POINT-OF-WORK ASSESSMENT: Environment & Culture

When we (L&D) receive a request for training the first inclination is to deliver in a responsive and effective manner. It’s what we do. It’s what is expected of us. It’s part of a learning culture. It’s also part of the perspective that perpetuates our existing paradigm that limits, if not prevents a deliverable of solution outcomes our stakeholders seek. There’s nothing wrong with building a learning culture…but at the expense of a performance culture? Learning opportunities for our workforce are essential for personal and career growth…but at the expense of neglecting enablement of measurable performance and knowledge worker job satisfaction at the Point-of-Work? Do we excel at learning and then fall short of creating an environment where the workforce succeeds at applying that learning to deliver productivity and business value at their Points-of-Work?

The underlying reality and motivation for operational stakeholders making training requests are likely prompted by productivity or performance deficiencies at one or more Points-of-Work. Those requests are based upon a learning culture and a belief that training drives performance, and that perception frames the limits of our existing paradigm. If leadership believes this to be true, how do we take top-down perspectives and successfully assess what bottom-up realities dictate as effective and sustainable solutions that accelerate productivity at the Point-of-Work?

Though accelerated productivity is often not clearly articulated in the original request, no stakeholder turns away from that kind of measurable outcome. Figure 1 is another snippet from the Point-of-Work Assessment (PWA) Workshop and illustrates the assessment flow that begins at the top, or as close to the top as accessible, to understand the perspectives, assumptions, hypotheses, and objectives of the requestor(s). This early effort is essential to establish ALIGNMENT of expectations, urgency, and priorities prompting the request, the target work group, and desired tangible productivity/performance outcomes.

PWA Alignment

Figure 1

Those top-down perspectives often differ from the REALITIES revealed at the Point-of-Work. Assessment at targeted Points-of-Work will render the realities of actual root cause(s) that combine to restrain productivity and sub-par performance known most intimately by the knowledge workers tasked to execute; that degree of intimacy is not part of the reality known by layers of leadership above and far removed from the reality of work. That’s not leadership’s fault; it’s just not in the scope of their own day-to-day reality. It’s part of the ENVIRONMENT we must assess. Earlier, I mentioned leadership assumptions and hypotheses behind training requests…those are the things we must assesstestvalidate or invalidate…based upon the attributes we confirm as realities found at Point-of-Work.

Task-centric and role-specific attributes that limit or restrain productivity at Point-of-Work become the basis for road mapping a blend of solution deliverables from the bottom-up. These attributes define ground zero for deficient productivity and performance outcomes; source information to inform and launch an intentional, blended-solution design project. ORDER-takers formulate solutions based on requests that often are flavored by top-down perspectives of what’s causing the problems. Performance Consultants, on the other hand, absorb the top-down perspectives in order to do a better job with Point-of-Work assessment to enable bottom-up solution recommendations.

No muss, no fuss, right? If only changing traditions were that simple…First things first…

Change Management – Preparing the Environment & Refocusing the Culture

Using the PWA and building holistic learning performance solutions represent our end-game, and the end-game assumes a Learning Performance Paradigm has been adopted as part of what shapes the organization’s culture. Certainly, L&D represents a significant adoptee and plays the primary role in execution in this culture, BUT…L&D and a PWA cannot be sprung upon unsuspecting operational stakeholders as a new secret weapon. Remember, we’ve sold them (for years) on the old paradigm that training drives performance. We have some conversations that need to change in this refocused culture before unleashing a new approach to our response when fielding training requests.

Adoption of a Learning Performance Paradigm (LPP) is not limited to L&D – adoption must include the operational side of the business and have top-down acceptance and have visible, accessible, and engaged sponsorship to be sustainable. LPP needs to become a refocusing force to evolve beyond a limited culture of learning.

Visible and accessible Sponsorship” is essential to establish with comprehensive communications because all levels of management need to be on the same page. This alignment and buy-in is important because “how far from the top” our top-down assessments actually begin will vary depending upon the complexity of the request. From senior leadership, to mid-level, to line-level supervisory management roles need to know and understand the new rules of engagement to expect from L&D. Point-of-Work assessments are not Training Needs Assessments. We are changing things up in the LP Paradigm and cannot not just show up and change the game without warning.

I cannot stress enough that a thorough understanding of the knowledge worker’s ENIVONMENT at their respective Points-of-Work and the underlying influences of CULTURE play in impacting productivity and performance. Here are three perspectives that a PWA considers:

  • Corporate: Culture/Mission/Vision; Corp Communications; Repeatable Change Leadership Model; Reward & Recognition; Empathy; Diversity & Inclusion; etc.
  • Internal: Organizational Design; Degree of Work Difficulty; Cross Team/Departmental Dependencies/Accountability; Budget Restrictions; Urgency/Risk; etc.
  • External: Competition; Product/Service Mix; Company Consolidation; Reduction-n-Force; M&A Implications; Regulatory & Legal Compliance; etc. 

This is not an exhaustive list by any means; rather, an example of numerous attributes that can play a role in restraining productivity/performance. Some of what you see above have tactical implications and other fall into a more personal motivating…or demotivating impact.

PWA interview questions like the following often are dynamic and revealing across multiple work groups:

  • How would you describe the culture in this organization in two or three words?
  • What’s it like to work here in your current role?
  • If you could change anything about your work environment, what would it be? And why?

Closing Thoughts

At the top of my bucket list I’d like to facilitate a discussion in the deep carpet of the board room addressing an organization’s senior leadership and ask the “culture in two or three words question” with instructions to write the words on a sheet of paper…fold the sheet and hand to the person on their right…then go around the table and read them aloud.

What do you think would happen? How closely would their two or three-word descriptions match? Would anyone around the table even agree to the exercise? Or would I receive an invitation to leave? Not sure I’ll ever get to check this adventure off my bucket list, but methinks it would reveal an interesting dynamic at the top, and if the definition of culture varies at that level, what definition and realities exist downstream? I’m certainly not an expert on culture, but am pretty sure asking, “So…what’s it like to work here?” at multiple levels may paint an interesting abstract.

Thanks for reading! As always, I welcome thoughts, ideas and questions should they surface.

Take good care!


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