POINT-of-WORK: Where to Look for Performance Support ROI

One of the most difficult things we ever attempt to do is change the mind(s) of those who control the purse strings to loosen them in support of an unfamiliar innovation that’s going to cost money. Complicate that mind-shift with adding a radical new paradigm into the mix and your chances of success just got that much more difficult. That is the exact scenario we face when attempting to introduce brand new Performance Support Technology where it not only doesn’t exist, but the concept is at odds with an embedded belief that Training is going to drive performance. It’s going to take a compelling business case to move forward, and that’s an ugly task; as daunting as pushing a rope. But…it can be done…if you know where to look for compelling reasons.
When the task before us is the equivalent of consuming an entire elephant, the sheer volume of the effort dictates being smart about choosing a starting point. Think one bite at a time. Think start small, then scale. Think pilot. Start-to-finish the adoption of a Point-of-Work Solution Discipline and the Performance Support Technology to support it can be easily become an eighteen-month journey; even then it’s not finished because adopting a performance support paradigm is a project that never ends. Why? Because the dynamics of the learning performance ecosystem we need to support never ceases being dynamic. We are choosing to adopt a paradigm that is directly aligned and impacted by the speed and the dynamic demands of business performance. What can be more dynamic that that?

The biggest bite we’ll take on this elephantine journey…and the most important…is positioning a compelling reason to launch a pilot program. Remember…think small…then scale. Assuming we can catch someone’s ear to listen to our radical ideas, the first question hurled in our direction is likely to be – “Why would we want to do this?” The next question will probably be – “How much is this thing going to cost?” And following on the heels of the money question will be – “What are we going to get out of this investment?”

Cue the theme music to “Jaws”…yup…“We need to know what ROI to expect.”

How do we build a compelling business case and project ROI numbers that Finance is going to swallow when we’ve never been down this road…a.k.a. have no in-house historical data? Short answer? Cook the books…

I realize half the sphincters in Finance just puckered, but what I’m suggesting is not as devious as this sounds. We will “cook” the numbers, but we will simmer them with home-grown in-house performance data based upon someone else’s historical results. What eases Finance’s fear is establishing the reality of current state performance challenges and then applying vetted external history…boiled down to ultra conservative estimates…to produce an ROI that we project will return solid financial impact even if we hit obstacles along the integration journey…because we probably will.

Have I scared you away from even considering this effort to change heads and hearts yet?

Performance Support (PS) is often characterized as the application of job aids and checklists at moment of need at Point-of-Work…and that would be true, but there is so much more that the technology delivers, and much of it goes unnoticed when we look for impact. That little fact is why I’m so vocal about starting with a Point-of-Work Assessment (PWA). Why? Because there are Points-of-Work engaged in support of other Points of-Work. That might sound strange, but when you consider all the hands that develop training and support those actually doing the work, those efforts all represent discrete Points-of-Work, and we cannot overlook any of them when justifying impact.

Remember we own a dynamic learning performance ecosystem and we must assess every nook and cranny when there are performance breaches. Integrating PS is the equivalent to throwing a stone into pond…ripples extend throughout. Our ecosystem is no different.

Sorry…am preaching again; but fear not…there are several functional areas within your organization today that will benefit from taking the plunge into this new paradigm and adopting this technology.

Here is an example of an ROI effort I suffered through to launch a Performance Support Technology pilot in a previous life that illustrates the significance of a holistic assessment approach to build a compelling business case. This pilot was for a small training group supporting 600 end-users in a pilot launch of a new billing and time management accounting system. What follows are some areas considered for assessment across the relevant micro-systems inside the larger ecosystem. Note, as you read, that each area was not enough to render the return necessary for Finance to support the effort with a green light…but the aggregate made it a no-brainer.

Reduced Call Volumes to the Help Desk are often a benefit enjoyed by rendering contextual PS within workflows at moments of need. Certainly, this is exciting…but there’s more that can be missed that represents hard dollar impact; specifically, impact to redeployable productive time to Help Desk staff. We cannot overlook the ripple effect on the Help Desk by gifting them with “X” number of hours without adding head count. We can even consider WHAT ELSE the Help Desk could do with “X” number of hours if not fighting the tide in incoming calls from end-users.

• Total cost saving from call volume reduction – $38,520
• Productivity hours gained – 72 hours
• Total Pilot technology cost – $69,000
• ROI = -44.17%

Reduced Training Time is another benefit that can spawn ripples beyond the end-user receiving training. Again, there is redeployable time and what that’s worth depends upon whose role is considered and what they do…what they produce. If it’s sales, there are accepted revenue production numbers that can be easily extrapolated to dollars per hour. But don’t stop there…what about the redeployable time by the training staff? What could they do with a 50% gift of platform delivery hours of time reduced by embedded PS and PS technology integrated into training?

