In our first article in the Performance Support series we suggested that our industry has been a bit lost in the context of taking learners on the journey to sustained, successful on-the-job performance. (Figure 1)


Figure 1: Faster time to competency through embedded performance support

Many organizations still struggle to break free from a traditional formal “learning event” paradigm that focuses only on the train stage in the graphic above. Consider this, though: Isn’t it our core mission to develop learning solutions that ensure people can perform effectively when they are called upon to act? (See the Transfer and Sustain stages in the graphic above.)

Think about how your organization is approaching training today. Are your sights squarely on the moment of apply, when people are in the workflow performing the work of the organization?

In the past we might have been able to ignore this vital moment and still somehow stumble into successful on-the-job performance. The nature of the world today simply won’t let us do that. It demands that we turn our attention to the workflow and deliver the support employees need to not only be competent at their work, but to also sustain that competency in an ever-changing environment.

Yogi Berra, Yankee baseball legend and sometimes philosopher, once said, “You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going ‘cause you might not get there!” Although his statement is a bit challenging to sort out, it actually describes this fundamental problem we have been writing about. Our profession has been myopically focused on learning solutions that take people out of their workflow to learn. The minute someone takes an eLearning module they stop doing their work, even though they may still be sitting at their workstation. The same holds true with a live Web class or regular classroom instruction. Some organizations claim a blended learning approach that consists only of blending eLearning modules with classroom instruction, perhaps with some on-the-job coaching mixed in. All of this involves work stoppage and is still removed from those moments when learners are actually doing the work of the organization. In the figure above, they still face the challenge of transferring what they have learned to optimal performance in their own work environment and then to flourishing in their work through collaboration, adaptation, and innovation.

ELearning, instructor-led training, and on-the-job coaching are certainly important avenues for formal learning, but if all your organization is doing is developing and delivering learning solutions through one or a blend of these delivery modalities, then your approach is short-sighted. There is a high probability that many of your learners will falter in their performance when it really counts—when they are performing on the job. And those who achieve on-the-job competency will have most likely required more time than needed to get there.

Our work must have as its primary focus the objective of optimum on-the-job competency, at every changing moment. The only way to get there is by first understanding the full journey learners need to make and then by taking the necessary steps to provide the support needed along the way.

Ask yourself this question: To what degree is my organization addressing the entire journey performers make from the beginning stages of learning through the full range of challenges that can occur at the moment of apply, when learners are called upon to actually perform?

To answer this question accurately, you must understand the five fundamental moments that comprise the full spectrum of performance support needs. These “Five Moments of Need” provide an overarching framework for helping learners become and remain competent in their individual and collective work.

Here they are:

  1. When people are learning how to do something for the first time (New);
  2. When people are expanding the breadth and depth of what they have learned (More);
  3. When they need to act upon what they have learned, which includes planning what they will do, remembering what they may have forgotten, or adapting their performance to a unique situation (Apply);
  4. When problems arise, or things break or don’t work the way they were intended (Solve); and,
  5. When people need to learn a new way of doing something, which requires them to change skills that are deeply ingrained in their performance practices (Change).

The people we are charged to train and support deserve intuitive, tailored aid that is orchestrated in a way to ensure the most effective personal and collective performance during all five of these moments of need.

What Is the Role of Performance Support at the Moment of Apply?

This is the sweet spot of performance support. There is much that can and needs to occur here. And today we can do more than we have been able to do in the past. When people are at this moment, when they need to actually perform on the job, they need instant access to tools that will intuitively help them do just that—perform. This help must be immediate and tailored to the role and situation of the performer. The aid needs to allow the performer to dive as deep as necessary, depending upon his or her need to plan, remember, adapt, or reference information required for successful performance.

What Are the Roles of New and More at the Moment of Apply?

Although the first two moments of need (learn new and learn more) are initially satisfied by the development and delivery of formal learning solutions, these two can also occur at the moment of apply. It is highly probable that, in today’s work environment, a performer may need to learn something for the first time, or learn more right at the moment of apply—when there simply isn’t time to step away from the workflow and take a traditional course. Performers need to learn in real-time, while on the job, at the moment of apply.



What Is the Role of Performance Support at the Moment of Solve?

One of the realities of life is that things don’t always work the way they’re supposed to; life doesn’t always happen according to a script. And sometimes, in our rapid pursuit of doing what we need to do, we make the wrong turn and experience those unique learning moments called road blocks or even failure. In the New Normal, it isn’t enough to know how to do something correctly; it is also vital to be able to diagnose and solve problems that happen along the way. The situations we call “problems” can be caused by unforeseen circumstances, other people, and ourselves. Regardless of the source, these moments of solve require diagnostic skills coupled with performance support.

The traditional organizational bandage for solving problems that arise in the workflow are help desks and sometimes intentionally created support networks, both backed by capable trouble shooters. When life was copasetic, with only a few twists or turns along the way, this was a sufficient solution. But today this model alone won’t solve the solving challenge. The New Normal has shifted the definition of competence from simply applying knowledge and skills to continually acquiring and adapting knowledge and skills. Competence is now a matter of individual learning agility and the moments of solve are prime contributors to the agility challenge.

