Is There a Learning Performance Ecosystem Blind Spot?

There were 22-souls in the breakout session looking at me expectantly. It was 4PM of day 2 of LSCon in Orlando, and they were as fried as I was. At least we were only 60-minutes away from adult beverages in the networking event to follow. The butterflies were in my belly as usual, but I’d at least succeeded to coax them into flying formation and pulled the trigger, “How many of you here today feel your organization has a dynamic learning performance ecosystem in place today? By show of hands…how many of you?” No hands went up. “Okay, how many say no…or are not sure?” Several hands went up slowly. “Okay, good! How many of you think this is either a trick question or is just more L&D bull shit jargon?” A few laughs and several more hands went up. Those combined responses sum up how much trouble L&D is in because of unconscious incompetence…not knowing what we don’t know. Before anyone reading this get all raked up in a pile, please read on…

I continued, “Okay, good! I’ll confess this is a trick question in a way…but it is definitely NOT bull shit jargon. Every one of your organizations not only HAS a dynamic learning performance ecosystem, you all (as in L&D) are in the middle of a micro-system within the larger ecosystem.” A few nods as people pondered this reality; some believing; some still skeptical. “The better question we are here today to consider is ‘How optimized is it?’ and how to take steps to succeed in that optimization mission, because that should be our mission…optimizing, enabling, and accelerating productivity at the Point-of-Work!

The title of the session was “Performance Support: Accelerating Productivity at the Point-of-Work”.

The primary key to this session was not totally about Performance Support; rather, it was about changing the conversation necessary to remove the blind spot and dispel the myth that Training Drives Performance. It doesn’t. Training drives potential. Performance only happens at the Point-of-Work, and performance support (PS) often plays a critical role in accelerating productivity there. BUT…before PS can enable anything, there needs to be an assessment of the Point-of-Work to determine what, where, when, how often, who’s involved, and why performance and productivity are being restrained. What we absolutely need in order to overcome these restrainers is the absence of several things:

  • L&D solutions that are NOT accessible at the moment of need
  • L&D solutions that are NOT effective at task-level work
  • L&D solutions that are NOT business-relevant at the task-level

Those “solutions” need to be accessed (pushed or pulled) in a seamless, frictionless, and ubiquitous manner, and are likely not comprised of training content. And…they’re not deliverable via the primary L&D delivery system…the LMS…and not even through the new, socially-friendly, LMS-like Learning Experience Platforms (LEP/LXP).

The “solutions” may be traditional performance support accessible contextually within the workflow inside enterprise or desk-top applications with step-by-step instructions or job aids and checklists . But… “performance support” can be so much more:

  • Performance support may be a live collaboration between
    a knowledge worker facing a moment of need and a Business Matter Expert (BME) over instant message.
  • Performance support may be direct access to a 30-second video clip on YouTube through an embedded link.
  • Performance support may be a performance insight…a strategic, 140-character, curated, actionable insight extracted from curated content accelerating speed-to-insight.
  • Performance support may be a stupid, simple laminated card attached to a device or hanging from a lanyard around the neck of a knowledge worker.
  • Performance support comes from “just-enough – just-in-time – just for me” intentional design efforts informed by Point-of-Work Assessment.
  • Performance support is anything that enables and/or accelerates speed-to-sustainable-performance, or speed-to-impact, or speed-to-productivity, or speed-to-competence, or speed-to-actionable-insight, or speed-to-any-damn-thing-that-drives-measurable-business-value.
  • Performance support is delivered and/or accessible from Productivity Acceleration Technology at the moment of need at diverse Points-of-Work, by multiple roles, from multiple user technologies in multiple environments, from multiple other micro-systems within the primary ecosystem.

Now, here’s the key question: “How the heck can L&D produce performance support solutions that resemble anything in that list above WITHOUT knowing what’s restraining the very productivity and performance we are trying to enable, accelerate and sustain?”

Bah-dump-tissshhh! [That’s how you spell rim shot]

Now…for all those I offended in the opening paragraph, I have a confession of my own: I had been unconsciously incompetent for twenty-two of my 35-years in corporate L&D and amassed an impressive string of failures. These were not failures in building top-drawer learning solutions or providing effective team leadership, my failures were courtesy of a hard-earned blind spot that training was going to drive performance in the organizations where I worked. My failures were delivering knowledge transfer…instead of sustained workforce capability.

Unconscious incompetence does NOT equate to incompetence. The blind spot of the training myth keeps us from seeing beyond the walls of the L&D micro-system to where performance results manifest – Point-of-Work.

Every ecosystem is comprised of multiple micro-systems like Finance & Accounting; Sales & Marketing; Distribution & Logistics. L&D needs to become an interdependent partner across those operational micro-system boundaries, and they need to be equipped with assessment capabilities beyond traditional training needs to include Point-of-Work. In fact, not just “include” but consider Point-of-Work as ground zero and the point of origin for assessment.

L&D needs to open dialogues with a changed conversation when a training request comes in. Assess performance needs…not learning needs…and trust me on this part – nailing down performance needs FIRST will inform training needs with laser-focused accuracy. Who knows, just maybe the solution has nothing to do with training and we just dodged the bullet of training to a symptom. Shove the LMS…into the background and integrate non-LMS technology that enables performance solution delivery within two or three clicks in the workflow. Let the LMS handle compliance tracking and how to wash your hands, or prevent a fire, or work ethically, or check-the-boxes-that-need-checked kind of routine training.

I’ve read too many articles about the impending demise of L&D. Personally, I believe that equates to hysterical sky-is-falling-bull-shit, but it does contain a message we must heed – L&D needs to prioritize and operationalize a capability to assess solution requirements that accelerate productivity at Point-of-Work. Why? So we can prove our solutions produced tangible evidence of performance results/impact at levels 3&4 to avoid being viewed as a cost center liability when the belt gets tightened. No one in their right mind will lop off a source of revenue when revenue is the life-blood of the business. Cost centers contributing expense? Not so much.

[End of rant…for now…]


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