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16 Performance Support Tips, Strategies, and Tactics

by Jennifer Neibert

March 27, 2013

Tip

by Jennifer Neibert

March 27, 2013

“Design for performance first, knowledge second. As instructional designers, we are wired to drill down for tasks and steps that cover everything, particularly in areas like IT training, where the software often drives the outcome. But in performance support the workflow, context, and job role are the drivers. Design with performance support in mind and backfill with training. This is often a complete reversal for traditional training folks.”

Most of us can probably agree that traditional approaches to training and eLearning just aren’t enough to support today’s multi-generational, multi-tasking, and multifaceted workforce. Advocates of the 70/20/10 model would argue that 70 percent of learning comes from informal, on-the-job experiences. The key, according to them, is to connect your learners with the content they need, when and where they need it.

To learn strategies and tactics for making these connections from today’s performance support leaders, register now for The eLearning Guild’s next Online Forum, “Learning at the Moment of Need: Connecting Learning to Performance,” on April 11 & 12, 2013.

Advice from the tipsters

To give you a sneak preview of the upcoming Online Forum, we’ve gathered a few tips and tricks from the presenters. Check out their strategies and plan to join us in April to learn more!

Get sponsor buy-in. This may seem obvious, but you can’t build performance support on spec, like we sometimes do in training. Avoid sponsors who talk a good game but don’t provide any tangible support. Look for sponsors who actually know what they want (or are willing to work with you on this). And finally, look for sponsors who will actually benefit from the solution (and will actually use it). Do all of this before you actually build or deploy anything. Without real sponsor buy-in, you are going nowhere.

Define performance metrics. Performance support focuses on productivity and efficiency in the workplace, not learning in the classroom or online. Training metrics (i.e., learning) are not appropriate. Instead, consider these measures of success early in the project:

  1. Use of the performance support solution has reached critical mass.
  2. One or more direct business measures clearly indicate improvement after critical mass has been achieved.
  3. The performance support solution makes the work process more efficient and effective (not more difficult).
  4. User feedback meets or exceeds expectations.
  5. The sponsor agrees on the measures of success and when/if they have been attained.

Marc Rosenberg and Steve Foreman



Just the facts. Performance support isn’t about teaching people everything there is to know; it’s about giving them just the information they need, as close to the point of need as possible. Keep it brief and to the point. Think about it like a Google search; ever get frustrated when searching in Google and getting hundreds of irrelevant hits? If you want to know who won the Best Picture Oscar in 2012, do you want a link to the history of the Oscars, or just the title you’re looking for?

Create “experts in a bottle.” Performance support is a great way to create virtual mentoring. Reach out to the experts and great thinkers in your organization and get their tips and ideas. Incorporate these ideas into your performance support, and suddenly your best people are mentoring everybody in the organization.

Focus on the point of need. Great performance support provides help to people when they need it most. So analyze where people typically have problems, get confused, or forget complicated instructions, and create tools to address those needs.

Rich Mesch



Ensure that information is as easy to access as possible. This means needing no more than three or four clicks.

Use existing information pathways, whether formal or informal. Ask yourself: How do most people get their information now? Use those pathways and you’ll find adoption of your performance support goes much more smoothly than if you try to divert traffic to a new path.

Amber Sauer



Pilot the entire performance support introduction. Pilot from the initial needs analysis through communication and measurement, not just the design, development, and deployment of a solution. Very often, a well-designed performance support solution fails because of lack of understanding of the change required in leadership, SMEs, learning and development functions, and learners—and how to bring it about effectively. Experiment, make mistakes, and learn on a small scale first.

Design and develop performance support solutions with a focus on context, not content. A successful performance support solution needs to be embedded, contextual, and graduated, predicting where, when, and how much support will be needed in a given workflow. Simply deploying a different approach to organizing and delivering help content falls short of the promise of true performance support.

Jeremy Smith



Measure the performance of your performance support. Often times, when organizations put performance support tools or systems in place, they have not built measurement into the process. 

Before implementing performance support, ask yourself a few key questions:

  • How do I know that the performance support tool or system is effective (usability, content, overall quality, etc.)?
  • What impacts do I intend the performance support tool or system to have?
  • How do I know that the performance support tool or system is having those impacts?


It’s great to know that what you’ve put in place is “friendly,” but does it really deliver the expected results to the business? Ensure you’ve built in measurement to answer those questions. Measurement could be as simple as a micro-poll or pop-up survey, random sampling survey of the audience, or ensuring you’re able to capture activity data on hits, resources accessed, etc.

Chris LeBrun



Increase awareness. In many cases, someone may have a problem to solve and have to solve it with a product or tool, yet the person has no idea what capabilities are even available in the first place. The best way to enable awareness is to provide the right type of information that makes sense to your learners quickly.

Build understanding and how to apply the awareness. This is a great place for visuals. I find that graphics are the best tool to provide the context of the learning environment to a learner. The key to just-in-time training (my way of saying performance support) is connecting the visual representation to the detailed instruction and information that the learner needs.

Mark Lindros



Analyze where folks get stuck. What question(s) do they ask themselves? (“How do I…?”)

Make content short and concise. People want access to information to be fast and easy. Why is this important?

  • Folks want to be able to learn as they do. Think about when you do not know how to do something—do you want to stop and take the “two-hour WBT training class”?
  • Performance support saves time. It helps prevent mistakes and wasted time trying to find someone to give you an answer or show you something.
  • People tweet now. “Short and fast” is the new cadence of our personal and work lives.

Lory Lanese



Design for performance first, knowledge second. As instructional designers, we are wired to drill down for tasks and steps that cover everything, particularly in areas like IT training, where the software often drives the outcome. But in performance support the workflow, context, and job role are the drivers. Design with performance support in mind and backfill with training. This is often a complete reversal for traditional training folks.

Buy the appropriate tools and/or software to build performance support. It amazes me how we don’t hesitate to buy software such Captivate and Lectora to design eLearning, but use MS Word, PowerPoint, or SharePoint to design performance support—all inappropriate environments that will not give you true performance support as an output. Invest the time in researching software that helps you truly author embedded, contextual, scalable, and maintainable performance support deliverables.

Bob Mosher

Join us! 

Make plans now to attend the next Online Forum, “Learning at the Moment of Need: Connecting Learning to Performance,” on April 11 & 12, 2013. Online Forums offer focused content on a wide array of current topics of interest to members of the Guild community. Review the schedule and registration information and make plans to attend an upcoming forum. For those of you wishing to share your knowledge, experience, and expertise at an Online Forum, answer our call for speakers and submit a proposal today.


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