• Wage/salary redeployed by reduced training time – $42,000
• Productive hours protected by reduced training time – 1,200 hours
• Total Pilot technology cost – $69,000
• ROI = -39.13%

Reduction of Content Development Time also has a redeplyable ripple effect to consider. I’ve personally experienced a 66% reduction in time saved by collaborative authoring capability of the PS Technology platform. Vendors brag of up to 80%. That’s impressive…but what’s more impressive is the business impact of that gift of redeployable time. Is it fewer headcount required to do the same job? Is it increased capacity without increasing headcount? What’s the impact on performance of delivering learning and support assets 80% sooner? What are the opportunity cost benefits of having sales staff on the job selling sooner than later?
Consider the math implications here. We reduce content development time…AND…we shorten training time. If those being trained are revenue producers, is there not a positive revenue benefit to include in your business case?

• Total development costs saved on a single eLearning course – $2,100
• Hours protected by reduced development time – 60 hours
• Total Pilot technology cost – $69,000
• ROI = -96.96%

Reduction of Search Time can be considered as low hanging fruit when you consider time saved transfers directly to productive end-user time. An IDG study in 2009 showed an average of 9.5 hours per week spent by workers searching. Reduce that to 2-clicks or 10-seconds by delivering PS assets contextually within the workflow, and we have real units of time to redeploy. If the end-user is in a revenue producing capacity, and they are gifted more time to produce, the results are undisputable.

• Total cost saving from reducing search time – $1,313
• Productivity hours gained – 37.5 hours
• Total Pilot technology cost – $69,000
• ROI = -98.10%

Reduction in Error Isolation Time is often overlooked because we focus on speed of production instead of speed of accurate production. Input errors in a heavy data entry environment means someone or a group of “someones” are tasked with tracking down and isolating errors…not to mention the hours sent by a QA function to flag the errors to begin with…assuming they ever get flagged at all. We see the impact of this clearly when the perfect order for 12 units in the procurement system…delivers 12-dozen units to the receiving dock…where shipping must send back 11-dozen units…and pay shipping costs…assuming the vendor will even accept the return…no to mention the wages and salary spent doing bogus, non-productive work. See where I’m going here?

• Total cost saving from reducing error investigations – $17,500
• Productivity hours gained – 500 hours
• Total Pilot technology cost – $69,000
• ROI = -74.64%

Reduction in Rework/Redundant Effort is somewhat related to error isolation when you consider this segment of time is necessary to follow every error by someone fixing it. You could even factor in the time associated of handing errors off to be fixed if the ‘finder” is not the “fixer”. This smacks of a workflow-related issue, but it’s worthy of considering if there is a time component that could be reduced by eliminating, or at least minimizing errors from the get-go by integrating PS and the technology to address moment of need at Point-of-Work.

• Total cost saving from reducing error investigations – $17,500
• Productivity hours gained – 500 hours
• Total Pilot technology cost – $69,000
• ROI = -74.64%

Note that not a single area considered was significant enough to return an acceptable ROI. One might say…why bother then? Here’s why…

• Total benefit in year one = $118,933
• Total Pilot technology cost – $69,000
Aggregate Pilot ROI = +72.37

It gets better…

• Total benefit in years 2 thru 5 = $88,187 each year (went down because training already developed)
• Total Pilot cost = $9,000 each year (went down due to annual maintenance costs only)
Aggregate ROI for each year = +879.86%

• Total Benefits – $471,681
• Total Costs – $105,000
Aggregate ROI – +349.72%

A lot of number in this post, but hopefully my point has been made that building a current state business case from which to project ROI is going to require some homework. Keep in mind this was a small pilot of a pilot launch of an accounting system. Read that again…a pilot of a pilot.

Start small…then scale. The pilot was controlled and limited to a small group and function.

Also, don’t look at these assessment categories as a road map because there are others not assessed in this example because they were irrelevant. I never looked at employee turnover because it was a non-issue. If this had been a call center environment, I’d have been on churn rate like a big dog. I’ve done several, and turnover averaged around 67%. When that happens, the impact sends a lot of ripples across the ecosystem pond like:

• How much does it cost recruiting to hire a newbie? (Advertise, recruit, screen, interview, background check, etc.)
• How much does it cost to run a newbie through onboarding?
• How much does it cost when 33% of your newbies bail out of onboarding before it’s even over…oh yes…this happens…and if you’re contracting call center ops for a 3rd party, you likely do not get reimbursed for those who bail before graduation day.

None of these were factors in my example, but I hope you can see the possibilities that some ecosystem will have some very big opportunities for a very positive ROI simply from reducing job frustration by supporting end-users at moment of need and Point-of-Work with performance support and the technology to make it so.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not a fan of running down ROI. I heard third or fourth hand somewhere in my past that “The ROI on calculating ROI is not good!” I’m quick to agree, but sometimes you must “check the box” to loosen the purse strings.

Whatever the project and/or whenever you have to do to check that box, leave no stone un-turned. If ANY work activity has a connection to measurable productivity, assess it, even if you’re not in the fast lane to ROI because you’ll need this data for level 3 and level 4 evaluations. It is not time wasted by any stretch.

Thanks for wading through this post. I appreciate the investment of your time to read. As always, I welcome your thoughts, feedback, commiserations and new ideas.
I’ve recently launched a Performance Support Networking group on LinkedIn. It’s free to join but you must register. Join the community to share ideas, challenges, experiences…or just lurk until something lights you up. POINT-of-WORK Performance Support Solutions

Take good care!


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