Performance support (PS), when done right, enables effective performance in the workplace. In other words, PS helps people do what the organization needs them to do (independently and together) to continuously accomplish its strategic objectives.

The performance support spectrum

Effective performance in the workplace must be the end game for every learning solution we build (read Make Effective Performance Your Reality). Ignoring PS puts everything else we do at risk. Embracing PS rescues it all.

For example, the right kind of PS eliminates the “learning death spiral” where what was learned evaporates following a training event. PS can also collapse the time it takes to make the transition from what they learned in the classroom to successful on-the-job performance. When built properly, performance support facilitates rapid unlearning and relearning—so when markets shift abruptly, employees can adapt ahead of that change. And when things don’t go right in the workplace, PS can help employees immediately resolve those problems (read Are You Meeting All Five Moments of Learning Need?).

Figure 1 shows the performance support spectrum. Only PS solutions mapping to the higher end of this spectrum can hope to consistently deliver the kind of benefits described above.

Figure 1: The performance support spectrum depicts the range of solutions in order of increasing benefits

In this reality, every organization ought to figure out where they currently fit in the spectrum and then, if they’re not where they need to be, chart a course to get to the right level of business benefit. The last place a company should be is unwittingly sitting at the bottom end of this spectrum expecting benefits that simply aren’t possible.

Where are you in the spectrum?

Here’s an example to help you figure out where you are and where along the spectrum you need to go. Suppose you wanted to use your DVR to capture a favorite new series on television and just couldn’t remember how to record the entire season. At this moment of need, the ways for getting the help you need to successfully complete this task span the performance-support spectrum.

Your first option is to take a scattered information approach. This requires you to go searching for the right manual. You would need to leave the TV and go rummage around in a manuals drawer, trying to locate the correct booklet. This scavenger-hunt approach violates the three fundamental principles of performance support. The first is: embedded. A PS solution is embedded to the degree it minimizes leaving the performance environment to get the help you need (Figure 2). The more immediate and effortless it is to get to the PS solution, the more deeply embedded it is. In this example it’s shallow.

Figure 2: Embedded performance solution: the first principle

Once you find the right manual and turn to the table of contents, you meet the second fundamental principle of performance support: context (Figure 3). In this case, they organized the manual alphabetically according to each feature on the DVR. You turn to the index, and none of the many different listings under “record” makes sense to you. Neither the table of contents, nor the index, reflects your specific contextual need, which is functional. Since the manual has a different logic in how it’s organized, you are forced to waste even more time and effort searching for the specific steps you need. In the real world, a PS solution must accommodate intuitive access according to the specific roles and varying access (contextual) needs a performer might have. In this case you needed functional access as well as feature access.

Figure 3: Context: the second principle

Once you find what appears to be the correct section, the third fundamental principle comes into play: just enough (Figure 4). In a scattered information approach, the information isn’t immediately actionable. It has everything you might ever need to know about recording, but it forces you to boil it all down into actionable steps. In this case, as you read through all of the recording information, you grab a marker to highlight the information that relates to your specific need. You extract the five steps you need to follow and write them down on a scrap of paper. You then return to your TV with your home-made job aid and the highlighted manual (just in case.) You then attempt to follow the steps, which don’t give you enough information to succeed. After rereading through the more detailed information you’ve highlighted in the manual you finally successfully program your DVR.

When information is in the form you need to rapidly translate it to actual performance, you have “just enough.” This principle also provides the option to dive deeper if needed. You can accomplish this by providing cascading levels of information. If the manual was organized following the “just enough” principle, it would have had a set of quick steps providing just enough information for someone with previous DVR experience to quickly scan and act. If that’s not enough, there would also be more detailed steps to provide a second (cascading) level of support (read Ten Seconds: Performance Support in Two Clicks).

Figure 4: Just enough: the third principle

There must be a better way!

You’ve most likely experienced this scattered information approach, since it’s the approach many organizations take today. Instead of a going to a manual drawer, finding a manual, and then searching through it, employees go searching for information scattered across and down into SharePoint sites. There may have been a time when people, including you, had the time, or the willingness, to make this scavenger hunt, but it’s not an effective one in today’s demanding work environment. The business impact of this approach is “low” (Figure 5).

Figure 5: The benefits and characteristics of performance support also vary across the spectrum

Introducing “Targeted Performance Support”

Recently we helped a client develop a rapid proof-of-concept of what we call a “targeted performance support solution” in an effort to help them escape the chaos of scattered information.

They had amassed job aids, FAQs, tools, templates, demos, and a broad range of learning resources, and moved them onto multiple SharePoint sites. They were somewhere between a 1 and a 2 on the PS spectrum, but they wanted to move up due to the positive effects PS could have on their organization

So how does targeted performance support differ? Let’s go back to a different DVR example. Instead of getting up off the couch and leaving your workflow to find the manual, you grab your laptop and log in to your account on your cable TV provider’s website. Here, you immediately find and click on a “How to” button. A functional listing of tasks appears. You click on a second link that says “Record a TV Series” and you find what you need offered in a “just enough” format starting with Steps (if you need a reminder), then Details (if it’s your first time), then Deeper Reference (if you’re an a/v geek).

This targeted performance support moves up the spectrum from “low” or “marginal” to “tangible.” Productivity rises because employees know where to go to find answers, easily find directions to the right support topic, and obtain optimum support that provides answers in seconds. Help desk costs decrease as users receive the support they need without needing to make a call. It is in phase three of the performance support spectrum (Figure 1) when performance support really happens.

It gets even better: smart performance support

Now, back to a final DVR example for the top part of the spectrum. Instead of getting off the couch in search of a manual or pulling out your laptop to log in to your account, in your moment of need, while stuck on the recording screen, you simply press a support button on your remote. The DVR knows you’re on the recording screen, so you receive the quick steps you need to record an entire series—all without needing to leave the couch (i.e., the workflow). You spend no time searching. No time reading through information you won’t use. You don’t trip up trying to remember any passwords. There is no wasted time. You had a moment of need, and, without stepping away from what you’re doing, you got an immediate, almost effortless solution, and you’re back to what you were doing.

Phases four and five of the performance support spectrum (Figure 1) are what we call “smart performance support.” The system detects context and uses it to automatically provide support nested deeply within the environment, including the technology in which you’re working (software, mobile device, etc.). It “knows” you and knows what you’re doing, or trying to do, and therefore is able to serve you with the exact information you need at your moments of need.

The payoff for change

The benefits are significant and can be transformational in terms of productivity gained, help desk costs reduced, processes complied with, etc. This is where organizations need to boldly go.

If you’re in the lower part of the spectrum, it’s time to move. The journey pays for itself in performance and productivity gains, in savings of time and money, and in the benefits of process compliance. Cigna, Herman Miller, and Deloitte are doing it with these results:

  • An $8,640 productivity savings per employee because employees aren’t wasting 2.4 hours of work time each week searching for answers
  • A six to eight percent increase in daily work productivity
  • A 15 percent year-over-year reduction in help desk calls
  • Call durations for standard call types significantly reduced
  • Up to 70 percent reduction in instructor-led training
  • Adding PS reduces time-to-competency by half

This level of business impact requires a systematic methodology fueled by the right technology. If you want to some help with that, then join us at the Performance Support Symposium in Boston. We’ll see you there and help you move up the spectrum!