Today’s modern workforce is used to accessing tools that help them perform tasks in their daily lives—whether they pull out a GPS to get from point A to point B, or use a software application, like TurboTax, to guide them through the tax reporting process. But while these same workers are required to know more information and use more technology than ever before in their jobs, this is where they have the least support. This disconnect is creating a huge gap between employers’ expectations and employees’ ability to actually meet them.

Enter performance support

Performance support moves beyond traditional event-based learning to include “tools and resources that augment training in the field and enable workers to achieve and exceed a competent level of performance on the job whenever and wherever they need it” (according to our discussion with learning expert Marc Rosenberg).

While this concept was introduced more than 20 years ago, learning organizations are only now starting to pay attention—with a grudgingly slow adoption rate. This is increasing the risk that, in an attempt to increase job efficiency and effectiveness, employees will struggle to find their own independent solutions that aren’t consistent with organizational requirements.

How to bridge the gap

In a typical scenario, employees participate in a training event, return to work and are expected to apply that learning to their specific roles. But since the brain is prone to memory loss, employees are left to fend for themselves when they can’t remember a process or recall the next steps they need to take to perform their job functions. And this lack of post-training support, leaves them more prone to errors and less likely to perform to the best of their ability.

To bridge this gap, organizations need to move towards a more continuous learning model that extends beyond an initial training event to include learning reinforcement as well as performance support on the job. Here’s how:

Step 1—Get support from management at all levels

Traditionally, learning professionals have been challenged with getting management support, especially for something that’s different from their traditional mission (training). But before any changes can be made within the organization, gaining alignment is a critical first step. Rosenberg agrees: “Performance support is influencing the way work gets done. That means learning professionals need support not just from senior executives, but from all levels of management—especially at the front line—to make changes.”

Step 2—Change the organizational mindset

Instead of focusing on one-size-fits-all training opportunities, learning professionals need to embrace a more holistic view of learning that involves applying various learning approaches, such as eLearning, on-the-job training, information reinforcement, and more, to meet specific individual and organizational needs. “I see it as an ecosystem—a whole variety of approaches,” says Rosenberg. “We need to be smart about how we choose them and how we implement them as well.” Learning professionals also need to highlight the benefits of this type of approach to challenge traditional thinking. Aside from helping people do their jobs better, performance support provides more streamlined operations, decreases error rates and improves customer service. Rosenberg also emphasizes the added benefits of increasing employee retention and engagement: “When employees believe the tools they have to do their job are well-designed, efficient, and smart, they’re more likely to stay in an organization than if they’re constantly struggling with bad processes and work-arounds,” he says.

Step 3—Balance performance support tools with core knowledge requirements

There’s always a base level of knowledge employees must have to do their jobs well. While organizations won’t benefit from a workforce that can’t think independently, they also won’t succeed if employees can’t perform to the best of their ability. So, it’s important to balance required job knowledge and cognitive skills with job support tools that will help employees achieve desired results. My view of training in the future is this delicate balance between what you need to learn and when you need to learn it, and what you need to be supported on, on the job, and when you need that support,” says Rosenberg. “I think that is one of the key decision-point challenges and value-added roles of a future instructional designer or learning professional. They’ll have to make these kinds of judgments.”

Closing the gap is the key to better organizational performance

Closing the gap between training and job performance won’t happen overnight. But, it’s likely not as big of a stretch as organizations may think. Performance support systems and tools, from software tools and apps to curated knowledge bases and job aids, already exist. The next step is to integrate these solutions into an expanding learning solutions repertoire. Only then will learning professionals be able to formalize the approach into a sound strategy that maximizes performance support across the organization.

From the Editor

It’s not too late 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 next week, June 10 – 12 in Austin, Texas! The Performance Support Symposium 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 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!