Is L&D Held Hostage by Learning?

There’s a really good chance this title will “poke the bear” but then maybe the bear needs a little poke. After 35+ years in corporate L&D, I look back and see the first 20+ doing excellent work as a sales trainer and in various team and senior leadership roles yet only managing to amass an impressive string of failures. Not failures in producing top-drawer learning solutions; rather, failures in NOT consistently accelerating productivity at Point-of-Work. My “poke” surfaced during a successful first-of-four phases of SAP deployment followed by a botched implementation. Maybe botched is too strong…how about less than optimized? We realized we needed rescued in the next three phases, so we called in SWAT – Special Weapons and Technology.

My “poke” manifested in the reality that we (L&D) successfully deployed excellent blended learning for various SAP end-user roles, but we failed to implement enabled workforce performance at the Point-of-Work. In our defense, implementation was not part of our scope. We trained end-users. Period. And were damn good at it. Had a top-o-the-line LMS. Life was good and complete…BUT…it was proven then…and even now that the best training will not sustain performance at Point-of-Work. That fact is at the core of our Hostage by Learning Crisis.

Learning assets the team developed were great; facilitation over our new distance learning platform whacked 70% off travel-to-train expenses; and despite those innovations of the day, our solutions proved to be limited in enabling positive post-training results. The good news was that this was only phase one with three more phases to follow.

We could prove knowledge transfer…also known as “potential”…at completion of our learning events, but we were not focused on nor were we equipped to implement that learning downstream at Point-of-Work where “effective and sustainable performance” SHOULD manifest. Just ask the Help Desk staff blown out with an avalanche of post-training questions. Just ask the Procurement staff pulled off task to isolate and recycle bogus requests due to data field entry errors. Just ask the HR staff buried in Manager Self-Service confusion. Just ask the frustrated end-users who fought through delays in getting help at their moments of need…and there were plenty. Did we ultimately implement and slog toward full adoption? Yes…but at what cost?

The actual events I’ve just described are not exclusive to SAP integrations. Pick any enterprise-level business application. Not picking on any vendors, nor well-known technologies like the LMS. Software and technology get blamed for many evils, but they deliver exactly what they were designed and programmed to deliver. Add humans at GoLive and stir at the Point-of-Work and a disruptive brew boils over restraining workflow productivity and diverting/delaying profitability. Successful implementation should shape our ground zero objective. Why endure the added costs and precious time resources that could be reduced…if not eliminated entirely?

SWAT Storms the Ecosystem

Special Weapons and Technology was called in for our subsequent deployment phases. Our key weapon was an early version of what I now call Point-of-Work Assessment – PWA that road mapped and prioritized task-centric and role-specific workflow challenges BEFORE any training development started. Another weapon enabled by PWA findings was prioritizing and shrinking learning objects by embedding “How To” performance support directly into formal training assets… reducing training time by half.

The concept of embedded performance support was enabled by integration of Productivity Acceleration Technology…known in those days as Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS). The PA Tech killed two birds with one stone for us. First, it brought Point-of-Work into formal learning events/venues at Point-of-Entry and taught end-users “how to fish”. They used the PA Tech to access performance support assets necessary to complete transactions as they worked their way through those same exact transactions that would face them at their ultimate Points-of-Work. Secondly, a thread of continuity was established because the same performance support assets used in training were delivered contextually via the PA Tech integrated within the SAP workflow. No longer would an end-user need to bail out of SAP to go find the answer…and calls to the Help Desk were reduced by over 40%.

Closing Thoughts

Over the last 12 or so years I’ve been blessed to be in organizations who bought into the Point-of-Work Solution Discipline. Granted the “discipline” had not been formalized with a name yet but was a work-in-progress that’s resolved into a dynamic best practice.  Dynamic? Yes, it has to be dynamic because each organization is unique despite a number of core common denominators…never mind the continuous nature of change. The discipline is iterative and repeatable and scalable and fits organizations of any size.

Today, PA Tech is plunging toward cloud-based architecture, and there are multiple vendors in this space. Some are 100% cloud-based, others only partially. Every one of these vendors has one or more sweet spots (core capabilities), which puts the onus on the buyer to make sure their sweet-spots-of-need match up with the sweet-spot-of-core-system-capability. Until a compatibility match is made, step away from the shiny new tech.

Keep in mind that matching business requirements only reveals a current state snapshot. Consider Digital Transformation and we find a perfect fit for PA Tech solutions. Then consider the enormity of the digital transition life cycle that could take years to complete. Are current state requirements sufficient to buy into PA Tech you hope to utilize into the future?

And probably the question near and dear to my passions, “Are your current L&D team resources at a state of readiness to adopt SWAT tactics?” Check out the Point-of-Work Assessment – PWA Methodology and I think you will see that in many respects we have indeed been held hostage by a limited scope learning paradigm when we should be equipped and engaged across the entirety of our dynamic learning performance ecosystem.

Does all this sound like the domain of Fortune sized organizations? It did back in those early days of my SAP poking event, but with the advent of digital cloud-based PA Tech, the doors of opportunity for small-to-medium sized businesses have been kicked in by SWAT opportunities galore. The question is where do you begin?

Maybe it really is time to poke the status quo bear and consider what an evolved L&D role as aligned with your ecosystem looks like. Are your team skills and appetite for change at a state of readiness to extend beyond “learning” and start “enabling performance” at Point-of-Work where productivity gets accelerated along with profitability. That’s an opportunity for a business of any size.

Thanks for reading, and as always, if comments or ideas, please share. If questions or clarifications around the PWA Methodology and/or PWA Workshop surface, just ping me.

Take good care!


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