The Renaissance was a movement that transformed European culture and intellectual thought for the better part of three centuries. Though the roots of the Renaissance can be traced back to Italy starting in the early 14th century, it was not until Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press a century later that its ideas and influence accelerated across the continent.
Performance support (PS) was a movement introduced with much excitement and expectation almost three decades ago. Gloria Gery challenged the traditional notions of enabling performance through just-in-case training and advocated instead for just-in-time learning that occurred in the workplace. She argued that rather than providing vast quantities of learning to employees outside the context of work, we should instead provide “individualized on-line access to the full range of … systems to permit job performance.” (Editor’s Note: Please see the References listed at the end of this article.)
Like Europe centuries ago, performance support is currently experiencing rejuvenation – a performance support renaissance, if you will. Since Gery’s introduction, empirical research and case studies have made us smarter about when and how to best implement performance support. Web 2.0 technologies have made performance support easier and less costly for organizations to adopt. The eLearning Guild’s upcoming Performance Support Symposium is the first dedicated industry event in more than 10 years.
At more than any other point in its history, performance support appears ready to significantly transform the field of learning and performance.
Performance support maturity
As we witness a rebirth of performance support, it will soon be insufficient for organizations to simply declare, “Yes, we have a performance support system.” It will become increasingly important to be able to develop a cohesive strategy on how performance support integrates with your learning strategy and how it impacts business performance. It will become essential to identify strengths and weaknesses in your PS strategy and supporting processes to drive continuous improvement. It is critical for us in this field that we evaluate an organization’s maturity in performance support.
Arguably, the best-known maturity model is the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) developed at Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute and documented by Mark Paulk and his colleagues. They designed CMM to be an objective tool to assess an organization’s software development processes. It is a framework that you can use to categorize a software organization’s internal practices against five levels of maturity ranging from chaotic processes (level 1) to optimal processes (level 5).
Similarly, we’ll explore a Performance Support Maturity (PSM) model. Rather than focusing on software practices, the intent of PSM is to objectively assess your organization’s performance support practices. Using this information, you will be able to identify areas to enhance your PS efforts, future targets to invest time or money, and opportunities to drive continuous improvement.
<H2>Factors that drive performance support maturity
As shown in Figure 1, there are five factors you can use to measure your organization’s performance support maturity.
Figure 1: The performance support maturity grid
When organizations first adopt performance support, it is common that employees will access content using an external interface such as a search engine, a Webpage with a list of common questions, or even a printed job aid. Gloria Gery noted this as far back as 1995. Such methods to interface content require the least amount of dollar investment and are rapidly deployable from a time-to-market perspective.
As organizations mature in their performance support capabilities, one of the initial strategies to enhance the adoption and effectiveness of PS is to intelligently embed content directly into work tools or the environment. Research in recent years has firmly established that such intrinsic performance support will increase use of PS, build user confidence, and therefore elevate individual performance. (See the research listed in the References: Gal & Nachmias; Nguyen & Hanzel; Nguyen & Klein; and Nguyen et al.)
It is, however, not always pragmatic or advisable to embed performance support. For example, it may be difficult if not impossible to integrate PS content into physical tasks such as driving a forklift in a warehouse or repairing an aircraft. Research has also found that, while intrinsic performance support will enhance the performance of novices, experts do not necessarily benefit from this extra level of integration. (See Gal & Nachmias and Nguyen in the References.)
Because of this, you should strive to intelligently embed PS as much as possible into the workplace, but complete integration is generally not a realistic goal.
While PS includes business process and cultural components, most organizations focus first on the performance support system. As with any software tool, the success of any PS effort is therefore heavily reliant on the support of your information technology (IT) stakeholders.
IT organizations often invest in knowledge management systems to capture and catalog technical and help desk issues. Despite the similarities between such knowledge management systems and performance support, most organizations that attempt to adopt PS find their IT partners to be ambivalent at best or an obstacle at worst.
Investing in your IT department’s competency and attitude towards performance support often drives the PS maturity level of your organization.
Most initial forays into performance support target solving a specific problem in a small part of the organization. This might involve keeping sales representatives abreast of the company’s constantly evolving product lineup. It could focus on assisting technicians to repair equipment in the factory as quickly as possible. It could address customer complaints regarding the usability of a newly revamped eCommerce Website.
Small successes in performance support are often contagious and drive its proliferation across the broader organization. As a result, more mature organizations expand PS beyond solving niche problems to address other internal problems. In some cases, organizations even provide performance support to external suppliers or customers.
It is important to note that organizations usually construct performance support systems to address a specific problem (e.g., product-knowledge database, equipment repair videos, embedded context help), and these are not always extensible across the enterprise. Organizations that have expanded PS across the enterprise may often have one or more systems to support their varying performance support needs.