Learners, today, must be comfortable in their ability to solve unanticipated challenges. They must have confidence in the very act of not knowing. They must be disposed to face challenges beyond their current knowledge and skills. This confidence at these critical moments will come from:

  • A performance support infrastructure that has anticipated their needs at the moment of solve;
  • The training learners have received to engage such tools in solving problems;
  • The on-the-job successes they have along the way; and,
  • Organizational acceptance of failed attempts that may happen in the process.

In addition, social media technologies provide a remarkable opportunity for instantaneous access to the collective wisdom within, and beyond, the organizations we serve. Immediate collaboration at the moment of solve combined with access to the information individuals need to resolve the core challenges that come their way are the scalable resources needed to meet the demands of the New Normal—a work environment in a state of constant flux.

What Is the Role of Performance Support At the Moment of Change?

This moment of need has been the least attended to, and yet is the most challenging. And since we don’t attend to it very well, it is often the most costly to organizations. Once skills have become ingrained into the work practices of people and organizations, replacing those out-of-date practices with new ways of performing is a significant learning challenge. This need cannot be adequately met by only putting performers into formal learning solutions devoted to teaching the new ways of doing things. In addition, these performers absolutely need job aids that will guide them through the new way each time they are called upon by their job to perform. This challenge is ultimately resolved on the job over time.

Change impacts how we address the moment of apply. Change is a fundamental reality in today’s work environment, often unpredictable, absolutely unrelenting, and, more often than not, terribly unforgiving. Alvin Toffler, writer and futurist, has observed that change, today, is “non-linear and can go backwards, forwards, and sideways." He further describes how we must respond to this dynamic change environment in his book Rethinking the Future:

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."

The fundamental difference between how we support performers at the moment of change and how we support them at the moment of apply lies in the unique requirements change makes of performers to unlearn and then relearn a new way. Our profession, for the most part, hasn’t provided the support it can and should when performers face this performance twist. Here are a couple of recommendations.

Take on the Challenge of Deep Rooted Change
Years ago, after completing work for a client, a participant in the project offered to provide a ride to the airport to allow continued discussion. After a long drive, seeing no planes in the air anywhere, the question arose, “How long before we arrive at the airport?” As the driver hit his brakes he turned and said, “I’m almost home.”

Has something like this ever happened to you—where you have acted in an automated way? The cognitive principle at play in such circumstances is automaticity. Things that we do, over and over, tend to become automated in our skill set—to the point that we can do them without conscious thought. And when this has occurred within a workforce, and the workforce is then called upon to change that automated performance, that’s when organizations face one of the most significant performer support challenges possible.

Software companies have paid dearly in their failure to provide meaningful solutions to this moment of change where skills have become deep-rooted. For example, it is not uncommon to see software vendors force-feed newly released software upgrades through their market channels. There is often very little pull from the marketplace. Why? Because with all their hyped capabilities, the software too often lacks the performance support infrastructure necessary to help people unlearn their automated skills and relearn how to perform the same tasks within the new software, as well as use the many new features offered in the new version. If these vendors would provide this type of support, the uptake by their existing customer-base would not only be dramatically faster (thereby accelerating revenues) but the good will generated within that customer-base would suppress competing market forces.

When organizations face any major change initiative, there is high probability that there are deep-rooted skills that require overriding. This can best be done with a robust performance support solution that supports performers in their workflow, at the moment of apply, when they are called upon to unlearn and relearn. Too few change initiatives adequately make this crucial investment.

This challenge of deep-rooted change has been around for a long time. We now have the knowledge and wherewithal to address it directly. We simply need to understand the realities of deep-rooted change and step up to it, ahead of it, before it’s upon us.

Gloria Gery pioneered the initial ideas and practices of performance support. Unfortunately, they were never fully realized. The movement waned after a short period of adulation because of technological challenges that, by the way, no longer exist.

It is time for organizations to broaden their view to meet all five learning needs described above.

It simply isn’t acceptable to throw learners over the classroom and/or eLearning wall into the workflow and then hope that what we did during the online or class event will magically transfer to successful job performance. It doesn’t. We know full well that learning doesn’t stick unless you put in place provisions that support performance in the workflow, that the success that does occur isn’t all that could occur if we attended to the principles and practices of performance support. And the good news is that doing this doesn’t require more effort than what most are doing now. It does, however, require a mind-set shift. It also necessitates that we redirect current efforts to bring about this alignment.

This article isn’t a proposal to overthrow formal learning, or to diminish the vital role that trainers play. But we are advocating that we move much of what we do as far into the natural workflow of the organization as possible; we need to avoid, when we can, pulling people from their work for large periods of time to learn. There has never been a time when we have had greater capacity to do this than now. The journey, for any organization, begins by broadening the scope of our work to include the Five Moments of Learning Need. We have three more articles in this series to help you know more on how to actually make this journey. Stay tuned.