Let’s play pretend. Imagine that you‘re a sales manager for a major pharmaceutical company. Six months ago you rolled out a new process to help your sales representatives assess RFPs (requests for proposals) and opportunities to determine the likelihood of winning the business. The process is built around reviewing a customer’s RFP, completing three Excel worksheets, and then drawing conclusions based on your data. You introduced the process through a series of webinars that seemed to go well, but your team is struggling to implement the new program. You turn to your training manager for help.

She asks you and some key members of your team questions about the steps in the process, why people are struggling, and what outcomes you expect to achieve. One week later she comes back with two options. The training team can either develop a thirty to forty-five minute eLearning module that will provide clear instruction on how to work through the Excel worksheets or they can design a half-day workshop to do the same. The eLearning will be ready in eight to ten weeks and cost $25,000 to produce. The ILT will be ready in four to five weeks and cost $15,000 to produce plus travel costs.

You listen politely and tell her you’ll get back to her shortly. It’s a classic training solution, right? But here’s the problem—you can’t wait even one week to get a solution in-place given the pressure you’re under to improve sales. You don’t have any budget allocated to training, and the last thing you want to do is pull your team from the field for more training that may or may not work. As you bury your head in your hands, you think there must be a better way.

As this vignette illustrates, traditional training approaches often don’t fit the needs of the business. This is especially true as the pace of change continues to accelerate. Many teams just don’t have the luxury to wait a couple of months while training is developed. They need performance support now, and it needs to fit into the work they’re already doing, not be an unnatural step out of their workflow. As the 70:20:10 model tells us, most of what we learn, we learn in the flow of our work through our daily tasks, not in formal training. Like a child learning how to walk, we learn by taking our lumps and then picking ourselves up and trying again until we get it right. It jives with our own experiences and memories.

Five steps to support on-the-job learning

So as L&D professionals, how do we shift our focus to supporting the 70 percent of learning and development that takes place through day-to-day tasks? How about moving away from formal training interventions to providing support for work in real-time through structure, coaching, and documentation? At Kineo, we’ve coined the phrase “mentored tasks” for these kinds of experiences.

Mentored tasks typically include the following elements:

  1. A breakdown of the process or procedure into discrete steps
  2. Clear expectations for what needs to be accomplished, including rubrics against which to evaluate performance
  3. Checkpoints for the learner to present their progress and get feedback from an experienced mentor
  4. Supporting resources and instruction on the process
  5. Feedback loops throughout the process

Let’s revisit the pharmaceutical rep example to see how a mentored task could play out for the sales team.

  • In this case, the mentored task might be broken down into five discrete steps. Step one occurs when the pharma rep reviews the RFP. Steps two through four occur when they complete each of the three worksheets.
  • For each step of the task, reps have access to simple “how to” guides in the form of support videos. More than just how-to guides, these videos demonstrate how the thought process works. You hear an experienced manager working through the worksheets and describing his or her decision-making process. Remember, the outcome of the task is to determine the probability of winning the business.
  • The pharmaceutical representative is expected to complete the worksheets to the best of their ability.
  • As reps complete each worksheet, they present the worksheet to their manager who reviews their work and provides coaching, feedback, and insights.
  • Managers have a rubric for each worksheet that provides guidance on evaluating the quality of input (Figure 1). The rubric can be as simple as a Word document or annotated spreadsheet that helps the manager identify what to look for, typical mistakes that reps make, and how to adjust them for a better outcome. The rubric needs to be clear—something managers can grasp without themselves having to do a lot of additional training.

Figure 1: This is an example of a stakeholder map tool, a rubric that stakeholders can follow as they complete each task

With the mentored-tasks approach, sales reps start working through the process immediately. Managers are prepared and willing to provide short coaching sessions, both in person or through screen shares or video calls. This agile approach gives the reps feedback at each step of the process and can be scaled back over time as the rep achieves mastery of the process.

An agile approach for agile organizations

Supporting today’s agile organization with training solutions is difficult. And while ILT (instructor-led training), eLearning, and blended solutions will continue to be important parts of the L&D toolkit, we also need solutions that address pressing matters and move at the same speed our businesses move.

Mentored tasks enable training professionals to act like personal trainers. Suppose a personal trainer’s clients want to lose weight and feel healthier (they even get to the gym two or three times a week but aren’t getting results). The personal trainer can come in and diagnose why they are struggling, give them workout schedules, some dietary information, and tips on form and technique. After a few weeks of coaching, they are healthier and stronger. A few weeks later, they hit a plateau and the personal trainer comes back to provide more coaching—perhaps a change in routine, some new tips to keep their workout fresh, and fresh motivation.

In much the same way, mentored tasks empower managers and front line leaders to coach and lead their teams. Team performance improves, and your leaders get more experience in providing the expertise and support that your employees need for the entire business to succeed. It’s a win-win for everyone. The L&D team’s role in this process is to set up the structure and find a solution that fits into the workflow in a natural way. Yes, it’s different than creating a traditional eLearning or ILT course, but it’s looking at ways to fit support and solutions into people’s natural ways of learning. Times have changed. It’s time we change with them.

From the Editor

To go further in your exploration of performance support in the real-time workflow through structure, coaching, and documentation, join us at The eLearning Guild’s Performance Support Symposium, coming up June 10 – 12 in Austin, Texas! The Performance Support Symposium 2015 is the only event dedicated to the topic of performance support and the goal of delivering small amounts of information directly into workflows when and where it is needed to enhance on-the-job performance.

When you register for the Performance Support Symposium 2015, you will also receive admission to all sessions at mLearnCon 2015, co-located with the symposium.  mLearnCon 2015 is North America’s leading mobile learning conference and expo, focused on applying mobile technologies in the context of learning and support, the strategies for integrating these technologies into the training mix, and the best practices for designing, developing, and delivering mobile content. 

Registration for Performance Support Symposium 2015 includes access to the mLearnCon 2015 Expo, an outstanding opportunity to explore a highly focused collection of key vendors offering leading learning technologies, tools, products, and services for mobile applications!