As with workplace integration, most organizations begin their PS journey by creating content that is external and separate from training materials and process documentation. Despite similarities and sometimes redundancies between these assets, they usually author PS content using a distinct set of tools and store it in a separate knowledge base. As business processes or procedures change, organizations often find themselves simultaneously updating eLearning courses, standard operating procedures, policy documents, and performance support objects.
Organizations with more extensive experience in PS will adopt strategies to reduce this redundant creation and maintenance of content. This sometimes involves linking to performance support content from other systems or vice versa. Other organizations may unify their content into a single knowledge base and automatically publish in multiple formats to streamline employee access.
Performance support efforts often emerge from training organizations’ desire to enhance the transfer of learning to the workplace. As a result, they position performance support, at times, merely as a reference tool introduced at the conclusion of a formal training session.
To demonstrate the power of PS and enhance its transfer and adoption, mature performance support organizations embed it further into the learning experience. Very mature organizations focus on PS as the primary solution to address business problems and only include training as part of the learning experience when necessary. (See Lanese & Nguyen in the References.)
Measuring your performance support maturity
The performance support maturity grid introduced earlier in Figure 1 provides a framework to determine your organization’s respective maturity in PS. Organizations generally advance amongst four levels of performance support maturity:
- Level 1 characterizes organizations that have recently adopted performance support or have a legacy system/strategy unenhanced since its original implementation. These organizations generally provide no integration with workplace tools. Information technology stakeholders represent an obstacle to expanding PS beyond its niche deployment. Content for performance support is created and stored separately from training, which is still the default solution to all business problems.
- Level 2 performance support organizations have begun intelligently embedding PS content into opportune, high-volume, or high-cost tools in the environment. IT stakeholders have begun to comprehend the potential impact of performance support on the business and are willing to enable the increased adoption across the organization.
- Level 3 organizations find broad adoption of PS in multiple lines of business, including information technology. They embed performance support not just in the workplace but include it as a blended intervention in conjunction with training. They define and link PS processes to the design and delivery of training. One common instructional strategy is to include actual performance-support tools as resources during training activities.
- Level 4 represents the most mature performance support organizations, where they apply PS across the enterprise and integrate it in the workplace where possible and/or pragmatic. The organization has minimized or eliminated redundancy and maintenance issues between PS and other content. They have defined and fully integrated PS processes with training processes. Information technology partners are not just adopting PS for their own purposes, but they are enthusiastic champions of its methods and technologies as new problems and projects emerge. Performance support is so pervasive that customers ask for PS solutions in conjunction with or instead of training.
It was not long ago that we were content with deploying a PS system and counting the number of support requests accumulated on a monthly basis. Thanks to our ongoing performance support rebirth, we understand that there is more that we can establish in our respective organizations.
Using the Performance Support Maturity model, you may discover that your organization has varying levels of maturity in different points on the grid. You may find more advanced parts of your organization than others. Like those who lived during the Renaissance itself, the key is to identify areas to improve, revive, and refresh your strategy, and advance the sophistication of your performance support organization.
Gal, E. & Nachmias, R. (2011). Online Learning and Performance Support in Organizational Environments Using Performance Support Platforms. Performance Improvement, 50(8), 25-32.
Gal, E. & Nachmias, R. (2012). The Effect Of Users’ Attitudes On Electronic Performance Support Systems Implementation. Performance Improvement, 51(5), 22-31.
Gery, G. (1991). Electronic Performance Support Systems. Tolland, MA: Gery Associates.
Gery, G. (1995). Attributes and Behaviors of Performance-Centered Systems. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 8(1), 47-93.
Lanese, L. & Nguyen, F. (2012). The Journey from Formal Learning to Performance Support. Performance Improvement, 51(5), 17-21.
Paulk, M.C., Weber, C.V., Curtis, B., Chrissis, M.B. (1995). The Capability Maturity Model: Guidelines for Improving the Software Process. Boston: Addison Wesley.
Nguyen, F. (2006). What You Already Know Does Matter: Expertise and Electronic Performance Support Systems. Performance Improvement, 45(4), 9-12.
Nguyen, F. & Hanzel, M. (2007). LO + EPSS = Just-in-Time Reuse of Content to Support Employee Performance. Performance Improvement, 46(6), 8-14.
Nguyen, F., Klein, J.D., & Sullivan, H. (2005). A Comparative Study of Electronic Performance Support Systems. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 18(4), 71-86.
Nguyen, F. & Klein, J.D. (2008). The Effect of Performance Support and Training as Performance Interventions. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 21(1), 95-114.
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.