Yogi Berra, who played for and managed the New York Yankees was giving Joe Garagiola directions when he said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” At another time he told Joe, “I know just where you are. Don’t go the other way, come this way.” Later Yogi wrote, “Joey has known me almost all my life. He always finds me.”

For too many people, this isn’t the case when it comes to finding the information needed, at the time needed, in the form needed to support effective on-the-job performance. Information today is changing and expanding with warp-speed acceleration. Case in point: in the next four years more data will be generated than what has been produced throughout the history of the world to date. (Take a look at this graphic for more detail: http://www.exponentialedge.com/images/expoedge_overload.png )

Change at Warp Speed

You only need to look at the meteoric rise of the internet to get a sense of its enabling influence upon information’s exponential growth. (Figure 1)


Figure 1: Internet growth has fed the growth of information.


This changing, expanding, and accelerating nature of information is presenting us with unprecedented challenges. It’s forcing us to change our paradigms regarding how we find, manage, and use information. To get a feel for this challenge take five and a half minutes and watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4CV05HyAbM .

The curse(s) of information

A recent article, “Information Chaos,” introduced five information challenges facing organizations today (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22086819):

  • Information Overload where there is too much information for the performers “to organize, synthesize, draw conclusions from, or act.”
  • Information Underload where they can’t find enough information to confidently act.
  • Information Scatter where the needed information is in multiple locations which places it at high risk for being ignored.
  • Information conflict where information is duplicated and different creating the challenge of trust (also positioning information at high risk for being ignored.)
  • Erroneous Information where the information is outright wrong creating high risk wherever there is a critical impact of failure.

These “chaos” challenges certainly threaten successful performance in any organization. Strategist Adrian Ott, (The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy, HarperCollins, August 2010) makes this suggestion in response:

“The problem is that people don't have tools to filter information down to the most useful bits with minimal effort. The only choices we have right now are to take everything through our various media sources or shut ourselves off from potential opportunities. Of course that's a false choice because when we let ourselves be inundated by information we miss things anyway — time is the ultimate arbiter of attention. …

Filter failure is a cause … but perhaps more concerning is the rate of filter innovation that fails to keep pace with the explosive growth of information. When information filters are broken, time constraints become the filter. Stress caused by information overload will only get worse unless we rapidly innovate better methods and technologies that enable people to cope.”

Fixing your filters: brokering

Adrian is certainly right in articulating the fundamental need to “filter” all the “chaotic information” that an organization makes available to its people. It is no small challenge to sift through it all to accommodate the unique moment-of-need information requirements of people. But it can be done and it is being done. In the world of Performance Support we call this capacity (to “filter” vast amounts of information “scattered” across many locations to meet the specific performance needs of a person) “brokering.”

Consider the performance support pyramid in Figure 2. It reveals a methodology hierarchy for “filtering” that addresses the evolving information requirements of a performer. This layered approach is a guide for providing fingertip access to the specific information performers need in the context of their performance needs.


Figure 2: A layered approach to filtering


The pyramid shows the workflow process as the overarching context of on-the-job performance. This is a fundamental principle for any performance support solution. At the moment of Apply, there is a fundamental need to get to the specific steps for doing what needs to be done at that moment. Most people think about their work in the context of workflow. That’s why they  call it “workflow.” It is the flow of their work. And a workflow consists of tasks that they need to perform. These tasks have steps. Once a performer gets to the specific steps (within two clicks and ten seconds), there are potentially other needs – beyond the steps. The pyramid in Figure 2 shows the cascading levels of support that are needed to address all Five Moments of Learning Need:

  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; this 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)
  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 example below (Figure 3) shows how this pyramid works in a SalesForce Embedded Performance Support Solution (EPSS.) In this example you see the steps for converting a lead. In this case the pyramid is represented in a tabbed format across the top of the window. The power of this tabbed approach is that the learner is not forced through the pyramid in a top-down or linear fashion. Instead, once the sales team learns how the navigation works, and the type of information found within each tab, they can quickly jump to the level needed.


Figure 3: How the pyramid works


In addition to this pyramid hierarchy, information needs to be filtered (i.e., brokered) based upon other unique contextual needs of performers. There are sub-contexts such as job role, timeline, location, competency level, safety threats, etc., that may merit additional filtering. An effectively designed performance support solution will accommodate the most relevant contextual access requirements.

But remember, at the moment of Apply there isn’t the luxury of time to search through endless hits offered up by search engines, wander through Web sites, or dive down into a Learning Management System to find, and then plow through, an eLearning module to get to just what is needed. This simply doesn’t work at the moment of Apply. Performers need to get to contextual help within two clicks or ten seconds. They then need to be able to get to deeper references as needed.

Embeddedness and time to performance

The pyramid is the methodology for organizing information for effective intuitive access once you have gotten to the right task-level help. There is also the factor of embeddedness that influences speed of access and the subsequent translation to effective on-the-job performance.

Embeddedness is fundamentally determined by two principles: the proximity of the EPSS solution to the person at the moment of Apply, and the immediacy in which the performer is able to access the specific task (2-clicks) and then interpret and begin to act upon the information and help once they get to it (10-seconds).

This combination of proximity and immediacy, as Figure 4 demonstrates, directly impacts “time to performance.” Remember, you want your EPSS to enable your performance within 10 seconds. If employees have to devote valuable work energy and time to simply get to the performance support solution, they most likely won’t make the effort. (This is the proximity variable.) For example, if a sales person must step away from the customer and go to another area on the sales floor to access specific product information, it most likely won’t happen. The solution is too far away from the place of performance. It’s isn’t “proximate” enough to really help. It isn’t embedded at the right point in the workflow process.

At the same time, if the product information is in a handheld device and the sales person accesses the product information needed within two clicks, but then cannot make enough sense of the information to act upon it given the specific sales information needed, then it hinders the “immediacy” or time to action. It is vital that the information be intuitive and relevant to the performance need and that it not require significant interpretation effort to act successfully.

Figure 4: Proximity and immediacy directly impact time to performance


It takes more than just the Pyramid!

As mentioned, these two dimensions determine the “embeddedness” of a performance support solution. An EPSS provides contextual access to the steps and related resources that a performer needs to successfully perform on the job. The pyramid methodology is a vital organizational requirement. But remember it needs to have all the qualities of embeddedness described above. Do this, and you’re well on your way to designing and deploying effective Embedded Performance Support Solutions.

Of course, there is more that merits consideration. Stay tuned for the final article in this Performance Support series. It will describe the need for, and what your performance support infrastructure needs to include, to be able to: build, deploy, and manage the kind of Embedded Performance Support Solutions described in this and the previous articles.