zero – the point-of-work – where business value is either created…or lost. The shift, in all honesty, is moving away from training events and closer to the operational side of the business. The conversation with operations stakeholders becomes focused on what’s working – what’s not – and why not.

Expanded Discovery

To successfully affect the performance conversation, discovery must key on performance gaps that manifest at the point-of-work. This requires enhanced skills to discern root causes from symptoms. The expanded discovery effort should include both upstream and downstream dependencies to ensure the root cause(s) are not too narrowly defined. This is very important given the dynamic nature of supporting a dynamic ecosystem edge-to-edge. Defining the “edges” of the organization’s ecosystem represent a great place to start.

Agile Methods Come Into Play

The concept of “agile” is currently a hot topic in the L&D industry and holds the promise of rapidly producing training content. Again, sadly, rapid training development does not key on the point-of-work; instead, it enhances the point-of-learning…a.k.a. the creation of potential. That’s not enough! If the agile methodology chosen does not address all five moments of need that perpetually surface across the domain of your entire learning and performance ecosystem, you will be unable to address the Learner-to-Performer Continuum. The continuum represents the journey beginning at point-of-entry [onboarding] to the ultimate point-of-work [sustained competency].

Implications to Training

Adoption of the EPS discipline creates an environment where prioritization of performance results may pre-empt the training effort. In other words, the emphasis is on closing identified performance gaps with Performance Support [PS] assets as quickly as possible; training can follow on later. PS assets can be designed and developed in hours versus an 8-to-16 week effort to develop an hour-long, quality e-learning course. Why wait for an entire course development cycle when a PS asset may derive tangible impact much faster?

Plus, the bonus of an EPS approach enables integration of field-tested PS assets into the formal training event regardless of delivery venue. The integration of PS assets shifts the focus of training to better align with the 70:20:10 framework – with relevant PS assets appearing in experiential exercises that are task-based and role-centric during training. The effect of this integration often enables a reduction in the amount of time spent in actual training activities. In some cases, PS may eliminate the need for training altogether for specific performance challenges. Additionally, this approach dramatically reduces the challenging necessity of the
Performer retaining all of the information shared during training.

The emphasis shifts to the application of reference knowledge both during and after training, versus depending on recall knowledge that fades rapidly after training.

Implications to L&D Roles

Adopting EPS often feeds the fear of training jobs diminishing along with the roles of instructional design, content development, and training delivery. If anything, those roles increase in importance and scope when utilizing an EPS discipline. The preceding sections allude to the fact that there may be a degree of change involved, but look at what is happening in the operational side of the business that drives that change.

Velocity of business demand and the continuous nature of change alone are increasing dramatically. Both mandate a workforce that is more agile and resilient at a moment’s notice. The rules of engagement and the urgency to bring the workforce to a sustained state of competency have changed, and training solutions cannot be designed, developed or delivered fast enough to keep pace. EPS is a very viable and increasingly preferred engagement alternative.

Implications of New Technology

All organizations, big and small, have technology woven throughout the fabric of their ecosystems. Whether technology is as basic as MS Office software at the core or involves massive ERP or CRM integrations supporting business operations; an investment has already been made. The thoughts of additional investment when none had been planned can often be seen as an insurmountable roadblock to adopting EPS.

So…step away from the technology funding request until you leverage what you already have in place to build a viable and compelling business case. Funny thing happens to the purse strings when a solution can be proven to show a significant return on investment. Suddenly, the funds are “found” because a strong, evidence-based business case justifies additional investment.

Depending on the size of the organization, new technology may or may not be an absolute requirement. EPS, when properly introduced however, should start small and scale. This means that a small proof of concept appropriately selected and sponsored can demonstrate the return necessary to facilitate the case for funding. In many cases, the proof of concept requires little, if any, investment in technology. Early adoption may firmly gain a toe-hold and serve to accelerate the momentum behind placing a compelling, hard-dollar business case on the table to request funding.

Choosing the Right Technology

With today’s diverse vendor platforms, which by the way seemingly have new entrants popping up like mushrooms, the evaluation and selection of the “right fit” is no small task. Electronic Performance Support System [EPSS] technology may ultimately be required to fully integrate EPS capabilities across a large enterprise. The danger is highlighted in the cart-before-the-horse graphic above.

The real work up front is not so much related to selecting the right vendor as it is identifying the relevant business requirements of the L&P ecosystem that the EPSS will support.

We can all recall hearing plenty of horror stories of how so many organizations came to hate their LMS platforms. I’ve seen percentages of over half actively making plans to change vendors, and I would wager well over half of those dissatisfied LMS owners were “ready” to buy-in early because it was a great idea…and the industry trend…but had not done their homework to the extent of being at a state of “readiness” to make an informed decision.

EPSS technology represents another opportunity for history to repeat itself. And what makes that even more critical is that we are not focused only on training the “KNOW” aspects of workforce readiness, we are at the point-of-work where the “DO” aspects of performance are at risk…as well as the creations of business value…or the loss of it. In reality, if we have not defined the “DO” first, we are not even close to having an informed technology conversation with any vendor.

