It seldom rains in the high desert valleys of southern Utah. Planting crops and keeping them green requires preparation, work, and the miracle of snow. During the winter, snow falls in the mountains around these desert valleys. In the spring it gradually melts and replenishes reservoirs. Water is then systematically released through dams into rivers, channeled off into canals, and finally delivered to farms at periodic intervals called “water-turns.”

The Performance Support Series


Here’s how a water-turn works:

Crop survival depends upon the judicious soaking of every part of every field. This process of soaking a field is called “flood irrigating,” which involves pushing and regulating water out from a dammed up ditch into six-inch deep channels dug into the dirt, called furrows. These furrows run the entire length of a section of the field. Once the water reaches the end of the row and is given just enough time to thoroughly soak the ground, the water is moved to another section of the field. This process is continued until all sections are watered. The challenge is that water is limited and a given field can have many thousands of rows. If the water doesn’t get to the end of every row and the ground isn’t soaked evenly, then the plants in those under-watered parts of the field will most likely wither in the sun, harming the overall productivity of the field.

Here’s a reality: a high desert farm will fail if it attempts to flood irrigate without putting in place the capacity to systematically deliver water to each and every plant. Furrows provide this capacity. Without them water may or may not make it to every plant. Of course, water must be channeled in the right amount in every furrow to keep the field alive. But furrows provide the means to efficiently deliver the right amount of water to each of the plants in the field.

Infrastructure supports performance support

Organizations have a similar need. They must put in place the means to deliver to every employee just what is needed, in the way it’s needed, to support effective performance. These kinds of “furrows” channel the delivery of immediate, intuitive, tailored aid while employees are doing the work of the organization. There is no way an organization can be, and remain, competent without putting in place a performance support (PS) infrastructure that delivers this kind of support directly in the workflow.

A vital role of this performance support architecture is to facilitate the transfer and sustainment of that training, so that the PS resources (water) always makes it to the “end of the row” – in other words, so they deliver to every performer at the right moment of time just what is required to enable effective performance at every changing moment.

A performance support architecture has at its core software that authors, brokers, manages, and deploys performance support solutions that do this. This is no small task. This functionality includes the ability to:

  • Provide immediate workflow access (two clicks/10 seconds) to the specific steps and associated details a performer needs to perform effectively. This requires managing two fundamental types of content as reusable objects: the tasks and their associated concepts. They are the core reusable objects associated with an effective performance support strategy. This is the content that addresses the top of the PS Pyramid (see our previous article: “Ten Seconds: Performance Support in Two Clicks” and Figure 1).

Figure 1: Tasks and concepts are the fundamental reusable objects for performance support at the top of the Performance Support Pyramid

  • Broker scattered resources. The bottom half of the Performance Support Pyramid addresses the need performers have to be able to access related reference, learning, and people resources as they perform a given task. These resources are generally located in many different places. “Brokering” is the process of making these contextually available in this way at any point of the workflow process. These resources, for the most part, need to remain at their various locations under the care of those who create and maintain them. But the PS authoring software must be able to readily integrate with the technologies where these resources are housed (e.g., learning management system, document management system, SharePoint, etc.). (Figure 2)

Figure 2: Brokering makes resources contextually available to performers when and where they need them

At the moment of apply, there isn’t the time or disposition to visit multiple sites, log-on to different systems, and narrow search terms in an effort to find the information needed. The PS infrastructure must provide a robust brokering capability in support of the pyramid methodology described above.

  • Keep information current through single-source publishing. The PS architecture needs to provide an object-oriented authoring capability that allows a single point of maintenance and the reuse of these content objects to readily publish to any given performance support solution. One of the fundamental requirements of performance support is its accessibility at the moment of need. Employees tend to be mobile and therefore need access to performance support through a range of channels or modalities. (Figure 3)

Figure 3: Mobile performance support requires a range of channels, or modalities

This allows immediate access wherever performers are physically located. When information and resources are published out through these modalities, keeping this content up-to-date through single-source publishing is a vital capability of a PS architecture.

One of the key performance support opportunities is software-embedded performance support. Any PS technology infrastructure worth its salt includes the capability to readily integrate performance support into software applications (providing pyramid-rich performance support within the applications that are contextual to the specific circumstances and needs of every user).

  • Manage the functionality within and across all PS solutions. In addition to authoring and brokering, the PS infrastructure must provide the ability to manage all the content objects, job-role associations, and brokered relationships in the many embedded performance support solutions (EPSS) developed for the organization. This requires software developed for the express purpose of doing so.

Performance support architecture

The need for investing in the infrastructure described above is greater today than any other time, because organizations are facing climate changes in their markets that are even harsher and more unforgiving than the high desert of southern Utah. Most face an unpredictable, unrelenting, and unforgiving environment of change. The rate and magnitude of change in many markets is staggering. This climate change is rapidly spreading to every sector. This “new normal” challenges the competence of organizations at every moment of every day.

Performance support architecture represents the missing link between training and effective on-the-job performance. It’s what gets the water to the end of the row by delivering to individuals only what they need, in the form that they need, at the five fundamental moments in which they need performance support (see our previous article in this series: “Are You Meeting All Five Moments of Learning Need?”).

Flood irrigation without furrows is not only inefficient, it threatens the survival of any farm in a high desert. Training without a performance support architecture in place poses the same threat. Organizations must develop the means of delivering to their employees a commodity as vital as water is to a high-desert field. That commodity is immediate, intuitive, tailored aid that supports effective performance. In this work, getting this aid to the “end of the row” is realized when everyone in the organization is performing effectively in their jobs at every changing moment of need. That’s organizational competency. It should be the driving reason why we do all we do.

We recently recorded a Webinar, “Performance Support Success Stories,” that shows how two organizations (PepsiCo and 3M) are doing this and what authoring software needs to be able to do.

In addition, we have produced a set of functional requirements that can help you begin the process of meeting this need. 

The Performance Support Symposium 2012, a new event produced by Learning Solutions Magazine, offers you an exceptional opportunity to discover how organizations can leverage investments in training and eLearning by offering employees performance support tools so they can continue to learn while they work. You are invited to join other senior learning professionals in Boston for this deep exploration of strategies, technologies, and best practices for performance support. The time for performance support is now.