Performance Consultant Lives Matter!

We had just left a national all-hands company meeting where senior leadership fired everybody up with news of a potential buy-out at $97 per share. I’d been aggressively saving in the form of stock purchases at $11 for three years and had a sizeable stash of stock options maturing. The only question on my mind right then was, “Where am I going to park the boat?” Two weeks later we were informed the company had filed for Chapter 11 and all shares of common stock were worthless, and I was officially on the street. So much for the boat!

Bear with me; what follows is a short story…a true story…that positions a skill set that changed my life in the L&D discipline. No instructional designers were harmed during this transition, but I must confess to scaring the crap out of number of them.

After twenty-two years in telecom I found myself being the proud owner of a head full of telecom expertise and knowledge. The decision to not pursue another telecom related gig yielded a turning point, but not without risks. Telecom was all I knew…and all I had done. How was I going to take a wealth of worthless knowledge and years of experience into another field? What now, genius?

That’s when it hit me; I’d been certified in Accomplishment-Based Curriculum Development (ABCD), a Joe Harless program a few years earlier; a program that was eventually purchased by Saba as Human Performance Technology (HPT). Ultimately, the same program served as the core of the ASTD Human Performance Improvement (HPI) Certification program…and that program eventually morphed into what is now the CPLP certification program. Over the next five years I was blessed to take HPT and HPI without knowing where the programs had come from beforehand. Upon showing up, I recognized it all…cover-to-cover. I did not realize it after completing ABCD that I had acquired the core skills of a performance consultant, and that realization changed my career.

Turned out my knowledge base was portable. Within thirty days after the Chapter 11 debacle I was Director of Sales Training at a global manufacturing firm that provided medical equipment. I knew squat about medical equipment, but the hiring executive who picked up on the performance consulting background saw the potential that I’d largely overlooked. Long story short – I blundered into a prime environment where senior leadership was more interested in driving sustainable workforce capability than continuing to rely upon rote sales training.

This non-telecom role evolved into my first integration of performance support that dramatically turned a struggling SAP deployment into a successful implementation and adoption…and I knew squat about medical equipment…and SAP.

Portability = Being Industry Agnostic

When the medical equipment manufacturer decided to move my role to the west coast, I walked away. Why not? I was feeling rather portable. Turn the page, and the next role was Sr. Director at a Children’s Hospital…in healthcare. Knew squat about healthcare too! How portable is that? Performance support integration #2 happened next, this time with Oracle/PeopleSoft upgrades and an oncoming Medical Records (EMR) integration replacing 16-legacy systems. I knew squat about EMRs too! But…the lessons learned over these two job roles pointed simply to this – Every industry seeks to have a sustained and capable workforce. The industry segment and business disciplines did not matter. People must execute in their job roles – at the point of work – regardless of whatever industry they may be in.

End of Story – Beginning of Why It Matters

Every single industry’s workforce deals with Moments of Need at the point of work, and a performance consultant skill set is indispensable in identifying what those moments are and why they exist. I shared this historical snippet of my career to emphasize two points:

  1. Performance Consulting Skills saved my bacon…and can bolster your skill toolbox with an invaluable skill set…and provide portability should you be hurled through the window of opportunity and into a new work venue.
  2. Performance Consulting Skills are at the core of deploying, implementing and achieving full adoption of the Performance Support (PS) discipline.

Full adoption of the PS discipline involves several moving parts. Yes, technology will likely be a component, but that part of deployment is well down the line. An often overlooked component is the magnitude of organizational change management (OCM) that paves the road to adoption. Trust me; I have the scars from pushing the PS stone uphill for an extended period by not investing in OCM matters upfront.

Too many times the vision to adopt the PS discipline is intact in my/our heads and hearts, but senior leadership is still wrapped around the training paradigm that promises performance…and yet only delivers potential. Executive sponsors who “get it” and a robust communication initiative are best practice if you are serious about reaching full adoption. To avoid an uphill battle, a valid reason to launch a PS initiative requires a business case that not only describes what PS can do for the organization, but that adopting PS requires an accompanying change in paradigm that includes sustaining performance. Adopting PS is not a software purchase alone, it is also capturing mindshare and changing the conversation when confronting performance challenges.

In other words, you first need to take the pulse of the organization. Is there an appetite for change? Is there senior level commitment – a ready and willing sponsor? Nail down a sponsor first, and leverage that sponsorship in communications about the effort that follows to establish a current state of readiness across the organization…or a selected slice of the ecosystem. Performance consulting skills are required to establish current state (AS IS). From there a road map to adoption can be developed addressing impacts to:

  • People
  • Processes
  • Content
  • Technology
  • Measurement

With this road map in place it becomes even more obvious that the performance consulting skill set is essential in the organization. I say this because the same skills that defined AS IS are the same skills that shift the conversation to performance when a simple training request would ordinarily trigger a training needs assessment. You may still complete a training needs assessment, but it should be included in a broader performance assessment at the point of work where a performance consultant can comfortably perform discovery.

Earlier I mentioned no ISDs were harmed…apart from an increased pucker factor…because that is the role in L&D most appropriate to acquire the performance consulting skills. Certainly you can hire those skills, but who among us has open headcount to play with? Plus, a solid knowledge of core ISD principles and even development skills are important to provide the “what-comes-next” after the performance assessment is completed.

During PS implementation #3, I’d integrated the OCM component of the adoption journey, and found it much easier to have help pushing the PS stone uphill. Being faster to the summit then brought the most recent scar. Somebody in the tower holding the purse strings saw the light and said, “Yes, let’s do this thing!”

“Holy missing-standardization-and-operationalization, Batman!” said I. We had deployed a pilot and acquired compelling results in our proof of concept. Nailed it! We were greenlighted to begin to implement in the pilot group, and then it started to happen PS was going viral. The PS stone had crested the hill and started to accelerate toward adoption. We were no longer pushing; in fact, we were trying to slow it down and catch up. We did not have documented standards…tested operational practices, nor administrative infrastructure in place to sustain the effort. Having an influential sponsor who could pull the right strings saved the day, and without that sponsorship the chances of adoption would have been delayed significantly…or in jeopardy of happening at all.

I shared that last embarrassing scar to make a closing point. Adopting PS is so much more than choosing a vendor and plugging in new software/technology. Make sure you know what readiness looks like and whether or not you and the organization are really there. Scaling a new paradigm is a rocky, uphill road if you do not have a few things in place including:

  • A road map that defines phases of deployment and implementation increments that stick to the rule of thumb to “start small and scale”.
  • The right equipment – business requirements must drive technology decisions, not the other way around.
  • Sound methodology specific to discovery, design, development…and yes…delivery will evolve too.
  • A plan to measure results that serve as hard evidence that you are indeed a hero for boldly suggesting something a little disruptive.

Not sure how to define readiness? Not sure how to build a road map? Find somebody with PS battle scars who has survived a successful climb to the summit of adoption a few times. Deciding what to do is ALMOST as important as avoiding your own scars by discovering what NOT to do by trial and error. Been there. Done that.

Stop by Workforce Capability Solutions by Human Performance Outfitters, and we can plan to meet at base camp to discuss building your road map to the top together.

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