PERFORMANCE SUPPORT – Converging Learning with Point-of-Work

Performance Support is a term that often causes confusion, and in some cases, outright fear in the hearts of my HR and L&D colleagues. This post will attempt to clear up the confusion surrounding the tactical implementation of performance support. The fear quotient? To my knowledge, no L&D ISDs, developers or facilitators lost their jobs or were harmed in any implementation of performance support that I’ve been involved with to date. In fact, those very skills are critical to the success of sustaining performance support solutions. The real fear should consider what happens to L&D if status quo strategy and tactics do not evolve to embrace performance support.

The original title to this post was “Performance Support & Why You Should Give a Rip” but I thought that title might be a little abrasive and distract from the message. But then I thought the “shock value” of that title just might make the point I believe is critical to consider – If you don’t give a rip…you really should.

Why? Mainly because, though well-intended, and effectively administered, L&D is effectively accomplishing an important, traditional, old school objective of transferring knowledge and skills into the heads and hearts of the workforce…and calling it good.

Mission accomplished right? Sorry…while a yeoman’s effort to produce good, it’s not enough!

And that’s the point I hope comes through in this post. Training, in and of itself, is not wrong…it’s simply not enough! I’ll be the first to agree training as a critical component to promote competency in the workforce, BUT…competency does NOT result from completing a training course no matter how sizzling and sexy it might be.

Don’t misunderstand my message – L&D is doing the RIGHT thing, but in the WRONG place, and often with the WRONG content. Results from training can only consistently contribute to one deliverable – POTENTIAL!

If sustained workforce performance truly represents the brass ring objective, L&D must evolve strategically and tactically to evolve and expand scope to address the entire ecosystem and head downstream into the rest of the ecosystem (post-training environment) where performance outcomes and value are generated…compromised…or lost…at a new ground zero known as…

Point-of-Work (PoW)

What Is Performance Support?

Allison Rossett, from her book “Job Aids & Performance Support”, provides a short definition on the second page:

“Performance support represents converged information and work, residing next to the individual, in close proximity to the challenge in order to offer help when help is needed.” 

Such a short definition…but one loaded with clues that imply both strategic and tactical considerations to re-think our approach to designing, developing and delivering learning performance solutions.

“Converged information and work…” and “In close proximity to the challenge…” and “offer help when help is needed…”

Can Allison be describing any other place in the ecosystem than Point-of-Work?

Another industry thought leader I follow, Aaron Silvers, spoke at a conference a few years ago in a breakout session on xAPI…formerly known as “Tin Can”. You might be asking what does xAPI have to do with performance support. Honestly, just about everything when you consider that xAPI is an analytics capability designed to track learning AND performance AND content like performance support that is accessed and applied by users at Point-of-Work!

I asked a question, “So…this means I can track who is using what performance support assets…giving me a window into where in the workflow we are experiencing problems?”

His response nailed it for me, “Exactly!”

Aaron continued to speak of the ability xAPI as a capability that can enable capture of utilization metrics and track content designed to be, as he called it…

“Just Enough – Just in Time – Just for me”.

Another short phrase and yet such an accurate description of performance support, and it gave me a perspective that defines exactly what users need at Point-of-Work when confronted with moments of need. That’s not training content. No course could ever be designed in such a way to address the diversity of moments of need across the workforce, much less be delivered in a variety of formats…in the context of a complex workflow…in a timely manner.

 A Strategic Re-Think to Overcome the Training Myth

A perfect storm of increasing demand to remain competitive and the continuous nature of change have effectively flanked the traditional Training Paradigm. L&D cannot keep pace. Even with smaller micro-learning objects, agile design, rapid development, and mobile delivery tactics, the solutions remain focused on pushing potential…not performance.

Go back to Allison’s definition about “proximity to the challenge”; that is not referencing the classroom or during completion of an online training course. Point-of-Work is the new ground zero where we need to be able to “converge information with work”. Not training with work…information (a.k.a. performance support) with work.

For the last dozen years or so, I have largely dedicated my shift in thinking toward driving sustained workforce capability at Point-of-Work, and Performance Support has been a centerpiece of that thinking. Not only integrating performance support as a tactical tool but the technology that enables application of performance support at Point-of-WorkElectronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS). And now a new generation of Software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud-based Digital Performance Guidance Systems are about to blow the lid off status quo learning strategy.

That said, integrating performance support is not primarily a technology solution…several other considerations must happen first. Diving into a technology solution opens the door for a significant risk that something is missing – a strategic road map to integrate a sustainable Learning Performance Discipline. So…step away from the shiny new technology options for now. There’s plenty of time and a few miles to road map and skills to own before pulling the trigger on new toys.

Why a Learning Performance Discipline?

Performance support is not a silver bullet; just as training is not a viable stand-alone solution. The ultimate solution represents a blend; a blend that addresses the needs of users along a continuum from their Point-of-Entry to their Point-of-Work. This continuum is found in every organization’s “ecosystem”; a learning performance ecosystem to be more specific. L&D is now faced with a significantly more dynamic environment and must evolve and expand strategy and tactics to address it.

A Learning Performance Guidance Discipline does not enable L&D to “take orders” for training until training has been confirmed as a valid component of a blended solution. And even then, the training product is different. The blend is embedded with the appropriate performance support content intentionally designed into the solution and delivered using performance support technology during the training effort.

In every respect, we can now converge Point-of-Entry information with Point-of-Work during the training experience. Why wait to “converge” anything until hard dollars are at risk? Bring performance support AND the technology into the learning environment right up front. Remove the burden of new users having to remember everything; instead, enable them to recall what help is available and where/how to access it at their future moments of need.

Cut training time in half. Improve time to competency and sustainable performance impact by adopting a learning performance discipline. Notice the discipline is not called “learning AND performance”. The discipline does not separate learning from performance; it can’t!

In other words, we want users to learn how to perform at Point-of-Work using the guidance of performance support; hence a learning performance discipline must produce a blend of assets that deliver “Just enough – Just in Time – Just for me”.

Closing Thoughts

There are other thought-leaders I follow that continue to reinforce why performance support adoption is critical to maintaining pace with the speed of business and enabling a sustained workforce. Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson developed the Five Moments of Need; of which three of the five address performance support…and all three of those manifest at Point-of-Work.

Charles Jennings and the 70:20:10 framework represent another thought leader who reinforces the importance of performance support. The “70%” component is none other than Point-of-Work where users “learn by doing” the job. Here we are back to Allison’s “converged…” comment once again. The evidence that performance support is not just a passing fad is overwhelming and it’s all about proximity of when and where it is provided.

And yes, I am suggesting a strategic re-think around the adoption of performance support, but that adoption cannot be treated as a project. It’s not a one-and-done initiative; instead, it is a cultural shift…it is an adoption of an evolved and expanded learning performance discipline…it is a transformational change to a more holistic, strategic vision and scope for L&D.

L&D cannot remain limited by strategies and tactics that stop short of optimizing the learning performance continuum end-to-end. Why stop at Point-of-Entry? Why ignore Point-of-Work where bona fide business value is either created or lost? Why stop at expertly creating potential with training when performance at Point-of-Work is the real value creator? L&D adopting a strategic learning performance discipline and integrating performance support tactics into their solutions is not out of reach…it’s just out of thinking.

I’ve been through this road mapping exercise three times over the last dozen years and lived to tell about it. In the event you feel exploring this journey is worth “giving a rip” then we should chat. I’m always up for an exploratory conversation.

Take good care!


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