Technology must accommodate business requirements; not the other way around.

The trick in the EPS world is knowing which requirements are relevant, and with brand new capabilities, those requirements may have much more to do with business process automation than with training. Keep in mind that EPSS is a different technology from LMS altogether, and in many cases, with the newer capabilities I’m seeing in the market, business process guidance, business rules, prescriptive support, enhanced push capabilities, and cross-platform process automation are becoming a really big deal.

What I just called out are capabilities that address “DO” at the point-of-work, and the “KNOW” acquired during training is a secondary application. I hope you can see that what is quickly becoming apparent is the shift where training is actually becoming a by-product of integrating EPSS technology; not the primary driver.

These new EPSS platform capabilities showing up dramatically broaden the business requirements that must be considered when building the use case for evaluation and selection of a vendor. Talk about changing the rules of engagement; EPSS is quickly becoming a hybrid business tool capable of addressing significantly more than the five moments of need specific to learning and is firmly positioned as essential driving performance productivity at the point-of-work.

These new enhancements found in some of the vendors’ platforms open up the scope of discovery to address point-of-work process flows that directly tie to productivity gains inherent in the actual workflow interactivity across multiple systems and/or databases. Truly, EPSS can no longer be viewed through the lens of enhancement to training or limited to the common-to-all capability of contextual delivery of PS assets at the point-of-work. The EPSS game plan has evolved deeper into business operations and overlooking those opportunities may translate to overlooking the real pay-back in EPSS technology

Beginning the Journey to EPS Adoption

In the previous sections above, I hope you can see that adopting EPS as an enterprise strategy and the eventual EPSS technology implications are indeed a journey that should start small and then scale with additional applications and increasing incremental user adoption as implementation spreads. Avoid the urge to “boil the ocean” because it is tempting to just implement and move on. Don’t even think about it – too many moving parts.

EPS represents an innovative disruption to creating sustained capability at the point-of-work and for maximizing productivity of the workforce across the enterprise. But…adoption does not happen overnight. Remember, this is a journey and a commitment to change at an organizational…and some would argue…at a transformational level.

EPS is not integrated as a sprint; rather, it is a well-thought out long distance commitment, and this is exactly why EPS falls under the strategy umbrella. Adopting is not a tactical technology purchase decision; rather, it is a strategic initiative targeting workforce performance across the entire learning and performance ecosystem. That said, EPS must earn its place in the strategy, and that requires a deliberate change management effort to elevate and promote adoption. Every adoption effort, despite similar goals, will, in every case, require an accurate assessment of the organization’s “AS IS” state of readiness.

You really need to assess readiness from cultural vision at leadership levels to defining an actively engaged governance; from parsing out diverse learning demands to leveraging legacy assets applicability post-training; from outdated linear design, development, and delivery methods to aligning a newly-found agility with the organization’s evolving technology footprint; all these attributes must be defined. The obvious objectives are to identify existing gaps and map tactics to close them through an evolved mindset, expanded skills, tactical methods, and technology.

All of these attributes should be assessed well in advance of entertaining thoughts of buying into bright shiny new EPSS technology. In fact, everything up to the point of considering a potential vendor’s platform will actually define the “sweet spot” the vendor’s platform needs to meet. Therein lies an additional challenge – each vendor postures a different sweet spot in their offering despite appearing similar with many other feature functionality.

The evaluation and selection process, given the diverse feature sets of the vendor offering, will be better served with a Use Case approach than floating an RFP to a handful of candidates. To build an effective use case, you need to know in advance what operational requirements you have that can potentially be addressed by their technology. Again, this is not like purchasing a new LMS; EPSS is more complex in scope and capability, and aligning your identified business needs with the different vendor sweet spots should be entrance criteria for a vendor to be considered.

Consider an EPS Readiness Assessment As a Starting Point

My recommendation, given the holistic nature of this effort, is to invest in an EPS Readiness Assessment on the front end of your journey to ensure you firmly define your “AS IS” state of readiness, and the multi-faceted operational considerations necessary to raise your readiness to ensure you make informed decisions regarding all the interdependent moving parts of the EPS discipline, not just the EPSS technology.

Vendors may offer to do an assessment of sorts for you; however, the effort may be biased in the direction that better aligns to their technology platform than it is for meeting your business/operational requirements and the associated methodology implications critical to optimizing the technology. Remember, they are in the business of selling EPSS technology while your organization is in the business of driving sustainable and profitable operational outcomes.

The concept and availability of independent EPS Readiness Assessments are new. The implications of surviving Change when introducing disruptive innovations are not. Having successfully integrated EPS technology several times in the last ten years, I can attest to the importance of clearly knowing your current state and taking steps to address relevant gaps to minimize the disruptions that follow. And I cannot emphasize enough that with new EPSS vendor capabilities, identifying operational business requirements…beyond the more familiar aspects of training tactics…are more critical than ever before.

I welcome inquiries regarding your organization’s learning and performance readiness in the event the journey to EPS adoption becomes part of your map to future competitive advantage.

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Strategist
@gdogwise
(317) 437-2555

Gary.wise@xerox.com